CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christians and Foreign Aid

Sep 18, 2013

Regrettably, many Christians do not think very carefully or biblically about the important social issues of the day. At best the church often just simply slavishly follows whatever the world is thinking, and just parrots the world’s nostrums instead of actually thinking biblically and discerningly about contemporary social topics.

This is certainly true in the area of foreign aid. As but one example, I know that many Christians went into a moral rage when the Coalition announced just before the election that a modest reduction in foreign aid over a period of time would be part of their policy.

Immediately we had all the emotional kneejerk reactions from rather uninformed believers who went ballistic against Tony Abbott, claiming he was somehow an enemy of the Gospel and worse than an infidel. Many of these folks seem to think that Jesus would fully support all foreign aid, no questions asked.

Sorry, but not only would Jesus ask some hard questions here, but so should all these complaining Christians. Are they even aware of what the aid is used for, where it goes, how effective it is, and what outcomes follow from it? Or do they simply think that if one government throws some money to another government, it is all being wisely and correctly used, resulting in genuine good outcomes?

What if the money is not in fact actually helping poor people? What if it ends up propping up corrupt and unjust regimes? What if it simply means warehouses full of contraceptives and abortifacients, while most people continue to starve and go without basic clothing and shelter?

Do these Christians even bother to think beyond the rhetoric and the bumper sticker clichés? Not only are things like foreign aid, international economics, and geopolitical realities fraught with complexity and nuanced subtleties lost on most careless observers, but the biblical data here is also much more deep and layered than many assume.

Simply take one important biblical principle: the Bible clearly distinguishes between the deserving and undeserving poor. That is, those who are poor through no fault of their own, be it because of oppression of unjust leadership, are indeed to be objects of compassion and practical assistance.

But those who are poor because of greed, laziness and so on are clearly condemned in Scripture. They are simply reaping what they are sowing, and our obligations to them differ greatly from those who are genuinely needy and deserving of assistance.

But I have discussed some of these biblical principles elsewhere. Here I simply wish to point out that the topics of development economics, foreign aid, international wealth transfers and so on are certainly complex and not the stuff of careless and superficial reflection.

Yet a number of Christian lobby groups and social justice groups quickly jumped all over the Coalition’s announcement without seeming to be aware of even some basics here. They assumed it was somehow just unChristlike to even contemplate a cut to foreign aid.

But as I said, what if the aid is going astray, or going into the wrong hands, or in fact not actually helping the poor in other countries? Are good intentions alone the only thing that count here, or do actual results need to be factored into the equation?

The sad truth is many of these Christian critics of Abbott know next to nothing about basic economics, whether domestic or international. Before they cast out more misplaced moralisms on such matters, I wish they would take the time to first get some basic understanding here.

These folks really should start informing themselves on these sorts of issues. Instead of regurgitating the usual PC claptrap which has little bearing with reality, they should actually study a bit of economics, and look to some experts in the field.

Their incessant regurgitation of socialist and leftist critiques, with little or no real understanding of what is actually working in this area, is a real concern. I would heartily recommend they get off their pontificating platform and start doing some basic homework here.

They could do no better than to master the works of the late English development economist, Lord Peter Bauer. If they actually took the time to properly digest his important volumes, they would be far better placed to discuss these matters. They need to get these three works for starters:

Dissent on Development: Studies and Debates in Development Economics. Harvard University Press, 1972.
Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion. HUP, 1981.
Reality and Rhetoric: Studies in the Economics of Development. HUP, 1984.

I could easily spend the rest of this article – and then some – just highlighting some of the important truths found in his incisive corpus. But just one quote will give you a feel for what he is arguing for in these vital volumes. He famously and quite perceptively said that Western foreign aid is quite often “an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries”.

Yet far too many gullible believers simply assume that all Western aid money given to other nations actually helps poor people. Far too often that is simply not the case. But these folks do not seem interested in actually looking carefully at such aid. They simply have good feelings knowing that their government has given a certain percentage of taxpayers’ funds overseas.

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While these folks are at it, they really should start mastering the works of international economist Thomas Sowell. He has more sense in his 60 or so volumes than most economics faculties put together. For starters, read his chapters on development economics and foreign aid in his Applied Economics (2004, 2009) and Basic Economics (2011).

These believers should also get a hold of the works by African economist Dambisa Moyo. For example, her 2009 volume Dead Aid is a must read. It is a scathing attack on misguided and counterproductive Western aid programs. I discuss her work here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/10/17/rethinking-foreign-aid/

And these concerned believers certainly should read the brand new book by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations (Crossway, 2013). It is an invaluable book written by two experts: a theologian and a professional economist.

