Globalization and the Church´s Social Mission in Asia: The Church´s Human Rights Advocacy for Transnational Migrant Workers in Korea

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2006 »Volume 43 2006 Number 2 »Globalization And The Churchs Social Mission In Asia The Churchs Human Rights Advocacy For Transnational Migrant Workers In Korea

Denis Kim

Denis Kim SJ holds an MA in sociology from the National University, Seoul, Korea, and an MA in Sociology from the University of California, San Diego, where he is presently a candidate in the PhD in Sociology Program. He also holds an M Div and an STL from the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California, USA. His research interests are in Church and Civil Society, International Migration and Human Rights and the Sociology of Culture.


This article explores the social mission of the Church in Korea in the context of globalization. It comes out of a concern about the issue of inculturation in Asia, on the one hand, and about the role of the Church in the context of globalization, on the other. First, since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made efforts toward "inculturation" of the Good News into local cultures. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences defines the mission of the Asian Church as a triple dialogue: a dialogue with the poor, with the cultures, and with the other religions (Arevalo and Rosales 1992). For Asian bishops, evangelization includes not only proclamation of the gospel message but also dialogue with the local context. These efforts have come out of the reflection upon the previous pattern of the unsuspected imposition of Western theology on local culture in the name of evangelization. This imposition presumes a naïve notion that the right translation of the essence of Christianity would make sense to the local people. In spite of the importance of the sensitivity of inculturating theology, there is a danger of essentializing culture in a dualistic way. On the one hand, so-called modern, Western, capitalistic culture is viewed as something bad that destroys local traditions and thus is to be resisted. On the other hand, since local culture helps maintain the identity of the group, it is to be preserved. However, local culture should not be romanticized in the way Western culture has been. For instance, traditional culture in Asia has excluded women from public life. Furthermore, in practice, there is no pure local culture untouched by Western modernity (Azevedo 1982; Escobar 1995).1 Any approach, based on such dichotomy of Western versus local culture, would be just as detrimental to the efforts of inculturation as the imposition of a theology and a practice of Western Christianity on local churches.

This reflection on inculturation leads to a second concern about globalization. In the current debates on globalization,2 I conceive of globalization as a bigger historical process than the economic globalization of the neo-liberal whose perspective focuses on capital and the market. Globalization is a dialectical, dynamic, inter-connected process which includes not merely the expansion of the market economy, but also the issues of nation-state, human rights, environment, media, and culture. Thus, it is not something the local context has to resist or is able to avoid. What matters is not whether the local context participates in globalization or not, but rather how it participates. This notion of globalization will help us conceive an alternative globalization beyond the neo-liberal vision. In this conception, the context for the Church’s social mission is the world of the so-called "tiempos mixtos": a situation in which the pre-modern, the modern, and the postmodern exist together in the same place unevenly and unequally; a disrupted situation in global markets enters into local cultures and rearranges their lives.3Thus, the mission of the Church nowadays requires it to respond both to the global and the local.4

With this introduction, this article explores the social mission of the Church in Korea in the context of globalization. However, it will not approach this issue from an abstract or purely theoretical point of view. Rather, it will choose the concrete issue of the human rights advocacy for transnational migrant workers in Korea and will delve into how the local and the global are interwoven together. Because both the transnational migration and human rights discourse are important elements of global flow, this examination is both necessary and appropriate. Based on this reflection, I will argue that globalization is not a hindrance to inculturation and that the Church’s mission in Asia should entail a creative deconstruction and reconstruction of both the global and the local. If this is persuasive, it will contribute to the current discussion of the mission of the Church as well as that of inculturation in Asia, keeping a more nuanced tension between universality and particularity in the context of globalization.

