Big problem, bigger God
The figures are staggering and the headlines impressive, but are there any lessons that Christians can learn from the recent G20 summit?
There was a strong lobbying voice for the poor as the G20 leaders met in London in April seeking to resolve the world’s financial crisis. Headlines extolled the $1.1 trillion pledged to shore up global economies and prevent future economic disasters, as well as the $5 trillion in stimulus packages and bailouts adopted by individual countries. The figures are impressive – especially if you live in one of the world’s richest countries getting the largest bailouts.
No one disputes that the system needs to be fixed, that this will require mammoth funding, and that the future financial stability of the global economy is critical. But while the leaders of 22 countries gathered to discuss these issues, more than 100 of the world’s poorest economies waited on the sidelines, hoping that they would not be overlooked.
Remember the poor
Campaigning against poverty at the G20 was Bob Geldof, who said: ‘The human impact of the financial crisis on the poor parts of the world is incalculable’. Indeed, earlier that day, Barbara Stocking, Oxfam CEO, had commented: ‘When you look at the amount of money that has been found for banks, it seems inconceivable that G20 leaders will stand aside and allow the economic crisis to destroy poor people’s lives’.
Their plight was addressed to some extent. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his closing speech, said that the wealthy nations would fulfil the Doha round for providing development funding for the poorest nations:
‘We are determined to lay the foundation for a fair and sustainable world economy. We recognise that the current crisis has a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable in the poorest countries and recognise our collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage’.
These countries were promised significant packages over 2-3 years from the International Monetary Fund’s sales of gold reserves – plus a more immediate $50bn injection. But the elephant in the room that no one wants to notice is that millions are dying in poverty, burdened further by a financial crisis not of their own making. Lending for micro-finance is drying up and many charities are barely able to make ends meet.
Gordon Brown describes the G20 leaders as Good Samaritans and promised that they would ‘not walk by on the other side’. But where were they when the reckless greed of banking institutions was setting up the world for a fall?
The Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples, ‘The poor are always with you’ (John 12:8). We take this as read and donate our time, money and prayers accordingly. But is this enough? The G20 leaders think it’s easy to say sorry and hand over a cheque, but what happens when this global recession is past? The poor will still not have a voice.
It was good news that the G20 formally acknowledged this point, but more so should Christians. Our concern should not just emerge at times of disaster but at all times and on all levels. While prioritising the gospel, we should not cease to lobby for better human rights – standing up for the persecuted church and speaking out against injustice wherever it is found. We must not pass by while bad practice at all levels enhances the plight of the poor. Let us use our voices prayerfully on their behalf.
Who’s in control?
The G20’s ‘Plan for recovery’ can only ever deal with financial problems on a political and regulatory level. It cannot change the culture of greed, pride and power that drove the heads of investment banks and other financial institutions to take outlandish risks with other people’s money.
Only God can change men’s hearts and ways, so as to forge a culture of righteousness rather than of risk and reward. King David with all his wealth knew it. In Psalm 51:10 he accepted responsibility for his sins and cried out, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me’.
The G20 leaders agreed to crack down on excessive bonuses. But I wonder – are Christians in business still envious of the fat cats? We are told in Exodus 20:17 not to covet anything that is our neighbour’s; perhaps we should include bonuses and expense accounts. We are called to be different – which means taking a moral stand rather than unmeasured risks. This sometimes requires supernatural courage, but we have a God who can help us rise above our human nature.
And if we fear that the wicked are succeeding, let us remember Psalm 73 or the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). Don’t envy them, but rather pray for them; there’s an immortal soul inside that Paul Smith suit.
So the G20 hit the headlines, but social and political measures can never prevent greed or wipe out poverty. In a fallen world these will always be with us. But God has also given believers his Spirit in the world and we are ambassadors of heaven on the earth.
So let us proclaim the kingdom of God and his righteousness, remembering the poor and daring to speak out against injustice. Let us dare to be different and stand up against malpractice, as we seek to bring Christ to a poor and fallen world.