Archbishop Justin's blog
When aid works and why
Friday, 12 April 2013
Last weekend a group of religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Westminster and me, wrote a letter urging G8 nations to stick to their targets on foreign aid. Some have opposed this call by suggesting that most aid money gets wasted or sucked up by corruption, and that developing countries are much better helped by growing trade.
These criticisms are important and at one level I don't dispute them. Economic growth is undeniably the key to removing nations from poverty. In fact I have been and continue to be involved in seeking to promote trade with Nigeria – especially from areas of deprivation in the UK – for this very reason. At the same time, no one can deny the existence of corruption and the fact that money has been wasted as a result. This is why, in our letter, we backed Britain’s call for national governments to be more transparent.
But so often the critics ignore the many instances where aid truly works – especially in vulnerable conflict and post-conflict situations. Certainly that was what I saw during more than a decade of working in Africa.
When money is put in the hands of faith-based and civil society networks, it can be utterly transformative. Because these organisations are highly accountable, very little money is lost to corruption. Local clergy know exactly what their communities need and how to spend funds wisely.
During decades of war in Sudan, the Episcopal Church of Sudan led a teaching programme to ensure that children continued to receive some kind of education – often under trees in the countryside. Since 2007, they have received around £3.4 million of UK Aid funds which they have used to train thousands of teachers. With less than one per cent of girls in South Sudan completing secondary education, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this work.
One example from my personal experience illustrates the big difference that a local priest can make.
When I was Dean of Liverpool, the Cathedral supported a priest with a gift of $5,000. He spent this on training in reconciliation which helped transform the divided community he worked in. Every cent was accounted for, and the impact was significant. Scale that up across a country and it may be a few millions, but it will transform. Add some equally targeted money for local education in church schools, training for farmers, basic equipment - and you change a society.
I too object to any wastage of taxpayers’ money. When our troops were sent into Sierra Leone in 2000, they were of course enormously effective in helping sort out a crisis. But a military initiative of that kind costs millions of taxpayers’ money. Far smaller sums, invested earlier, have enabled nations to avoid conflict, and hence avoid the costs and dangers of sending in our armed forces.
I always think it’s like the difference between vaccinating someone and treating the full-blown disease. Skipping the injection may save you three pounds per person, but the moment they start getting rushed through the hospital doors that amount starts multiplying many times over.
Not all aid is good, but not all aid is dead. The way it is delivered may indeed be an issue, but the principle should not be.
That’s why ultimately these criticisms fail to satisfy me – either on an ethical level, or on a practical, value-for-money level. They ignore the transformative impact that aid can and does have in fragile countries struggling to meet basic human needs – an impact which can transform local communities and help all of us in the long run.
Universal and specific
Monday, 11 March 2013
I was away over the weekend in Switzerland at a very long-arranged conference (long before I was here) with a Roman Catholic, ecumenical monastic order on the Baptism in the Spirit. The scenery was refreshing and wonderful, the friendships warm and encouraging, and the content and worship that went with it all uplifting. When I got back to my room there were a few (!) texts, tweets and emails about the open letter signed by a huge number of Bishops, along with statements from the Archbishop of York and myself, about the below-inflation caps on various social security payments.
It’s a very complicated area, and the first thing to say is that the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has spent hard years turning himself into a leading and principled expert on welfare, its effects and shortcomings. He is introducing one of the biggest and most thorough reforms of a system that most people admit is shot full of holes, wrong incentives, and incredible complexity. Like many parish priests’ families, we got benefits, and it was incredibly complicated. For lots of people in the parishes where I worked, taking some extra hours of work could actually lower income; that is exactly the kind of thing that the move to universal credit aims to change.
The Work and Pensions Secretary is also attempting this series of reforms at a time when, through no fault of his own, government finances are more squeezed than at any time in peace since the 1930s. And reforms cost money. So he also has to manage a considerable task. That is why in my letter I was careful not to imply wrong motives or anything like that. Having met him, I am absolutely convinced he is trying to do something that he knows more about than most – and with the best possible motives. But, with a number of other Bishops (and we tend to live in, or have lived in, or have clergy living in, the most affected parts of our country), I feel that the particular way the burden is being shared is wrong. Mr Duncan Smith thinks I am wrong, and that is how democracies work: they are ways of disagreeing profoundly, but not destructively.
So this is not a great, grand political gesture, but a reasoned questioning of something that a lot of people are concerned about. It is not me saying the government is evil (I am much less cynical than many about politicians of all sides), but that I don’t agree on this particular bit of a programme which in general is incredibly brave. Perhaps a little less heat and a little more clarity would help.
Moving the frontiers
Thursday, 7 March 2013
I am still reeling from the recent Faith in Conflict (FiC) conference at Coventry Cathedral. The event had been a dream of mine for years, ever since the Church of Scotland hosted a gathering on the same theme, which a friend attended. The reality was far greater than the anticipation.
The conference aimed to look at what causes conflict in the church, and whether it is necessarily destructive. More than 200 delegates from Christian churches across England discussed fresh ways to view conflict, and different options for intervention.
By nature I am a conflict avoider; I like to keep my head down and get on with the job. So I have always felt that church disagreement was at best a distraction, and often worse.
That is true up to a point, but mainly because we disagree so unhealthily. In a series of brilliant talks over the three-day conference, Sam Wells and Jo Bailey-Wells set conflict in a completely new light. Conflict, they argued, is something that springs from our being created different. The problem is that we then respond to difference with aggression and fear. When that happens in the church, it is utterly repellent to people who are not Christians. Sam and Jo showed how, in the grace of God, conflict can be transformed. (You can listen to and read their talks here.)
So that was really good; thoughtful talks, brilliantly delivered. But the cream on the cake was seeing it all in action. For example, the Reverend Tory Baucum and Bishop Shannon Johnston – the Episcopal Church Bishop of Virginia – were interviewed together about their experience of being in the most profound dispute over enormously important issues. The disputes led to years of legal action, yet they found a way to meet and talk together – and pray together. There was no compromise: Tory was forthright in his disagreement with Bishop Shannon and gave no ground, nor vice versa. But there was a clear love for each other which spoke powerfully. It was transformed conflict.
The second example was from Jo herself, and her experience of the Anglican House of Studies at Duke. It’s in her talk, and to me it was as powerful as the dialogue. It said that our differences are both great and important: but the greater call is to a world that does not know Christ. And while we strive and struggle, rightly, for holiness and correct conduct in the church, we must do so in a way which shows that His love, spread through us, is a reality.
The journey of transforming conflict is a long and hard one (by the way that is how I understand reconciliation in the church: not agreement, but conflict transformed from being destructive). It is also always a necessary one – and essential if our preaching of the good news of Jesus is to have any credibility. It does not mean compromise – that was clear in what we heard at Coventry – but it does mean allowing the Spirit of God to warm our hearts towards those whom we too easily classify as to be hated.
© Justin Welby 2013