Transnational Migrant Workers as Harbingers of Globalization

Historically, Korea had no experience of immigration except for a few contacts with Chinese and Japanese, and more lately with Americans. In the mid-1980s, however, Koreans began to see Asian workers of different colors, first in big cities and then in smaller towns as well. Transnational migrant workers from Latin America and Africa soon joined them, mainly imported in the so-called 3D (dirty, difficult, dangerous) jobs which Korean workers avoid. The number of transnational migrant workers has grown dramatically: 6,400 in 1987; 73,868 in 1992; 266,301 in 1997, at the peak before the economic crisis; 184,815 during the crisis in 1998. The number has steadily increased since then, however, to an estimated 329,555 in 2001, including at least 255,206 illegal or undocumented workers (Seol and Skentny 2003:475-511). The actual number of immigrant workers may be even larger. While this figure is not impressive when compared with the American or European experience (or even that of other Asian countries such as Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore), the presence of so many "strangers" is extraordinary for a homogenous and traditionally insulated society like that of Korea.

The influx of transnational migrant workers is a consequence of globalization. From a social, structural analysis, no matter how the Korean government may try to control its borders, it cannot totally control their influx because the influx is a phenomenon structurally embedded in the globalization process. At the domestic level, the Korean economy demands the importation of a labor force. In the early 1980s, Korea passed the "turning point," meaning the end of an unlimited labor supply from the rural reservoir (Park 1994). In addition, the growth in the number of Koreans who have received higher education is an important indicator. People with a higher education do not want to work in 3D jobs even though they remain unemployed while seeking better jobs. Furthermore, not only the demographic changes of aging and a low fertility rate, but also the wage gap between the home country and Korea indicates the continuous demand for the transnational migrant workers.5 Korea obviously enjoys a significant and sometimes massive wage differential over its poorer neighbors. Recently, on average, the wage of transnational migrant workers in Korea was seven times higher than in their home countries.6

At the global economy level, the influx of transnational migrant workers is embedded in the "flexible accumulation" strategies through which the Korean economy, following the strategies of the US and Japan, has sought to relocate the mixed production systems in Asia, where optimal production, infrastructure, marketing, and political conditions existed.7 The economic links brought by these strategies result in "unintended" effects enhancing peoples’ lives in transnational migration, as has happened in the US and Japan.8 Korea receives most of its transnational migrant workers from China (Korean-Chinese included), the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Nepal, and Vietnam. Before its economic expansion, Korea had almost no relationships with these countries except in the case of China, no colonial-type bonding, cultural similarities or geographical adjacency which scholars emphasize in international migration studies (Sassen 1991; 1998). The growing economic presence of Korea, through direct foreign investment and off-shore production sites in the sending countries, has enabled ordinary people to have the imagination to take the risk of migration, that is, to cross the "bridge" between their countries and Korea. It is Korean economic globalization that has brought these foreign workers to Korea.

The urban poor in Manila and farmers in Mauban whom I met during a visit to the Philippines in 1993, surprised me by telling me they wanted to go to Korea for jobs. They had learned about Korea through the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and viewed Korea as a rich country and a land of opportunity by seeing cars and electronic commodities made in Korea in everyday life. Seol, a Korean sociologist, reports how Vietnamese workers came to know about Korea:

Vietnamese workers came to know about South Korea through the commodities like Samsung TVs, LuckyGoldstar washing machines, and Daewoo cars. They came to know the taste of very hot kimchi, well-known Taekwondo, and the Korean soccer team as a strong team in Asia. They also knew the South Korean army during the Vietnam War. The people of Ho Chi Minh City call the highway constructed by the Korean army before 1975 the Dai Han ["Korea"] Highway (1999:109; author’s translation).

One might ask whether the transnational migrant workers will disappear once the Korean economy experiences an extended depression. Recent experience, however, does not support this anticipation. The 1997 economic crisis and ensuing massive lay-offs led the Korean government to attempt to replace transnational migrant workers with domestic labor and to try to get them to leave Korea. Their number did decrease considerably from 266,301 to 184,815, but the overall effect was insignificant. Furthermore, in 1998 when the crisis was at its peak the number was still larger than in 1995 when the Korean economy was booming. This suggests, therefore, that the presence of transnational migrant workers is not a passing phenomenon but is rather structurally embedded in Korean economic globalization.

