The cost of a life: Foreign aid, generosity, the Gospel, and our shared humanity

I’d hate people to think that my condemnation of KRudd’s approach to the Bible (part 1, part 2) is an endorsement of Tony Abbott – either politically or theologically. And I suspect that any silence on yesterday’s foreign aid cuts announcement from the Liberal Party could lead to that sort of conclusion.

My guiding principle for this election, as a Christian, is that a Christian vote is a vote for others.

Tony Abbott is arguably more “religious” than KRudd – but it has become apparent that he has a very different political theology than Rudd. One much closer to my own. Such that he doesn’t think his faith should inform his decisions in a secular democracy. It’s close to what I think. But it’s not the same. For Abbott the end result is something like quietism from the Christian constituency, I’m more interested in a faithful Christian voice speaking in an informed, Gospel-focused way, that doesn’t end up trashing the truths of the Gospel by holding out the fruits of a life changed by the Gospel as the starting point for moral living rather than the ending point of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The voice of the Christian consistency should be a voice that is considered in the process – but it should be a voice that advocates for others rather than for our own interests. If we’re not going to speak out for the vulnerable, in an election that is all about the economy and by extension, our hip pocket, then who will?

I think the notion of constant economic growth nationally, and at home, is just a fancy way of justifying greed. I understand the argument that growing the economic pie for everybody is the best way to grow the dollar amount we can spend on foreign aid. There are huge complexities in our approach to economic management, and even infrastructure projects – and increasing efficiency through better infrastructure is a good way to boost productivity. I get that. But the $4.5 billion in foreign aid cuts, ostensibly for the purpose of investing in infrastructure at home, make me sad. Especially as these cuts come while the Coalition is proposing to introduce the most generous lower-upper class welfare package ever.

I understand the need for the Australian Government to govern for Australians. That’s their core business.

It’s also true that foreign policy is a pretty complicated affair – and stability in other nations is in our interest both economically – through creating new and viable trade partners through development, and in terms of national security, through creating less wars that we might be called to involve ourselves in, and less need for people to seek asylum outside of their country of origin.

We have an incredible opportunity to be generous to other nations, and their people.

National sovereignty isn’t something I’m particularly interested in or passionate about – it’s an incredible quirk of chance and good fortune that I was born in the most luxurious era ever, in one of the wealthiest countries in this period. This privilege is an opportunity to be generous. We have been given much – whether we acknowledge the giver or not.

Nationalism is often economic self-interest justified on the strength of our ancestors’ ability to capitalise on their geographic opportunity – or through our own ability to capitalise on our environment.

One of the arguments against foreign aid is that it is an inefficient use of money – especially because some of the aid money is lost in transmission, through corruption or bureaucratic incompetence. Even if you acknowledge that some of the money is not spent the best possible way through corruption or inefficiency on the ground – those inefficiencies are part of the “opportunity cost” of making a real difference to real people.

Augustine, an old dude from the olden days, said (but in Latin) “wrong use does not negate right use.”

Cuts to aid spending cost lives. Even if the model is flawed. I’m not sure where the stats on this budgetsmuggler site come from. But it’s a useful way of visualising the on the ground impact of cuts to aid spending. But this other guide suggests that every $2,500 spent on health saves a life (with more info).

Here’s the number of lives that BudgetSmuggler suggests will be lost before Christmas through these cuts.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 9.43.08 AM
I know our aid spending doesn’t just go to health – and I know the $4.5 billion is only a cut to the speed of growth of our aid spending. But $1.125 billion a year is 450,000 lives annually. It’s 109 days until Christmas. So this figure actually seems conservative.

Even if you’re not a Christian – and you’re an Australia – it should shock you to your core that we are not doing something about the lives being lost elsewhere, simply because, by chance, we happened to be born (or move) here – to somewhere prosperous.

Our shared humanity

But I think Australian Christians need to advocate for our vulnerable neighbours from around the globe.

