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Good Samaritan Nation?

In the last year, Britain became one of the few countries that met the United Nation’s target of ring fencing 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) for overseas development aid to help poor nations

In cash terms that was £11.8billion or 7p in every £10 of taxpayers’ money. This sum does not include charitable giving by individuals and private organisations. They contribute between 15% and 20% and the Government provides the other 80% to 85%. Private giving is essentially short term humanitarian responses to specific crisis situations and is additional to the 0.7%.

Overseas Aid is a politically divisive issue. The Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru parties back the 0.7% target. The Green Party want it increased to at least 1%, whilst UKIP advocated a reduction to 0.2%. They argued that the Government’s austerity programme had left a significant number of Britons with fuel poverty and dependent on food banks, so two thirds of the aid budget should be reallocated domestically. They also claimed that overseas aid is often wasted, is sometimes corruptly misappropriated, and creates dependency in recipient countries.

The Bible gives us two basic principles for Christians supporting overseas aid

The need for development aid is unquestionable. Worldwide, approximately 1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty without sufficient income to meet the basic requirements for life over an extended period. That includes food, safe drinking water, sanitation, health services, elementary education, and shelter.  Poverty is caused by war, the concentration of wealth in the hands of corrupt politicians and officials, tribal conflicts, colonial exploitation by rich western countries, climate change, and droughts or flooding that destroy crops.

The Bible gives us two basic principles for Christians supporting overseas aid. First, we are all created in God’s image; however poorly we reflect that or even deny it. If all people are made in God’s image, it is inhumane to be indifferent to a significant number of our fellow humans living in wretched conditions whilst we can afford to indulge in expensive recreational pursuits. The second biblical value is the importance of relationships. Jesus identified a priority to love one’s neighbour and meant this not in a literal geographical sense, but his parable of the Good Samaritan applied it to anyone in need, regardless of national or cultural identity.

These two principles are expressed in the Old Testament teaching about caring for widows, orphans and foreigners in Israel because they had no economic stake in Israelite society and were vulnerable as a result. Proverbs 25:21 stretches the scope of this further. ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, if he is thirsty give him water to drink.’ The prophet Isaiah made the same point when questioning what kind of fasting God expects of us. ‘Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?’ He continued later, ‘if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness’. Jesus underlined this principle when he said whatever we did for the least of his brothers, we did him. And conversely, anyone who didn’t, did not do it for him. St Paul’s collection in Corinth for the victims of famine in Israel illustrates the universal application of this principle. 

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