The Church’s Human Rights Activities for Transnational Migrant Workers

Since the mass arrival of the transnational migrant workers in the late 1980s, the Catholic Church has been one of the few organizations to give attention to their presence. The Church has facilitated their adjustment to Korean culture and society and has provided shelter and legal services for them. In a nationalistic and homogeneous society where citizenship is based on ius sanguinis (the law of blood), Koreans were not particularly culturally sensitive to foreigners nor to the fact that foreigners easily become invisible to society despite their difference in color. In the early 1990s situation, it was the Church that first organized support for transnational migrant workers.

I will present the Church’s support of the transnational migrant workers in three dimensions: first, in providing a religious network; second, in creating the Foreign Workers Labor Counseling Office (FWLCO); third, in creating civil networks and promoting public concern for them. First, not surprisingly, those who were Catholics among the transnational migrant workers came to gather at Catholic churches. The Filipino community has the biggest and most organized network among transnational migrant workers’ networks. Its activities vary from Tagalog Mass, to support for coping with emergency situations, to assistance for newly arrived Filipinos to adapt to Korea by teaching the Korean language, and to publishing a newsletter. Informal exchange of information and US dollars takes place around this gathering. Owing to the network with the Catholic Church, the Filipino presence came to be relatively well known to Koreans as compared with that of other ethnic workers. The community grew large enough to organize a big Filipino ethnic celebration with thousands present in 1995 at which Cardinal Kim, who deeply influenced public opinion by advocating democracy and human rights during the government dictatorship, presided at the Mass. This was truly visible and significant support.

Second, the Church’s support, however, has not been restricted to Catholic workers. Since the Archdiocese of Seoul set up the FWLCO in 1992, the FWLCO has aimed for more comprehensive support. This includes providing shelters and counseling regardless of religious or ethnic background.9 The most common counseling issues have involved unpaid wages, medical issues, visa problems, and industrial accidents. In fact, while the Korean government deliberately disregarded the transnational migrant workers’ demands and controlled them with a legal status, under which more local labor exploitation could be practiced and cultural discrimination fostered in the early 1990s, these non-government organizations (NGOs) were the only route by which transnational migrant workers could access legal and medical services, as well as assistance for emergency situations. According to a report of the FWLCO (1998:82) on counseling during 1997, there were 1,314 cases for workers of 35 nationalities: 719 (54.7%) cases for unpaid wages; 166 (12.6%) for medical issues; 201 (15.1%) for visa problems, and 82 (6.2%) for industrial accidents.

Third, the Church’s involvement has not been restricted to direct support. It has been actively involved in the public sphere through the research of situations, and has tried to influence public opinion by publishing this research and by participating in public forums, organized by a semi-governmental institution. In 1993, it published A Report on the Undocumented Foreign Workers, the first report of empirical research on a national basis (Lee and Chong 1993). Participation in the policy forum culminated in the process of making a special law for foreign workers in 1995-1997 and submitting a proposed draft of the new law with 60,000 signatures, including that of Cardinal Kim.

Why, then, was the Church able to recognize the presence and needs of transnational migrant workers before other social organizations? First, in terms of its belief system, Christianity fosters a universality which relativizes the nationalism that has been reared in Korea’s state-building process and ethnic homogeneity. Second, in terms of organizational characteristics, Catholic churches have multi-layered transnational networks from the episcopacy to the laity which help them recognize the issue of transnational migrant workers earlier and to utilize the networks for promoting their rights.10 Third, in terms of historical experience, both the Protestant and Catholic churches have played a vital role in democratization and the labor movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Advocacy of the human rights of transnational migrant workers is in line with this historical experience. Hence, Christianity in Korea has been a "public religion."11