This book should be required reading for all those would-be Christian economists out there who think foreign aid is always good and cutting it is always wrong – and unChristlike to boot. Why, even the old rocker Bono is beginning to catch on here.

He has long rightly been concerned about helping the poor in Africa, but some of his earlier hand-wringing was less than helpful. As but one example, and as a humourous aside, Bono once lamented to a large audience that ‘every time I clap my hands a child in Africa dies’. A perceptive voice from the back of the auditorium yelled out, ‘Then for heaven’s sake, stop clapping your hands!’

But seriously, he seems to be seeing things more clearly now, and realises that capitalism is not the enemy as so many of the trendy lefty Christians suppose, but is actually the solution here. Instead of arguing for foreign aid, he now correctly sees that much more is needed:

“Commerce is real. . . . Aid is just a stop-gap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. Of course, we know that. In dealing with poverty here and around the world, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure. Entrepreneurship is the most sure way of development.”

Of course the authors I mention above and plenty of others have been saying these sorts of things for decades now. I am glad Bono is catching on however. Plenty of these other believers still need to catch on, including the trendy lefty social justice groups.

Indeed, they need far more awareness about all sorts of things. These same groups that jumped all over Abbott are also fully telling us we must support the UN Millennium Development Goals. Either they are clueless or indifferent to the fact that this of course includes pro-abortion policies and programmes.

Why in the world would any group which claims to be Christian be pimping for any UN objective, let alone those which push pro-death policies around the globe? As I say, most of these groups, churches and individuals seem to be quite clueless on a number of fronts. Either that or they really are dyed in the wool socialists and secularists who are Christian in name only.

Much, much more needs to be said about all this of course. And let me remind my critics before they reach for their rotten tomatoes or even worse weapons that I certainly believe we have an obligation to help the poor. I fully believe many are in need of real assistance both at home and abroad.

But where the disagreement arises is on what actually works to help the poor, overcome poverty, and transform nations from dependent economic basket cases to prosperous and flourishing countries. And we know how those changes can take place.

So I will not for one minute allow these lefty Christians to throw their empty charges of hard-heartedness and lack of compassion at me and others. I care just as much about the poor and poverty as they claim to. It’s just that I think we should seek to really help them with programmes and policies that actually work.

Throwing around clichés and empty rhetoric helps no one. We know how nations can be delivered from poverty. Let’s push what in fact works, instead of simply parroting the usual trendy lefty secular rhetoric and failed socialist policies which help no one.

americanvision.org/8875/bono-learns-the-mysterious-ways-of-capitalism/

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26 Responses to Christians and Foreign Aid

  • Great point here Bill. Man, Australia can`t even get it`s own local aid accountable. Yesterday Prue Goward (NSW) announced a 3 month amnesty of people in housing commission homes to come clean on income and number of occupants. Meaning, NO penalty for all those who for years have been illegally claiming subsidies and benefits. How hard is it to get a check from the ATO, for the income coming in against the tenants claim?
    I`d be happy to up the foreign Aid if it were going to be accountable. Indonesia even onsends Aid to Korea, not to mention spends far more than we do on Defence forces. Just remember, we are borrowing from overseas the money we send out as foreign aid.

    Johannes Archer

  • Exactly. One needs to distinguish between who should be helped and who should not. I find that some Christians get to emotionally charged to think rationally and logically about social issues. You criticise something, and they think you are being judgmental, negative, cynical, etc. I have been criticised as judgmental, negative and one-sided for having my own opinions in my blog at goodwritingandfun.blogspot.com.au. I have even been told that it is not a matter of PC, when people who have criticised me as such have been caught in PC.
    Janice Tooh

  • And of course the same “religious left” that shouts from the roof tops at even the suggestion that government aid programs might be cut, is more often than not completely mute when it comes to the abortion holocaust on its very doorstep. Many are nothing more than “blind guides”.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • If super-rich western corporations paid their fair share of tax in the Third world economies in which they operate (instead of avoiding it), then we wouldn’t actually need to give them any aid at all.
    James Brimblecombe

  • Thanks James

    But the truth is, everyone seeks to minimise and avoid taxation where possible. And I believe corporations are in fact beneficial for developing nations as I argue here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/19/in-defence-of-multinationals/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • There is a point in morality here. Humans are evil. This is why foreign aid often ends up in the Swiss bank account of the ruling party. Or how money given to the Palestinians supports terrorism. Jesus called those in who want power to be servant to all.

