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.
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: https://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.