Human Rights Discourse of the Church for Transnational Migrant Workers

I will examine the rhetorical practice of human rights discourse for transnational migrant workers by the Korean Church. Before doing so, however, I need to locate human rights issues in the context of globalization, the dynamic relationship between the global and the local. Human rights are popularly portrayed as being the opposite of globalization driven by market logic. This is illustrated by attention given by the media to protests surrounding the world trade conferences in Seattle and Prague. Some argue that profit-driven-globalization from above is to be resisted and overcome by globalization from below, exemplified in the human rights movement. However, the debates between the enlightenment paradigm of common morality and the communitarian tradition in Western philosophy,12 or the so-called Asian values debate shows the complexity of the human rights issues.13Moreover, Aloysius Pieris, an Asian liberation theologian, criticizes human rights discourse for the following reasons: (1) it speaks from an elitist position and presupposes Western democratic structures; (2) it is based on individualism and liberalism; and (3) it neglects economic rights (1996:121-22). The focal point of these debates lies in the tension between the universality of human rights and cultural pluralism. We cannot delve into this issue here; rather, we will tentatively conceive the human rights discourse as global flow which is flexible and as something which can be enriched by the encounter with the local. Human rights discourse, then, is something which needs interpretation in the particular local context, rather than something univocal. Thus, it has to be translated or adapted into the local situation.

Given this background, when examining the human rights discourse of the Korean Church for transnational migrant workers, I will explore in what context the human rights discourse is appropriated and how it is interpreted in the Korean social and cultural context. For this, I will concentrate on two documents: one from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK) and the other from the Seoul Archdiocese’s Labor Pastoral Commission (LPC).

The first statement made by the CBCK is entitled Do Not Neglect the Stranger, for You Were Once Strangers Yourselves (1993). It begins with a description of the situation of transnational migrant workers and of popular prejudice among Koreans. Because of the illegality of expired visas and the unsavory working environment of 3D jobs, transnational migrant workers are negatively stereotyped: they threaten the chances of employment of domestic workers; they are lazy and dirty; they are selfish enough to flee from assigned workplaces for money. These prejudices justify the belief that they deserve discrimination in labor practices and a lack of legal protection. Against these prejudices, the bishops argue for defending the basic rights of the workers. Their stance is that basic rights are to be respected regardless of status, race, ethnicity, etc. (no. 1).

To emphasize the importance of transnational migrant workers’ human rights, the bishops go further by recalling Korea’s recent history and by making a rhetorical appeal to the state slogan for globalization as well as to popular Korean criticism of Japanese policy (cf. no. 1). On the one hand, remembering the history of emigration of Korean migrant laborers to Japan, Germany, and the United States for the past several decades, the bishops appeal to the government and to Koreans to respect transnational migrant workers and to treat them with generosity. On the other hand, they also appeal to the slogan of the state. In the early 1990s, during the regime of President Young-Sam Kim, the state pursued sekyehwa(globalization) as its strategy, mainly based on neo-liberal ideology. The statement argues with the same language of "globalization" that the state uses but within the context of basic rights and civic ethics: "Dealing with the issues of foreign workers, we need not only the notion of basic rights but also mature civic ethics, and a sense of solidarity in match with the era of globalization" (no. 1). At the same time, the bishops rhetorically use the term "economic animal" with which Koreans cynically label Japanese with regard to their economic activity. Koreans would feel ashamed if they were called economic animals like their former colonizer. "‘Constructing a New Korea,’ it continues, can be possible on the basis of cosmopolitan fellowship and cooperation with other nations. If we fail to pay attention to this cooperation, we would be called economic animals and isolated from international society" (no. 1).14

