Interesting meeting this evening. A few days ago I received an email through our church website inviting me to a meeting with Andrew Mitchell MP, the Shadow Minister for International Development. The meeting was supposed to be a round-table discussion with leaders of churches and Christian charities about International Development (ID).
To be honest, what I know about ID can be written on a postage stamp. Like most people I have some sort of emotional reaction to the inequalities that are apparent in the world. So, no news there then. The only thing I feel reasonably strongly about is the need to reform international trade. Subsidy systems such as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy or the US’s system are disastrous to the economies of developing countries. Those protective practices need reform.
Mr Mitchell spoke for about 20 minutes to the assembled group of about 20 people – church leaders, Christian charity leaders – outlining Tory policy. It had three heads: reform of the trading system (good), aid (0.7% GDP target), and conflict resolution. While interesting, to be honest I began to wonder why I had been invited. I was not alone.
The ensuing discussion was interesting. The Oxfam (a Christian charity?) guy was very keen on channelling funds through governments on the basis that only governments were able to sustain development. This was challenged by another person who works very closely with local projects in Nigeria who took the opposite view. Local, person-to-person development work is sustainable. I have to admit, I was sympathetic to the latter view, with my innate suspicion of impersonal and ideological governmental bureaucracy.
(Of course, there was someone who spoke up about global warming. In case, you haven’t got it: I’m a skeptic.)
As a Christian, I cannot see ID without the lens of the gospel. Transformation of economic circumstances is an empty shell without transformation of lives brought to Christ. It is corruption of the heart leads to corruption of systems. Tim Keller speaks of the gospel bringing ‘Shalom’ to life, which he understands as ‘interwovenness’ of life, where relationships with God, others and self are restored. I find this view attractive. Any ID system without a gospel foundation which seeks to restore those relationships (which can only be done through Christ, not some general ‘spirituality’) will always be limited leaving an unfinished ‘fabric’. It may only be rearranging the threads. Can it really be called a ‘solution’ to merely create more individualist, consumerist regions around the world ?
I may have strayed beyond the postage stamp, but there it is, for what it’s worth!