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.

 

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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.”