This statement does not address basic rights from a theoretical ground; thus, it does not provide the foundation for these basic rights, as the Enlightenment project did. Nor does it provide a polished discussion on what basic rights would include and who would be duty bearers corresponding to the basic rights of transnational migrant workers. Regarding the subject of who has this duty, the statement says only that "promoting human rights is a duty of the state" (no. 2). However, it emphatically points out that the most serious violations of human rights take place in the area of industrial accidents, delayed wages, and physical violence at the workplace. Moreover, it argues that "the medical care even for the undocumented foreign workers in case of an industrial accident is a part of one’s right to live, which cannot be entitled or deprived by the state. This is a heavenly bestowed right." This rhetoric draws our attention. The bishops understand human rights from the concrete situation of transnational migrant workers, instead of drawing insight from any abstract notion of human rights. More interestingly, they demand universal medical care in industrial accidents, regardless of legal status and claim it as a heavenly bestowed right. The rhetoric echoes the concept of "inalienable" natural rights in Western human rights history, yet the notion of "heavenly bestowed right" reminds us of "Heaven" in the East Asian philosophical and religious traditions. Heaven is the central agency of the cosmos and moral order as well as the foundation of morality. The tradition of "respect for life" is fundamentally based on this notion of Heaven, the source and guard of life. Though it may not be theoretically well elaborated, we see here an example of skillful articulation of the human rights discourse derived from the West, but combined with insights from Korean religious and philosophical traditions.

Then the bishops turn to the ethical atmosphere of society and the state, that is, the priority of economic development over other values. Some background in recent Korean history is required at this point. Since the modernization project initiated by the state in the 1960s, Korean society has rapidly been transformed from a traditional society into a capitalistic industrial one. This has been accompanied by changes in traditional community and traditional values. As the capitalistic way of life has permeated everyday life, economic development has taken first place over all other values. The government’s recent globalization slogan can be viewed as another version of the supremacy of economic development. In other words, globalization is a strategy of Korea trying to utilize its resources, including population, natural resources, culture and tradition, knowledge, and social organizations, for economic development. As a consequence, in this background, human labor is viewed as a means of production, regardless of whether it comes from domestic or foreign laborers. By recalling the Korean emigration history and warning against the danger of becoming an economic animal, the bishops aim to bring to awareness the danger of economic rationality and becoming its victims. From this context, the bishops are challenging Korean society as well as the government when they assert:

The root of human rights violations has foundation in treating human persons as a means of production or an instrument for economic gain (no. 3).

This statement is from Catholic social thought on the principle of the priority of human labor over capital in Laborem Exercens of Pope John Paul II. The bishops, contextualizing Catholic social thought on the issue of the human rights of transnational migrant workers, provide a strong antidote to the recent Korean ethical atmosphere. In this sense, defending the human rights of transnational migrant workers is not merely a service for them per se but also an attempt to correct the disorientation of Korean society.

Let’s turn to another statement: "Their situations of constraint should not be exploited" (1995), made by the Labor Pastoral Commission (LPC) of the Seoul Archdiocese in response to the protest of 13 Nepalese workers at Myung-Dong Cathedral in January 1995. Because of this context, the tone of this statement is sharper and more straightforward. First, it points out the duty of the state and employers "imposed by human solidarity and by Christian charity" (Populorum Progressio, no. 67), in which they should treat transnational migrant workers "not as mere tools of production but as persons" and should invite the "participation of foreign workers in public life" (no. 5; cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 66).15 The statement draws the human rights of transnational migrant workers, and the corresponding duty of the state and employers, from the Catholic social thought tradition. Then, recalling the history of Korean emigration, it compares the moral obligation of Koreans toward transnational migrant workers with that of the Israelites, quoting Leviticus 19:33-34: "If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself—for you were once strangers yourselves in Egypt."

