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July 27, 2005
Why One Won't Work
A couple of weeks ago, Al Mohler posted this commentary on the One campaign.
He refers to an article by Christian ethicist Ben Mitchell, wherein Mitchell does something a lot of people seem unwilling to do; evaluate the economic realities of third world poverty. Mohler's piece is primarily a rehashing of Mitchell's argument, save for this closing line: "failure to identify the true causes of Third World poverty and thus advocate useful real solutions–like the ONE Campaign–is not just misguided, it is actually harmful. The wider public knows this to be true." Not to assume the worst about others, but if One doesn't get support (and that's hardly the case), it's not that the public has beter ideas. It's that the public doesn't care. And I'm pretty convinced of that, too. The average Joe on the street and perhaps even on the church pew, while acknowledging that their lives are busy, just doesn't care what goes in another part of the world, so long as they're safe and sound. Sound harsh? Did anyone care about women's rights in Afghanistan prior to 9/11?
I truly believe that the celebrities lending their support to One have their hearts in the right place. I believe Bono cares deeply for the people of Africa, as does Brad Pitt, Chris Martin, Tom Hanks, et al. Yet I also believe that there means of implementing change are flawed. Seriously flawed. The central tenet of the One campaign is the concept of debt relief. It's a concept that has been attempted for years, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, some people seem incapable of acknowledging that it just doesn't work. Just as there are laws of chemistry, physics and biology, there are also some basic economic laws. If there's a giant list of things that work, debt relief ain't on there.
It seems more and more Christians are developing an open, demonstrable concern for third-world poverty. This is a good thing. I share these sentiments and I'm heartened to see others make overtures towards caring for the suffering overseas. My faith in Christ compels me to care for the fatherless and the widow. Yet I am also called to do everything to the glory of God, a phrase that the Church has long understood to mean a call to excellence. Christ has not called us to mediocrity, whether in the arts or the sciences or our daily work. And when we're talking about alleviating the suffering of millions of people and accomplishing that task with billions of other people's dollars, then the burden to do the right thing is that much greater. The issue of poverty in the third-world goes beyond wanting to help. That's a prerequisite to "doing the right thing." To do the right thing, we must move beyond the idea that our concern even matters. If our concern is misdirected, or we feel that doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing, then we've deluded ourselves and harmed the people we sought to help.
Debt relief and education won't help a soul if the government that has been relieved of its debt doesn't stop borrowing money. It won't help if the governments are still corrupt, still cheating taxpayers, still refusing to allow a free press, private property, or freedom of religion. It won't help if there are no decent roads so that farmers can get to market or so that sick children can get to medicine. It won't change a thing as long as rape and prostitution run rampant. Debt relief won't help the suffering people of Zimbabwe when their government - unelected, I should add - has a systematic policy of forcing white farmers off their own land. Nothing will change in the Sudan so long as the Bashir government practices genocide. Nothing will change in South Africa so long as the government there regards AIDS as "an African problem," thereby suggesting that the rest of the world step off. We can't help Nigeria or Algeria or Libya so long as those countries are run by brutally oppressive Islamic regimes that harbor terrorists, treat women as second-class citizens and treat their dogs better than they treat homosexuals or adulterers. We can't help a country that refuses to allow some level of capitalism, wherein a man can ply his trade and farm his land without worrying about being killed on the way to the market. The One campaign might offer a temporary solution, but there is no long term hope for Africa without government reform that brings an end to widespread corruption, a change to a free market, free speech, free religion and democratic elections.
And lastly, as a Christian, it would be foolish of me to think that any serious change can come to Africa without a change of heart. I'm not above supporting non-religious aid groups. I have before and will likely continue to do so. But I must acknowledge that there is no peace and no truth outside of the cross of Christ. As much as I pray that Africa and other poverty-stricken regions of the world can find relief, I must acknolwedge that true relief is found only in Christ. I must also acknowledge that my intentions mean nothing if my plans don't work. A fisherman can want with all his heart to catch a fish, but if he is not fishing correctly, his longing is in vain. Likewise we must acknowledge that Christ's command to care for the less fortunate must mean more than tossing money at the problem and thinking that true change can come from the government and not from the heart. To pretend otherwise is extremely dangerous.
Posted by Matt at July 27, 2005 10:40 AM
I had trouble with Trackback, but wanted to pass along that I linked to your excellent post here. I think you have it exactly right.
Posted by: Dadmanly at July 27, 2005 12:37 PM
Debt relief and free trade are not the answers for Africa and other third-world countries. There needs to be a revolution in work-ethic, family planning, and a sense of responsibility for your fellow man in these parts of the world.
America did not become the richest and most successful country in the history of the world because of free trade and other economic principles. We became great because of a strong work-ethic and a desire to make things better for ourselves, our family, and those we leave behind when we die. Unless this type of work ethic and sense of responsibility takes hold in Africa then the people there are doomed.
And it is difficult for me to support groups like One. Most of these artists despise organizations like the Catholic Church, yet it is the Catholic Church that has done so much in the past to actually build things like schools and roads in Africa.
For all the anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiment that comes from these "do-good" Hollywood types, it would serve them well to take a look at who is actually getting their hands dirty in Africa.
And that, my friend, overwhelmingly are men and women serving under the Cross and in the name of Jesus.
Posted by: Justin at July 27, 2005 01:59 PM
I've been wondering though, about things like this . . . can we really help? Is there anything I can actually do to help change someone's heart on a national scale? If yes, what?
I like that you can see Capitalism, Christianity, and concern for the poor all under the same umbrella. I know many Christians who advocate some form of socialism or another if they ever decide that helping the poor is a good idea.
Posted by: James Aguilar at August 1, 2005 12:17 AM
I'm glad to see you addressing these issues - even if I don't agree with all your conclusions! :o)
Debt relief is certainly not the whole answer, but it can definitely be part of the answer, and has been shown to help in a number of cases. We need to avoid simplifying the causes and answers down to any one factor, be it corruption, debt, trade, etc. Also, neither socialism, nor capitalism are the answer, but we need to think about how the Bible speaks to these issues and how it critiques both.
I've been working in Burkina Faso for 15 years, and have written a series of posts trying to think about some of these issues, such as debt, corruption, poverty, trade, etc from a biblical perspective. They are not very good, but I hope they may encourage others to think things through more. If you are interested, you can find the first one here:
Posted by: Keith at August 3, 2005 08:51 AM