Why should Christians care about economic justice?

This blog is the third in a series on how Christian believers can help to build a Safer World for All.

You can read Part 1: Christians’ questions about foreign aid, and Part 2: Why should Christians advocate for climate justice?

Overlapping challenges – the erosion of stability, economic disruption, and hotter, more dangerous weather, to name a few – are threatening to undo decades of progress in the fight against global poverty.

The upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent wars have created global disruptions to economies, health systems, food and fuel supplies. Developing and low-income nations are bearing the brunt.

For the first time in decades, progress on poverty has stalled – and in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, poverty is increasing.

Even in highly developed nations with advanced economies, like Australia, inequality is rising as the rich get richer and everyone else falls behind.

But why does that matter to you and me? And why should Christians advocate for economic justice?

We’re not caring for our neighbours in need

Global financial systems advantage wealthy nations like Australia. We enjoy access to finance at lower interest rates, greater purchasing power than low-income countries, and readily available resources.

But we’re not sharing those resources as well as we could.

Wealthy nations are not making good on our promises to dedicate more than 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid and lifting low-income nations out of debt. In fact, we are short-changing them by trillions.

There ​is​​​ an estimated USD 4 trillion gap between the annual funding needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the funding available.

And much of the time, wealthy nations put our thumbs on the scales – insisting that money that is given in aid go to companies and organisations that align with our own national interests, rather than where it will do the most good for recipients (usually healthcare, education and infrastructure).

At the same time, low-income nations are being slowly crushed by the weight of the debts they owe – often to larger, wealthier countries.

Currently, 3.3 billion people live in nations where debt repayments are larger than the national investment in education or health.

More than 60% of low-income nations face severe debt stress. The interest payments on the debts they owe are beyond their ability to repay, and the current system makes it very difficult to restructure their debt or access new finance.

The weight of this debt makes it even more difficult for these nations to prepare for emergencies or recover from more frequent devastating weather events. They are more exposed to resource scarcity, and even a lack of essentials, including food and water.

That’s why we’re calling for an increase in Australia’s aid to our neighbours – but beyond that, we’re calling for the reform of a system that’s no longer fit for purpose.

Poverty is rising… and so is inequality

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shock of war in Ukraine and the Middle East, among other places, fuel and food prices are rising. Shortages and inflation have created famine in many vulnerable parts of the world.

Hundreds of millions of people have been tipped into poverty, fighting to meet their basic needs. The number of people facing hunger more than doubled in just two years… and billions of dollars in promised aid have so far not materialised.

In stark contrast, 63 percent of all new wealth created between 2020 and 2023 was captured by the world’s richest 1 percent… a staggering $26 trillion.

It is the biggest spike in inequality since World War II – and without immediate action that trend will continue.

Is it time to change the stratus quo?

Our consumer culture in Australia and much of the high-income world holds firmly to a ‘me first’ attitude. The current economic systems reward you and me for gathering wealth – by enabling us to build more wealth.

The same holds true of our relationship on the international stage to other countries; Australia is a wealthy nation and enjoys all the perks that brings.

But our economy is reliant on continued growth, which largely means consuming more and more resources. And we’re already burning through more than 1.7 times the world’s available resources per year.

One thing is clear: the status quo might be working for the few, but it isn’t working for the many.

A biblical call to generosity and ‘neighbour-first’ thinking

The Bible calls us to a different way of measuring wealth, and a different standard of generosity than the modern status quo.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy to ‘Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17). He goes on to implore the wealthy ‘to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share’ (1 Tim 6:18-19).

By global standards, ‘those who are rich in this present world’ surely includes you and me.

Yet when interest rates are high, inflation is pushing costs ever higher, and the average Australian is feeling the pinch, the temptation is to hold on tight to what we have.

It’s one thing to expect millionaires and billionaires to give away their wealth – they won’t even notice it, will they? But it’s tough to do when mortgage stress is biting hard and the weekly grocery bill looks more like a ransom demand.

But you and I are also called to be generous. Jesus tells us not to store up our treasures on earth, but in heaven (Matthew 6:20) – to look for the spiritual reward rather than the material one. To trust in God to provide.

I’m not suggesting that you should empty your bank account today and give away the entire balance. But I am saying that you and I are called to be mindful of others’ needs. It’s a challenge that was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and one we should therefore take seriously.

The Scriptures teach that wealth is not to be hoarded up by individuals but a gift from God to be shared generously for the common good. And the measure we use for others is the measure that will be given to us, as Jesus says…

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).


A national and international system of generosity

As you and I consider our personal response to the biblical concept of living a generous life, we can also speak up for a national, structural response based on the same principles of justice, generosity, and loving our neighbours.

A measured, sensible goal is to increase our foreign aid to 0.37% of GNI by 2027, with a view to reach 0.5%.

Beyond that, we can speak up to reform the system that is breaking under the weight of inequality as the wealthy amass greater wealth and the vulnerable are left to fend for themselves.

Jesus used the parable of a master forgiving a servant’s financial debt to show just how much God has forgiven us (Matthew 18:23-35).

At the heart of his teaching is a spiritual truth that urges his followers toward mercy and forgiveness. Is there a greater opportunity in front of God’s people than to speak up to reform a system that holds millions in the bondage of an unjust debt?

Your voice is important and influential as you join the chorus to…

  • Help countries to meet their needs and assist them to invest in health systems, education, and other vital areas to benefit millions of our neighbours
  • Direct greater investment to help nations prepare for severe weather events, and build back stronger when disaster strikes
  • Reform the system to assist in placing the world on a path to genuine equity and opportunity for all.

Because a more equal world is a safer world – and that’s true no matter how much wealth you hold.

It’s time to speak up for economic justice – and for millions of neighbours who are burdened by debt and a lack of access to resources, struggling under a system that’s just not fair.

Start by signing the pledge today to help build a Safer World for All!