Second, the statement claims that transnational migrant workers are "key members of our society." This is a very radical notion in Korea—reminding us of the radical claim of the early Church: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither freemen nor slave, there is no male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). It is radical because Korea is a homogeneous, nationalistic society. In Korea, the basic social unit is the family, and this fact of ethnic homogeneity encourages a blood-related familial notion of the nation itself. This is why the Korean state has acknowledged citizenship only based on blood (ius sanguinis) and has invigorated the myth of a mono-ethnic nation. In addition, the historical experiences of lacking contact with other ethnic groups as well as of colonial experience have enhanced nationalistic mood in the society. Even the progressive stance of defending the human rights of migrant workers has the tendency to attribute discrimination of transnational migrant workers to the legacy of Japanese colonialism rather than to racism or the negative aspect of Korean nationalism. Given this nationalistic culture and moral atmosphere, naming transnational migrant workers as "key members of our society" is a radical claim to break down boundaries between them and us based on ethnic identification and implies questions like, "Who are Koreans?" and, "What is Koreanness?"

During the 1997 economic crisis, an employer bluntly criticized an FWLCO staff member who tried to claim the unpaid wage of a foreign worker: "You are a Korean, right?" This question implies: "How can you, as a Korean, demand that I pay the back wage of the foreigner at a time when the economy is bad like now?" The employer legitimated his claim on the basis of the distinction between Koreans as "us" and foreigners as "them." The LPC statement calling transnational migrant workers "key members of our society" was equivalently asking him who he thinks is a Korean and what he means by Koreanness. Here we can see how the LPC articulates human rights norms in the context of Korean nationalistic culture and tries to expand the horizon of narrowly defined Koreanness.

Lastly, the statement makes use of the state slogan of globalization as the 1993 statement does.

What is globalization? What does it mean to Koreans? It must begin with the place darkest and most shameful in our society and with the embracement of the most vulnerable. We should not treat them as a means of production. We should rather respect their dignity and let them participate in our society with no discrimination of wage and labor condition (no. 5).

This statement puts globalization within the context of human rights, more concretely, in the context of empowerment of the vulnerable, and argues that the meaning of globalization lies in the enjoyment of the dignity of the vulnerable in society and their participation in it. This is a powerful statement, suggesting a new way of conceiving globalization. It contrasts with the language of the last two presidents, Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung. Both presidents pushed Korea toward segyehwa (globalization); yet globalization was conceived of as "building a first-class country" or "making our way in the age of boundless competition."16 The popular image of globalization is overwhelmingly shaped by these kinds of arguments, ultimately grounded in neo-liberalism. In comparison, the statement by the LPC sees globalization as a way to promote the human rights of the vulnerable: Respect the dignity and rights of transnational migrant workers without discrimination! In this rhetorical usage of globalization, the statement not only interprets globalization from an angle different from that of the state and business, but also gives a moral norm by which to evaluate current labor policy and cultural practices. Human rights advocacy of the Church can be seen as globalization-from-below by seeking empowerment of the weak.

We have examined the two major Church statements supporting transnational migrant workers. Quoting Gadamer 1989, we can summarize the implications of our examination as follows:

First, with regards to inculturation, the Church interweaves various global and local sources to defend the dignity and the rights of transnational migrant workers. It locates the notion of human rights in the context of the actual situation of transnational migrant workers and Korean cultural traditions on the one hand, and in the context of globalization and Catholic social thought on the other. In this articulation, the Church does not passively import the human rights discourse of the West for adaptation. It, thus, can be said that the Church plays a role in sorting out the good and the bad from local tradition, as well as from the economic and cultural impact of globalization. Its skilful appropriation of "Heaven" from the tradition, its defining transnational migrant workers as "key members of our society," and, as a consequence, its challenging the nationalistic notion of Koreanness are key examples of critical appropriation of local culture. Such contextualization is in line with the "option for the poor" of Catholic social teaching on the one hand and the Church’s historical experience of being advocate for the emerging working class and the urban poor in the 1970s and the 1980s on the other. In a normative dimension, because the human rights of society’s weaker part were addressed and "duty" ethics which have a strong resonance with Korean culture were recalled, human rights discourse in this contextualization has moral superiority over the state’s or the employers’ hegemonic voice of national security or economic development. This rhetorical practice of the Church sheds light on inculturation. It has to take both the global and the local seriously and critically. Just as uncritical missionary work historically resulted in the misuse of Christianity in the context of colonialism, romanticizing the local or totalizing it will also cause harm to efforts toward inculturation, and will be misused by exclusive nationalism in post-colonial Asia.

