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Anti-Poverty Campaign Targets Debt, Trade

The Make Poverty History campaign sees the effectiveness of aid as being hampered by crippling debt repayments as well as unfair trade rules.

The Make Poverty History campaign sees the effectiveness of aid as being hampered by crippling debt repayments as well as unfair trade rules. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“It’s one thing for people to grow crops, but if they then cannot send those into a processing system because of rules and regulations then they are still condemned to poverty,” says <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />David Kerrigan, BMS director for mission.
 
Liz Russell, BMS World Mission Regional Secretary for Asia agrees: “At the moment the way it seems to work is that markets in developing countries are forced open to receive goods that they themselves may already be producing. They receive goods at a subsidized price, can’t compete, and so their own internal market goes to pot.”
 
Along with aid and fair trade, debt relief plays a large part in the Make Poverty History campaign. BMS World Mission and other Baptist organizations have been founder members and active partners in campaigns like the Jubilee campaign to drop poor nation debt.
 
Alistair Brown understands debt relief in specifically Christian terms. “I think if we are to be truly Christian, we have to be a people who are willing to forgive, to step aside from our legal rights,” he says. “God has a legal right to condemn us but has chosen not to. And that’s the pattern for Christians, and that is not just in interpersonal relationships of the ordinary kind, but in our financial transactions.”
 
Roy Searle, president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, says that the reason Christians should care about developing nations servicing huge debt is, in his words, “Because it’s an issue of justice.”
 
“Africa is spending $30 million repaying debts to us,” Searle says. “Many of those agreements were entered into on very dubious grounds in the past and the Bible talks about Jubilee and setting free those who are weighed down by debt. Some African nations are spending more servicing debt than they do on healthcare and education. So how can they fight AIDS, feed and educate their children and grow economies when our western governments and institutions are just siphoning off critical resources?” He refers to the money being spent repaying such debt as “blood money” and says that, “as Christians we should have nothing to do with it.”
 
Searle’s views, like most of the British Baptist leaders quoted here, come from an understanding of Scripture that is by no means liberal but that views social justice ends as not only legitimate, but essential.
 
“I think it needs to be put in the context of that amazing passage in Matthew 25 when Jesus spoke of how at the end of time he will separate the sheep and the goats,” Searle explains. “He talked about when he was hungry, thirsty, etc, and then he said, ‘whatsoever you did to the least of these my children, you did to me’. So when we allow one child to die every three seconds of preventable disease and hunger we are doing something that is to Christ as it were.”
 
Trade justice continues to be the stickiest of the issues raised by the Make Poverty History campaign. Vested interests and the need to protect industry and agriculture at home have made G8 leaders reticent when it comes to amending trade rules and subsidies that could make their own counties suffer.
 
For Alistair Brown the answer is as simple and uncompromising as much of the gospel.
 
“Then suffer,” he says. “Who says that we are entitled to an affluent way of life if the price of that is that others must have a life of poverty and misery? In fact the Christian teaching as I understand it is that if you’ve got two coats, give one away to the one who has none. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a coat. It just means that you live in such a way that they have a coat too. And in this context of large-scale economics it seems to me that we are not entitled to high-level lifestyle unless others have an equal opportunity, and they just don’t. We need to let go of something that we have in order that they have might have more.”
 
David Kerrigan agrees it is “not a cost-free package.”
 
“This will affect people like farmers in terms of subsidies, but in due course it will affect all of us as we begin to pay a fair price for the materials that we consume,” he says. “For too long we’ve been able to buy things at artificially low prices by taking advantage of our strength in the marketplace. That’s what’s got to change and it will mean us paying more perhaps for our clothes and for our food.”
 
David Coffey likens the concept of necessary sacrifice to that of conversion. “We know this as a Christian principle: you can’t be serious about exercising compassion where it doesn’t involve sacrifice.
 
“Whenever I hear a politician promising that we’re going to give aid but it won’t touch our lifestyle, that’s a false promise. I could never offer that as a Christian pastor. If somebody comes to me and says, ‘I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Are there things in my life its okay for me to have lordship over and the rest Jesus can have?’—we know what the answer would be. And I don’t think that we can be serious about this massive rearrangement of trade rules without us saying, ‘yes, it may cost us.'”
 
Jonathan Langley writes for BMS World Mission in Didcot, England.
 
See part one:British Baptist Leaders Support ‘Make Poverty History’ Campaign