Tahlequah Daily Press

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May 9, 2007

Do unto others with fair trade

With the political polarization today between the right and the left, it’s often hard to find common ground where the two can meet. But one issue – fair trade – is increasingly uniting social progressives and religious conservatives.

Classical liberals may not like to admit it, but their commitment to propping up the less fortunate has its roots in Judeo-Christian philosophy. Caring for the poor is a bedrock of the faith, but American Christians in particular have historically wrestled with the Pauline mandate to pull your own weight. How can you promote self-sufficiency and yet insist upon an endless cycle of charity for those who will never be self-sufficient?

A growing body of evangelical Christians has come to terms with what was once a sort of paradox. Pointing out the difference between a “handout” and a “hand up,” they are returning to the core of Christ’s message that insists on a preferential option for “the least of these.” They are persuaded that most folks, if given a fair shake, can stand on their own two feet.

While governments of western nations have long been accustomed to giving aid to Third World countries, they’ve been less successful in promoting policies to help the poor here and elsewhere. They have rammed through trade treaties that have devastated the economies of poor countries, while stripping U.S. workers of jobs that pay living wages. These treaties best serve the wealthy at both ends of the bargaining table.

The May issue of Sojourners magazine offers an uplifting selection of articles on fair trade, and details how Christians are beginning to view this as a key mission field. An article by Adam Russell Taylor, “Making Trade Just,” describes the efforts of an anti-poverty group called Christian Aid, based in the United Kingdom. A 2005 study showed how countries in sub-Saharan Africa are $272 billion poorer because of “free trade” policies forced upon in exchange for aid and debt relief. Christian Aid has been working to shed light on this injustice.

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