We actually have the best rationale for doing this. Humanists can argue on the basis of our shared humanity. And that’s great. But we have a theological account – not just of our shared origins – but our potential shared future, for those from around the globe who follow Jesus, and our theological understanding of citizenship and nationhood.

I’m also convinced we should be idealists rather than pragmatists in our approach to political debate, so long as we’re prepared to put our money and time where our mouths are when it comes to loving people on the ground – so if you’re talking about asylum seekers you’ve got to be prepared to love the refugees who are here.

Christians are not citizens of earthly kingdoms. Primarily. While we live here – in Australia – we live here as Citizens of God’s Kingdom. That changes our priorities. Here’s what Paul says – in a slightly different argument to the Philippians (in chapter 3) – but the principles apply here.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

That process of transformation has begun. It starts in our minds. For Christians. It’s the process that sees us live for others. For the weak. For the vulnerable. Slightly earlier in the same letter Paul says we should be copying Jesus’ example…

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

You know. Jesus who…

“…made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus gave up his life to save our life.

Jesus – who was equal with God.

Gave up his whole life.

And we want to cut 0.375% of our national budget, or whatever the figure is, to make life more comfortable for ourselves in the long term. At the expense of others.

Seriously. If you’re a Christian the sacrifice that has been made on your behalf should be the paradigm for the sacrifice you make for others. That’s got to frame our approach to speaking about foreign aid – and being generous with our own budgets.

God gave his life for us. To save our lives.

National barriers are meaningless at that point – because our king transcends them.

Part of the breaking down of barriers is knowing where we’re going – where those barriers will be in the future of humanity – the future that is tied to those who know Jesus. The future where our citizenship in heaven becomes a reality. Where our citizenship in God’s kingdom transcends international borders. Here’s how John describes it in Revelation 7.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

10 thoughts on “The cost of a life: Foreign aid, generosity, the Gospel, and our shared humanity”

  1. Nathan – I appreciate all your blogging about this election – there’s still time to take on the Greens, Palmer, Katter, etc – I’m considering drawing lots in the voting booth tomorrow – that’s biblical isn’t it?!

    1. Surely, in real terms the agenda will be driven by whichever major party gets in. So you might put your first preference as whichever party you feel most fond towards, but in all reality, you need to decide which of the big boys you like better, or which will enact laws that punish evil and make it easy to live righteously.

      1. Hi AndyM,

        Sure. If I thought this post was just about the election I wouldn’t have written it – the policies of our major parties reflect what they think is a popular idea, that’s the problem with market driven politics. But it is also the opportunity of market driven politics – if we speak strongly and convincingly about things like this, for the next three years, we might see real change in our nation’s priorities. If we join political parties and speak about these issues in the debate in an informed and engaged way we may change things quicker…

  2. in a national sense, the government acts much like a man looking after his family. Is the passage on whoever doesn’t look after his own family is worse than an unbeliever applicable here?

    Right now the economy is in a mess here in australia. confidence is probably lower than it was at any point in the GFC. Talk of redundancies and layoffs on a large scale in professions is widespread. Given the government’s primary task is looking after people here, it would be irresponsible if it didn’t circle the wagons to some extent and ensure that businesses weren’t closing and that layoffs slowed down.

    1. Sorry – to clarify, the original commentor “Andy” above here isn’t the andy of the 3:56 comment. I’ll rename myself AndyM to remove ambiguity. Apologies.

    2. I don’t think two people with the same name have ever commented like this before.

      But Andy who said:

      “in a national sense, the government acts much like a man looking after his family. Is the passage on whoever doesn’t look after his own family is worse than an unbeliever applicable here?”

      I don’t think the analogy stands, so I don’t think the principle applies – the government (as experienced in New Testament times) had a role outside of the family. It seems odd to then conflate them.

      I agree that confidence is low – but I disagree that, on the global scheme of things, the economy is “a mess” – if ours is bad, then others are worse, and from our position we should, I think, as global citizens, be helping out our fellow man.

