When I first read Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change I was struck by the simplicity of the premise that if the gospel is good news it must have something to say to about the big questions we face as individuals, families, communities and nations. I was thinking about this again as I listen to some of the reports of the government's plans and proposals for the future of our economy. Grand plans for infrastructure, cutting departmental spending and predictions of recovery that might just turn out to overly optimistic again. Maybe I'm a bit too cynical.
What bothers me is that some of the ideas seem rather too political, designed to assuage the cries of middle England and do little in the present other than make life harder for the most vulnerable. It is hard to see how we are in this together when the poor get poorer while the wealthy appear safe and secure in their tax havens.
There was some humour in the whole process, but even describing Eric Pickles as a shining example of lean government cannot hide the hard truth that welfare was once again the target. Is it any surprise that alongside the stringent cutting of benefits and spending on services we have seen a rise in pay day loan companies and food banks?
Perhaps we need a more reflective approach to the economy alongside the accounting reality. We certainly spent money unwisely in the past, but we've also encouraged more selfishness too. I'm no economist, I was once told off for suggesting that the idea of a constantly growing economy seemed like an unsustainable as a model to apply across the whole world. Surely someone has to pay for it?
So, what does the gospel have to say to such things? Answers on a postcard please. There do seem to be some basic principles that could be teased out and that do not require a particular political stance in order for them to be applied. What we need to careful to avoid in simple grabbing a few texts here and there and building our perspective on them alone. Perhaps we could start by asking ourselves how did God intend to make Israel distinctive, and then look at how Jesus interpreted and expressed that during his ministry. Interesting to think about the Old Testament views the alien and the poor and how that transfers to the gospel.
Back in the 80's, when I was at college, I read some stuff about the poor. I seem to recall something coming out of the Lausanne Conference that spoke about the poor in three ways. There were the relative poor, those people who are poor in comparison to the rest of their society. Then there were the indigenous poor, those who are poor by nature of the situation and circumstances. The their group were those who were made poor by the exploitation and abuse of the wealthy and powerful.
For what it's worth, I think the gospel is more concerned with equity than equality, but I think we might also be judged by not only how we treat the poorest in our society but how poor we make them.