1. In Transformational Development practice I have often faced this challenge. Do we shape our programmes with equality as the key drive and so shape our view of the State and our engagement with it, our view of political action, our understanding of economic activity and social structures with that orientation?
It will produce strategies that will likely place a high value on the role of the State.
If we make freedom the central drive it will produce a different view of the role of the state, the nature of political action, economic and social systems. It will also lead to a different set of strategies that privilege Individual Agency, Capacity building and Opportunity creation.
2. The stress on Equality often sees Equality as a natural endowment that human immoral activity undermines and even destroys. It also tends to align itself with a naturalistic view of life. As a natural endowment, it becomes an inalienable right. This sense of a natural right of equality also leads to a strong sense of entitlement. Entitlement soon becomes a merit that one can claim. Interestingly this applies to poor and non-poor alike. The sense of entitlement and the claim of merit. The economically successful can insist they merit the rewards of their entrepreneurial skills, energy and hard work. They are entitled to just rewards. The non-poor also has a similar sense of entitlement not based on achievements but on the natural endowment of equality that becomes a merit of sorts. I think the root of both is the same. It is a view of equality as a natural endowment. I am not convinced that entitlement linked to natural endowment of equality is sound and sustainable.
In any case this sense of entitlement and the emergent sense of merit make it difficult to understand the biblical narrative of Redemption from bondage. Redemption is not an entitlement. It is not based on merit. Lives shaped by entitlements and merits will find it very difficult to recognize the profound sense of bondage of the human condition that the bible describes. Acknowledging that bondage can lead first only to repentance. I shared with a Christian businessman friend my sense that some of my business friends find repentance difficult to understand and practice. He agreed that Business enables you to focus on merit and just rewards and failure is a thing that can be overcome by trying harder. Repentance is a private act of regret that acknowledges you may not have done the best possible and may have let yourself down; you regret it and will make amends. A public confession of ones alienation from the righteousness that God expects of human persons, an acknowledgement that one is in bondage to sin and needs to be rescued is difficult to grasp to such a mindset. Even if the language of repentance and redemption is attempted it can be shallow. I was surprised to hear this from my business colleague who retired as the group treasurer of a large multi national company and now runs a wealth management company.
In practice, I have seen that such a lack of understanding about our alienation from God and his righteousness makes it difficult to respond properly to the redemptive action of God in Christ. Some Christian social activities with a strong focus on equality display a very weak understanding and commitment to redemption and yet redemption is at the centre of God’s work. The focus on entitlement is a language of merit and a forceful stress on it pushes the themes of ones bondage, helplessness and the need for release and redemption to the margins I suspect the equality focused activists also find it difficult to get to the heart of the biblical redemption narrative.
3. I am increasingly drawn to making freedom the central drive of mission as transformation, Jesus teachers about Freedom, much more than equality. He identifies bondage to the Evil One as the primary problem of the human person. He declares that he comes to release people from that bondage to evil and sin. Release & freedom are at the heart of the redemption narrative. Paul also stresses the same.
Freedom, presuppose a state of bondage, of slavery and the incapacities it creates and perpetuates. So the freedom that Christ makes possible through his death and resurrection is at the heart of Christian witness.
This challenges me to make freedom central to my development mission agenda – that has implications for my understanding of the nature and role of the state, of economic activity and social structures.
In the biblical narrative Freedom is not an end in itself. It is always freedom for fulfilling God’s design for our lives as individuals and communities. But it does place a much greater emphasis on human persons rather than social, political and economic systems. I am aware of the integral relation between persons and systems but wish to identify the central thrust and this I find in Persons and the freedom they must experience.
A Christian view of freedom is multi faceted and ones engagement in advancing it may have different starting points. That will require a longer essay.
4. Before I get branded as a neo-liberal let me add that a view of freedom shaped by a redemption narrative is a many edged sword and will profoundly challenge both the liberal and liberationist approaches to social transformation.