Justin Thacker

The Restorative Economy

A week ago today, Tearfund launched their latest report and campaign. Both are to be strongly commended. While the latter focusses on what we as individuals can do as ‘Ordinary Heroes’ to tackle climate change, speak up for justice and live simply the former is a courageous and substantial contribution to a debate about the kind of global society in which we want to live.

Tearfund Restorative Economy

Tearfund Restorative Economy

I say courageous because its focus is not the kind of poverty porn that bedevils the publications of so many aid agencies, but rather the hard, economic analysis that in the long run is likely to do far more good than any paternalistic image of a malnourished child. The authors draw attention to the progress that has been made over the last 50 years or so, but argue that such improvements are at risk unless we chart an alternative social and economic path from the consumerist, capitalist one in which Western democracies are currently stuck. Their alternative is – perhaps unsurprisingly – rooted in the OT Jubilee principles and in particular the concepts of shalom, justice, love, righteousness, wisdom and atonement. The last of these is particularly interesting as while other Christian aid agencies have framed their theology of development in terms of the rather abstract notion of relational theology, it is encouraging to see Tearfund unashamedly draw on their evangelical identity and construct their theology of development, at least in part, on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This is not the norm for theologies of development and yet these authors rightly point out that the restoration of right relationships so often requires self-sacrifice. Indeed, I wonder if they could have made more of this because, as I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the fundamental problems with our current Western politics is that they are predicated on an assumption of ever-rising prosperity. I am increasingly persuaded that for us to achieve a more equitable and sustainable world will require the West in particular to become materially poorer – in other words, experience the self-sacrifice that is required for restored and reconciled relationships.

Their recommendations are also innovative and courageous – at least for an aid agency. For their emphasis in this report is much less about twinning toilets, buying goats or setting off on short-term mission trips, and much more about investment in agricultural productivity, just private sector investment and tax avoidance and progressive tax measures. They write:

While aid remains crucial for development, especially in least developed countries, it is markets that have the most power to drive really transformative change…So we think some of the biggest potential in the UK’s development agenda is in supporting private sector development inclusive growth.

I have previously written how this approach represents for me the third component of integral mission and so I warmly welcome the honesty and bravery of Tearfund in this report. I say ‘bravery’ because this kind of stuff isn’t easy to get your head round. It is far less appealing that the simple message that £5 will save a child’s life, but as they argue (and I concur) in the long run it is these kinds of approaches that will make the most transformative difference. Tearfund’s fundraising may not see the benefit of this approach but their moral capital is sky high for saying it.

Finally, they don’t just leave us with a series of national policy recommendations, but they also challenge us at the individual, ‘ordinary hero’ level, to reduce our carbon footprint, give more away, consume less stuff and speak out for justice. My only quibbles with the report are that some of the early statements are prone to the utopianism that I have elsewhere critiqued. Is it really the case, for instance, that their alternative path “leads to a place where poverty is eliminated, where catastrophic climate change is averted, and where all human beings…have the chance to flourish.” I agree that what they set out will improve things significantly, but I’m not yet persuaded it will take us all the way to the new heavens and new earth.

Nevertheless, this really is a brilliant report. Read it, distribute it and most of all live it. Well done Tearfund.

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23/04/2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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