Second, human rights discourse does not have to be received as "the canon" or rejected as Western discourse. The main criticism to human rights discourse has focused on its individualistic or egoistic tenor as well as on cultural pluralism. Taking the local seriously, however, already implies the contextualized notion of human rights discourse. The Church’s rhetoric regarding human rights demands concrete entitlement for transnational migrant workers, especially when the bishops argue for their rights in the area of industrial accidents, delayed wages, physical violence at the workplace, defining as basic those rights "which cannot be entitled or deprived by the state" (no.2). In this rhetorical practice, human rights discourse is used as a shield for transnational migrant workers against the abusive power of the state and business, so as to protect their dignity and rights. In this regard, the usage of human rights discourse is not far from the liberation paradigm of Pieris. On the other hand, the notion of "heavenly bestowed right" opens up dialogue between human rights discourse and the philosophical and religious tradition of East Asia.17 Human rights discourse does not necessarily function as cultural imperialism. Rather, the European horizon of human rights discourse is fused with that of the Korean context in the Gadamerean notion of the "fusion of horizons."


The human rights advocacy of the Church in Korea for transnational migrant workers exemplifies an instance of this dynamic globalization process. Both the workers’ influx into Korea, a homogeneous nationalistic country, and human rights discourse are linked with globalization. The Church in Korea has engaged the public sphere, not only by providing ethos or value, but also by playing the role of a mediating institution for the state, business, labor, and civil society. It has employed human rights discourse in the issue of transnational migrant workers and yet has contextualized it in the Korean religious, philosophical tradition and Catholic social thought. Furthermore, it has not only engaged in the globalization process, but has also challenged the image of state-enforcing globalization by providing an alternative vision on globalization. The activity of the Church shows the mission of the Church both as global and local.

Globalization, as an encounter between the global and the local, demands that the mission of the Church be both global and local in Asia. The Church in Asia is asked to rethink inculturation and its transnational identity. Though Christians are a minority in Asia, their effort toward inculturation has to emphasize the deconstruction of the local culture, as much as the appreciation and appropriation of it. Cultural practices, especially selectively supported by state projects or for the benefit of specific groups, which make people blind to the violation of rights of the minority, women, or the vulnerable, needs deconstruction and transformation. Inculturation also has to include both critical appropriation of global flows and organizing transnational networks for human rights, as well as resistance to destructive global hegemonic flows. Globalization, then, does not have to be seen as an impediment to inculturation. Rather, it can be an opportunity for the Church to become fully universal and, at the same time, fully local.

Our discussion about the social mission of the Church in Asia in the context of globalization affirms the Church as communion.18 The universal Church is a communion of local churches (cf. Lumen Gentium no. 23). The situation of the churches in Asia as a minor religion from the West can be a privilege, rather than a constraint, which provides an opportunity to enrich the universal Church by shedding new light on Christian mission in the sense of a dynamic encounter between the universal gospel message and the local culture. Accordingly, our discussion confirms anew the emphasis of the Asian bishops on the triple dialogue: the dialogue with the poor, with culture, and with other religions. In this era of globalization, the Church, as one of the oldest transnational institutions, is asked to make use of its rich experience of successes and failures in the global-local encounter, for example, the Chinese Rites controversy or inter-religious dialogue. Therefore, the Church should be an attentive listener to the context of both the global and the local and then, utilizing its experiences of the global-local encounter, be bold in promoting the human rights of the marginal and the vulnerable. In this regard, local churches are asked to be skilful in utilizing both what is new and old, both what is global and local for the people of God, just as the community addressed in the Gospel of Matthew was admonished in a different context: "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Mt 13:52).


