Fair Trade Bible Study: God is concerned about how we conduct business


  • When I was growing up I used to help my Mum taking fair trade products to various locations to sell and I heard her talk about it quite a bit. The Bible verse she often quoted was Proverbs chapter 14, verse 31:

    “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”

    I’m pretty sure none of us set out to oppress the poor, do we? We don’t wake up thinking ‘Today I’m going to oppress the poor.’ No. And yet we benefit from an unfair trading system that does oppress many people.

    Through fair trade I’ve met many people who come from the developing world and communities that we would call ‘poor’. They aren’t looking for charity. The thing that has changed their lives is fair trade.

    Paying a fair price or a fair wage is a Christian principle. Jesus (in Luke chapter 10, verse 7) and Paul (in 1 Timothy chapter 5, verse 18) both say that “the worker deserves his wages”. That’s in the context of Christian service, but they are taking it from the Jewish tradition that to withhold wages from a person was a sin.

    The Old Testament is full of warnings to the people who hold the power in transactions and in trading not to take advantage of other people. In Amos chapter 8, there is a prophecy of doom on Israel because of their dishonest trading practices and the way the poor are cheated and exploited.

    In Proverbs chapter 22, verse 22, it says: “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor.”

    In Deuteronomy chapter 24, verse 14, it says: “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy.”

    So we see this in the Law, the prophets and the other writings of the Old Testament, that God takes an active interest in trade and business activities.

    So, as Christians we have a challenge there. Looking back we can see how important this is. As we look around our world now we can see injustice on a global scale. We can see the world’s poor being exploited and oppressed.

    It is quite common for example, for powerful businesses to routinely promise farmers in the developing world a certain price, but then when the crop is harvested refuse to pay that price and offer a lower price instead. What can the farmer do? He has to accept it otherwise he will get nothing. The poor are exploited because they are poor and powerless in that situation.

    Fair trade organisations deal differently. Paying the agreed price is key to ensuring that something is fair trade. It won’t have the fair trade mark on it unless the buyers have paid the agreed price. So, you know that when you buy fair trade the poor are not being exploited.

    As Christians, then we look back and we see how important justice and fairness have always been to God. We can look around us now and see how there is another way and we can make sure that our weekly shop is not supporting the oppression of poor people.

    But as Christians we also need to look to the future. We are caught halfway between the reality of now and the reality of the world to come. We pray that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: your Kingdom come. And the way we live should be a prophetic act of what life will be like when the Kingdom of God is established fully and finally.

    So, do we think the poor will be oppressed in the Kingdom of God? Do we think there will be sharp practices in the Kingdom of God? Do we think anyone will be denied the reward for their hard work? No, of course not.

    The fair trade mark is just a little symbol on some food. But to us as Christians it is an important symbol because it reflects what life will be like under Kingdom rules.

    As we look forward to that time when the whole of creation is renewed and redeemed, we can begin that renewal and redemption in something as small as choosing fair trade bananas instead of other ones.

    There is no easier way to truly mean what we say when we pray ‘Your Kingdom Come’.

     

    This talk was given at the Fairtrade Breakfast held by Calvary Baptist Church in Cardiff, in Fairtrade Fortnight 2015.

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