Mark Galli has a challenging piece in the February edition of Christianity Today. The short of it: Governments are better suited to fight global poverty than faith-based groups, and they’re actually doing a reasonably good job at it.
Poverty is shrinking worldwide, according to the article, and is anticipated to continue to take a slide over the coming years. The raw numbers and percentages are still enormous, but… “the seemingly audacious UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by half between 1990 and 2015 was met three years ago.”
Mostly because of the economic booms experienced by India and China.
Galli explores how large scale economic development, of the kind typically fueled by government engagement, is more effective than the small-scale engagement that faith groups muster. This does not mean that we should not continue to help the poor, or to pursue various avenues for lifting persons or villages out of poverty. However, large scale elimination of poverty is beyond us and, suggests Galli, not our calling.
A few thoughts: (1) It’s complicated. The elimination of numerous people from the poverty roles in India and China does not simply mean that the economic pie has gotten larger so that now many more people are earning a living wage for their families. We’ve been experiencing economic struggles in the U.S. for a decade or so as manufacturing jobs and tech jobs have gone overseas. I’m not saying the development of India and China is bad, or that we should become isolationist–just pointing out that it’s complicated.
(2) I think Galli is right to call us away from a results-oriented perspective. We do always want to see exactly what our returns are and invest so as to maximize them. But the Kingdom of God often doesn’t work this way. Or, at least…
(3) We should be prepared to be surprised. In keeping with 2, the point of so much of the Gospel story is God demonstrating that abundance flows from nothingness, greatness comes from humility, harvest comes from a single seed, thousands are fed on a loaf. Faithfulness in tending to the poor may look like ineffectiveness, or foolishness, but we scatter abroad in faith.
(4) Even though as faith based communities we can do little to eliminate global poverty, in the U.S. and elsewhere we have the power as those who vote to tell our leaders to look abroad and care for the poor. This might be an important way for us to be faithfully Christian in the public square.
What do you think? What should we learn, if anything, from the success of these large countries and the relative ineffectiveness of programs on the ground? How do we participate in what is going on already that is good, further the reduction of slavery and poverty, and recognize the global forces at work in issues of wealth, power, and poverty?