We Are to Change the Organizations and Structures of Society
Christians are called to work not only at the small enterprise and person-to-person level in seeking to alleviate poverty, but also at the macro or structural level. The world contains resources enough to meet everyone’s needs. But the social, political and economic motivation and means to do so have never come together on a global scale. This too is a form of human sin and error. We are to be involved in changing the organizations and systems of provision and wealth in our societies. Although we may feel too small and insignificant, too far removed from the halls of power in our society, God has a habit of using outsiders and insignificant people to bring great economic changes in societies.
Perhaps the first agent of structural change in a foreign land was Joseph (Genesis 41-42). Born in the insignificant land of Canaan, sold into slavery in Egypt, imprisoned on false charges, and otherwise marginalized, he eventually reformed the economic structures of the great nation of Egypt. With great prophetic foresight, he implemented an extensive network of storage cities, where harvested grain from the good productive years could be kept for times of famine. These were the original food banks! As a result, the capacity of the Egyptians to provide sufficiently for their people during the long years of famine, was masterfully increased and there was ample to feed everyone—even enough to provide for Joseph’s estranged family who ventured south in search of food. Without Joseph’s willingness to challenge the economic systems of Egypt, millions of poor people would have died during the seven years of famine that struck. But because he did challenge and change the system, poor and rich alike were able to survive.
Likewise, when the nation of Israel was held captive in Babylon, they found themselves powerless and disenfranchised. Yet the prophet Jeremiah counseled God’s people to ”seek the peace and prosperity of the city and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). God’s purposes were for his people to reform the structures of their own captors.
This became possible when a few young men, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were drafted into leadership roles within the Babylonian government. Rather than succumbing to the temptations of luxury afforded by their new positions, they challenged the system. They risked their positions—and their lives—to fight injustice and inequity. By acting as agents of change, Daniel and his friends worked for—not against—the prosperity of their host nation. God’s intention was to use them to redeem the system, culture and society where they lived and worked. In one case, this meant Daniel challenging the king directly. “O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your inequities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Daniel 4:27).
Wherever we find ourselves working—in government departments, political parties, non-governmental organizations, municipal structures, multinational corporations, small businesses, health or education systems, local neighborhoods—we too should seek to work for the welfare and prosperity of those we serve. At times this will mean challenging systems and structures that stand in the way of God’s provision and prosperity for all people. This may require changing the priorities, structures, and processes of such organizations—particularly where they oppress or marginalize the vulnerable or the poor. Whether it be in advocating for fairer taxation systems, helping draft legislation against monopolistic or anti-competitive practices, or challenging the way employers and unions relate to each other in a particular industry, there are many opportunities for Christians to bring systemic change to the way provision and wealth are obtained.