I often debate with fellow Christians who, contrary to me, oppose migration from poor countries to rich countries, aid from rich countries to poor countries or that rich countries should take greater responsibility for the environment than poor countries by living simpler. When I argue for why I think these ideas are good, I often point to facts and statistics that for example show that poor countries receive 80 % of all refugees today, or that aid donations are less than 0.3 % of rich countries’ GDP, or that environmental pollution kill more people today than malaria and HIV. Quite often I even have to start with explaining that rich countries are rich; most xenophobic people here in Sweden think that Sweden isn’t a rich country, which of course is the opposite of what the Global Wealth Report recently stated.
However, while I believe these facts are important for the discussion, they are seldom sufficient for my adversaries to change their mind. I find over and over again that even if we can agree upon that the world is unequal and unfair, they don’t have a problem with that while I certainly do. We have different world visions, and they often tell me that I shouldn’t claim that my world vision is more Christian then theirs.
But it is.
Jesus’ ethical teaching is clear and straightforward. Do to others what you would have them do to you (Mt 7:12). That’s a universal command, meaning it applies to all human beings. We should love everyone, even our enemies, and do good to them just as the Father loves and does good to all human beings (Mt 5:43-48).
Jesus’ economic teaching is also very clear: blessed are the poor but woe to you who are rich (Lk 6:20-24)! He told His disciples to sell what they have and giv to the poor (Lk 12:33), which they interpreted as practicing community of goods where nobody is rich and nobody is poor (Acts 2:44-45), just as Jesus had had a common purse with His disciples (Jn 13:29). The apostolic teaching emphasized simplicity and generosity (1 Tim 6:8-10, 17-19) and the early church organized aid collections from richer churches to poorer in order so that “there may be equality” (2 Cor 8:14).
The ethical teaching is undoubtedly connected to the economic teaching. If we do to others as we would have them do to us, and we don’t want to starve, suffer or be oppressed, we ought not cause starvation, suffering or oppression to anyone no matter who they are. If we love everyone as ourselves, we cannot allow anyone to be poor or persecuted, and we must clothe, feed and house them in accordance with the commands of Jesus in Matthew 25. As John says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 Jn 3:17)
Now, some may point out that while the ethical commands may be universal, several of the economic ones that I have quoted deal with Christians specifically. Acts 2:44-45 describes a Christian church, so does 2 Cor 8:14 and 1 John 3:17’s “brother” probably refers to a fellow Christian. Thus, one may say, the New Testament’s vision of economic equality does not apply to all human beings.
To that objection I want to ask: where is the Scripture that states that Christians should have it better than everyone else? Or that poverty should be allowed among non-Christians? Yes, the early church prioritized fellow Christians since they had an existing network of daily or weekly interaction, but this was a priority of order, not of value. See, there’s a difference between helping your child of a shipwreck before helping strangers, and helping your child and then ignoring helping strangers (or stealing stranger’s pocket money to give to your child).
It’s evident that Paul talks about a priority of order when he writes: “let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10) and “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thess 5:15). That is, Christians ought not to have different ethical standards for believers and non-believers, even if it is natural for us to start with our own group.
The same logic is true for the often misquoted 1 Tim 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Paul’s point here is that the common purse of the church should primarily benefit widows who have no relatives, i.e. those in most need, rather than widows with relatives since their relatives have a moral obligation to help their relatives. Paul’s point is not that everyone should make sure that their relatives have a much higher standard of living than everyone else. It’s a priority of order, not of value.
What does this then mean to our world vision? It means that we should promote a more equal world, by starting with the church. I have previously proposed a plan for a much more equal global church, and we should really start working towards that. But it is also in perfect accordance with Christian ethics and economic teaching to support a world where the West is not exploiting the Rest, where rich countries live more simply and when poor countries develop sustainably, and where poor and persecuted migrants are allowed to migrate to rich and safe countries.
In fact, seeking a world where white people are much richer than everyone else, and whose wealth is dependent on the exploitation and suffering of millions of black and brown people, is not Christian. This is why a Christian world vision cannot accept the status quo, but needs to change it.