      If your analogy has any merit – this is like insisting your family needs three square meals a day, while your neighbours have a loaf of bread a week. That command to look after their own family (1 Timothy 5:8) is an imperative for individuals – not the state – and as such needs to be held alongside commands to individuals like loving your neighbour, caring for the widow and orphan, loving your enemies, etc. It seems to be particularly within the context of the church community too – so that people aren’t unnecessarily being a financial burden on the church in a way that is an impediment to carrying for the widow who is relying on the Lord, who is on the widow’s list (1 Timothy 5:5,9).

      1. fair call. it was a long bow. my sense was that a govt should focus on ensuring its citizens are looked after first and foremost.

        we are indeed a wealthy country, but it is costly to live here as well. for the price of one meal cheaply obtained you could probably feed a family for a week at the prices that exist in the third world markets.

        Is the state ever commanded to look after another state? Charity and generosity and care for neighbour should flow from individuals. i can think of the one-off offering for the church in jerusalem, but nothing like the ongoing support that we give to other countries. even at the level that we out-source the care for widow and orphan to the state in welfare, we aren’t as aware of the needs of the poor, and generosity becomes something that is part of our tax burden rather than something flowing out of a desire to show love to neighbour.

        1. Is it ever commanded? Not so much. Can we drawer ethical principles from the Biblical text that support this being “moral” – I think so. Particularly for Christians, and especially for individuals… I think some examples I’d look to, outside of Jesus becoming human to aid us against his own self-interest, and his teaching – like the beatitudes and bits about how we think of money, and the bit about caring for the poor being an indicator that we are God’s people, other examples would be Paul’s collection from Gentile churches for the church in Jerusalem, and the push to caring for widows in various parts of the New Testament, in the Old Testament, I’d say the laws concerning care for sojourners, the laws concerning cities of refuge, the practice of leaving grain uncollected for the poor, the summary of the law being love your God and love your neighbour…

          I think the secular case for foreign aid is pretty compelling too.

        2. AndyM? When you say that “a govt should focus on ensuring its citizens are looked after first and foremost.”, in what way should they be looked after?

          Is it to tax small businesses to fund “women of calibre” to have babies and still enjoy their lavish lifestyles?

          To take 4.5 Billion dollars out of foreign aid to “restore the Private Health Insurance Rebate in full” so that millionaires can enjoy a tax rort and the average wage earner can’t even afford the premiums?

          Who looking after who?

          I’d rather my tax dollars going to the needy, not to the elite!!

          1. what is the purpose of any paid parental leave scheme? If the purpose is so that women can have a period of time with their newborn, then it makes sense to provide at a level commensurate with their previous income, as that is what they would have based their household budgets on. The debate as to what the ceiling should be is a separate one from what the purpose is (personally i think $150k is too high). If you manage to pay your mortgage and live on a budget set on the minimum wage, you shouldn’t have had any problem with the ALP scheme, but it didn’t credibly support anyone earning anything above. It’s worth noting that those “women of calibre” would be paying more tax during their careers than they’d ever receive back through any govt schemes, so it isn’t like the balance is out of whack.

            From the SBS summary on the paid parental leave scheme: “Abbott’s scheme is funded through a 1.5% levy on companies with taxable income above $5 million per annum (accompanied by a reduction of company tax to 28.5%); whereas Rudd’s is funded from general revenue.”

            So you have a reduction in general tax accompanied by an increase for larger companies to cover PPL.

            Is it really a rort to use a legitimate tax deduction to reduce your health insurance premiums? A rort is traditionally where you break the rules to do something. not something that the government encourages and documents openly. That’s a separate argument from the general affordability of health insurance. The government has an interest in keeping a proportion of the population on private health so public hospitals aren’t swamped with demand. there is a public good, so it is subsidised, much like religious and private schools.

            On the whole, you’d find that the millionaires or even just those on the upper end of the professionals salary scale pay far far more tax than you or i ever will, and what they get back from the govt is a pittance.

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