    Humans are naturally evil but many of us think that humans are basically good. If we listened to some of the hymns in church or the words in the bible we might think differently. Amazing grace for example goes, Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a ‘wretch’ like me. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that “if you who are ‘evil’ are willing to give good gifts how much more is your heavenly father”. I think many churches would say today that this is unloving or intolerant.

    That isn’t to say that an understanding of human morality gives you everything you need to know about economics. It does allow you to comprehend shrinkage, theft, bribery and misappropriated funds.

    John McAllister

  • Thanks Bill, I have been thinking exactly the same things. It is naive and oversimplified for Christians to say reducing foreign aid is ‘unChristlike’.
    A bit more discussion on Australias aid, UNICEF and CARE Australia is provided here:
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cutting-foreign-aid-to-save-lives

    Annette Williams

  • Wolves in sheeps clothing. There are many in the Christian community who seek only to discredit the truth of the gospel and these are the ones who complain at the drop of a hat irrespective of the ’cause’. Unfortunately there are also those who lack the mental agility to conflate actions with consequences, and they are legion.
    BTW well done in chastising then providing resources for improvement…a scholarly and biblical approach.
    Mike Mcmeekan

  • Hi Bill
    I have first hand knowledge of the good australian foreign aid has done in improving individual, family and society conditions and I’m grateful for that. I agree that there is wastage due to corrupt authorities and the Abbot government is taking appropriate actions to make sure that whatever is spent on aid should be done so responsibly and with transparency. As usual the ’emo’ aggro’ peeps are not lead by facts.
    God bless
    Pita Lino

  • One of the greatest acts of kindness Christians could do to help the poor is to sincerely and consistently ask God to dismantle the wicked governments of Asia and the middle east that hold their own people in poverty and captivity. The people in power there prefer to rake in their own enormous wealth, spend it on weapons, but certainly not look after their own poor.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • So, my giving on micro finance site – Kiva, helping establish businesses for the needy is far more effective than aid?

    What are your thoughts about micro finance organisations Bill?

    Thanks for the article, much appreciated.

    Neil Baulch

  • Thanks Neil. They can be quite helpful indeed, as I discuss here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/11/16/christianity-and-poverty/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The best aid would be tools of trade.

    Alex Sagin

  • I’m glad you wrote on this topic as it had been on my mind since the announcement of aid cutting and the consequent indignation of some Christians. I would like to know that we are funding wise and worthy causes and not just handing out large sums money indiscriminately for things like abortion for example. I know we probably won’t reach that level of accountability but at least someone is making some more sensible decisions now.

    Sharon Gallagher

  • Why get hung up at what the Government is doing in regards to foreign aid. There are umpteen good and responsible aid organisations out there one can support. Many are the tax deductible opportunities. Some even attract Government dollar for dollar support. Personally I donate nothing to Government run aid organisations at home or abroad because of the danger and reality of corruption. I also select almost exclusively Christian or semi Christian aid organisations and read their reports and occasionally visit their work to see with my own eyes what is being done.
    Joost Gemeren

  • Thank you Bill for your perceptive comments and the action makes sense! I wonder how much of this backing is being made known to Mr Abbott and his team.
    I am worried about our country’s financial situation and if we cannot continue to pay our own way in the world, we should not be giving it away, especially without proper assessment of what it is to and why. We could end up trying to support something that we no longer have the capability to sustain without going down the gurgler ourselves. As any properly run household testifies, you tighten the belt when there is debt to be paid; we do not continue living on the credit card’s loan.
    It is Australia’s money, so it is our choice and should be at our absolute discretion as to how we spend it, so it is done wisely, carefully and for the best. If we rectify matters now, we can ‘future-proof’ our country’s ability to continue providing wisely given aide, rather than adding another country to the ‘casuality list’ of bankrupt nations.
    Chester Wilson.

  • Thanks Bill. Article shared. I’ve just had a wonderful young lady who has given up life in Aus to work in the slums in Thailand, rant on this one and I hope she may read and understand what you are saying. Reports of almost a billion aid in PNG being siphened off, half a billion going to Indonesian Islamic schools and who knows how much being spent on UN directed abortions and vaccinations instead of clean water must make any thinking person pause and realise there is more to the issue. I hope the coalition focus what aid is sent on positive programs instead of the political purposes of the left.

    Nathan Ellery

  • Neil, micro-finance = the old ideals of credit unions (now almost disappearing from Aust due to banking regulations).

    John Angelico

  • A great article Bill. Very much needed today. The best aid that can be given to a people to lift them out of poverty is a stable government, the rule of law, and the opportunity to run their own businesses and trade. Under all this is the need for a worldview that is conducive to all these things, which is why the gospel and the Bible are so fundamental.