1. Ashis Nandy expressed it thus: "The West is now everywhere, within the West and outside: in structures and minds" (Escobar 1995:224).

2. For a good introduction to current debates on globalization, see Held and McGrew (eds.) 2000.

3. For tiempos mixtos, see Schreiter 1997:53-58.

4. For an examination of the mission of the Church in this context, Schreiter 1997 and Sanks 1999. However, Asia is not addressed in these examinations.

5. According to World Bank statistics, the per capita GNP in Korea in 2000 was $9628, while in Thailand it was $2045, $1046 in the Philippines, $805 in China, $728 in Indonesia, and only $400 in Vietnam (Seol and Skrentny 2003:484).

6. Hangyereh Newspaper, 9 May 2002.

7. For the flexible accumulation, see Harvey 1989: Chap. 10.

8. For the relationship between economic globalization and migration in America and Japan, see Sassen 1991; 1998.

9. Later, other dioceses set up offices similar to that of the Archdiocese of Seoul. In 2003, there were 12 Catholic groups that work for transnational migrant workers.

10. The transnational networks include the missionaries and the role of various centers, such as FWLCO, the Catholic Tokyo International Center in Tokyo, the Solidarity Center for Migrants in Fukuoka, Japan, and the Asian Migrant Center in Hong Kong.

11. In using the term "public religion," I want to emphasize the social and public role of religion, different from secularization theory which assumes that religion mainly concerns the private sphere in the modern world. For a discussion of secularization and the public role of religion in the modern world, see Jose Casanova (1994) and Madsen ed. (forthcoming).

12. For a good introduction to this debate, Outka and Reeder, Jr. 1993; O’Neill 1998.

13. Advocates for Asian values claim that the world of Confucian cultures focuses more on discipline rather than rights, on loyalty rather than on entitlement. Insofar as human rights primarily include claims to political and civil rights, the imposing of human rights on this Confucian world, they argue, is a form of cultural imperialism.

14. "Constructing a New Korea" was the slogan of the Young-Sam Kim regime.

15. "When workers come from another country or district and contribute by their labor to the economic advancement of a nation or region, all discrimination with respect to wages and working conditions must be carefully avoided. The local people, moreover, especially the public authorities, should treat them not as merely tools of production but as persons, and must help them to arrange their families to live with them, . . . The natives should also see that these workers are introduced to the social life of the country or region which receives them." Gaudium et Spes [66] in Walter M. Abbott, ed.,The Documents of Vatican II (The America Press, 1966).

16. In his speech, Kim Young Sam (2000:1-28 emphasis added) said:"Globalization is the shortcut which will lead us to building a first-class country in the 21st Century. This is why I revealed my plan for globalization and the government has concentrated all of its energy in forging ahead with it. It is aimed at realizing globalization in all sectors—politics, foreign affairs, economy, society, education, culture and sports. To this end, it is necessary to enhance our viewpoints, way of thinking, system and practices to the world class level…" (6 January 1995; emphasis added). On the other hand, Kim Dae Jung, during his inaugural speech said: "The information revolution is transforming the age of many national economies into an age of one world economy, turning the world into a global village… We must keep expanding trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges in order to make our way in the age of boundless competition which will take place against a backdrop of cooperation" (26 February 1998; emphasis added).

17. Examples of the dialogue between Confucianism and human rights are de Bary, Wm. Theodore and Tu Weiming 1998; Bretzke 2004.

18. For the Church communion, see Kasper 1993; Komonchak 1992.



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The Foreign Workers Labor Counseling Office

1998 "A Report on Foreign Workers 1997" in God, Human Beings and Labor Vol. 11 (Korean), edited by Labor Pastoral Commission (Seoul Archdiocese).