    Tasman Walker

  • Thankyou Bill for this thought-provoking article.

    I think it might be helpful to readers like me if, by way of example, you could nominate, say, half a dozen countries that have relatively recently been “transformed from dependent economic basket cases into prosperous and flourishing countries” by the application of capitalism and free enterprise. To have some concrete examples would help to clarify my understanding.

    Secondly, assuming these transformations would have taken at least several years, would it have been wrong to send aid to these countries during the transformation process, on the grounds that such aid would have been only a “band-aid solution”? Does a badly bleeding wound not require a temporary dressing to keep infection at bay before surgery can take place?

    Thirdly, there’s no doubt that some poor people are more deserving than others. But given that every country, state, province, city and town is populated by people right across the spectrum of deserving-ness, who shall it be who decides — in every individual case — who’s deserving and who’s not, and on what basis would such a decision be made? And furthermore, what measures would be needed to make sure that none of the aid fell into the hands of the undeserving?

    Finally, what might be some of the “hard questions” Jesus would ask here/

    Rowan Forster

  • Thanks Rowan

    The short answer of course is this: if you are really interested in these matters, why not get a few of the books I recommend? Start with Grudem. Or get Corbett and Fikkert, When Helping Hurts (Moody, 2009, 2012). You are asking questions that really demand book-length answers, something I cannot do in a mere comment.

    But some very short answers nonetheless:

    1 Start with the Four Asian Tigers of course: Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. They are today flourishing economies because of adopting free market economics to get them out of their once backwards condition.

    2 All the major critics of foreign aid from Moyo to the others of course allow for humanitarian or emergency aid. And they also are not against charity-based aid, usually done by religious and charitable groups. But that is quite different from government to government transfers, or those transfers done by groups like the World Bank.

    3 Throughout most of human history churches, community groups, families and so on did the aid and relief work, and were well placed to make such judgments. Obviously some bureaucrat sitting in an office in Canberra or Washington is not wll placed to do this. Why any Christian should think out-of-touch government bureaucracies are the way to go here is unclear to me. And read the book of Proverbs for starters on how God tells us to make these differentiations.

    4 The same questions I have been asking all along here in my dozen or so articles on this topic: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/economics/foreign-aid/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thank you Bill for your words of wisdom on this issue.
    An organisation I belong to actually provides micro-credit and micro-finance to three organisations in Kenya. It is all about giving women and families a hand up, not a hand out. It is strictly controlled and has proven to be very successful in providing education for women, helping them to set up their own business. Many are learning trades. They are required to attend classes to learn how to run a business before they receive any funding and then are required to repay the loan so that it can be used to assist others.
    The UN thinks that abortion will solve the problem of poverty. Sadly UNICEF supports abortion. Oz Aid also supports abortion through Marie Stopes International Australia, it’s charitable arm!!!!!

    Madge Fahy

  • Thanks Bill,
    I too recommend reading Peter Bauer. His “Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion” is incredibly informative.
    What strikes me is how we desperately need such writings when, as stated in your comment above, the book of Proverbs declares such so obviously.

    Jeremy Peet

  • Is Dr Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Fund a worthwhile charity?

    Jo Deller

  • Well said Bill.

    The deceitful Leftists accuse opponents of lack of compassion, purely for their own political gain. It’s a propaganda ploy, nothing more.

    Sadly it’s the ignorant who seek their next warm and fuzzy feeling, that the Leftists lure through their deceitful arguments for supposed “compassion”.

    It’s clearly the Left who are the heartless, lacking any compassion. To the Left, “compassion” is simply a useful propaganda tool.

    I recall an example of this when Pauline Hanson argued for helping the Aborigines out of welfare dependance. She quoted that well known line that if you give a man a meal you feed him once, but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a life time.
    Pauline was immediately labelled a racist for making such a suggestion that would get Aborigines off welfare.

    Interestingly some months later Aboriginal Noel Pearson made a very similar suggestion to what Pauline Hanson said. The hypocritical Leftists hailed him as a wonderful insightful man.

    The Left is heartless, lacking any compassion. For them “compassion” is nothing more than an effective propaganda tool.

    Harold van de Wiel

  • To reply to Jo Deller – I think that the Fistula Hospital is a most worthy cause. Having met Catherine Hamlin when she was visiting Australia a few years ago, I was impressed with her passion and vigour – she was well into her eighties then and had more energy than most younger people. The job that and her husband undertook was massive and they have helped countless women to live much better lives and they didn’t kill babies to do it! Personally, I have always been more than happy to support this work.

    Joan Davidson

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