Italian philosopher and writer Niccolò Machiavelli once stated, “The reason there will be no change is because the people who stand to lose from change have all the power, and the people that stand to gain from change have none of the power.” Exploitation of the poor has been a part of our world since the fall of man. Using one’s power over another vulnerable person reveals the nature of sin at its worst.
In much of my research done at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, I find that the abuse of power and the lack of rule of law in developing countries are the largest perpetrators of poverty. Furthermore, the way we in the West have done development work fails to address these causes and, instead, further enslaves the poor to systems that stifle flourishing.
Exploitation of the vulnerable runs directly contrary to the message Christ brought to, “bring good news to the poor…bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to the captives…open of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18). As Christians, we are called to follow Christ in these ways and provide the poor with the opportunities and freedom to flourish.
In Act 16:16-24, we see the apostle Paul liberating a female slave who was demon-possessed and whose fortune-telling abilities were exploited by her owners for profit off. Paul called the spirit out of her in the name of Jesus. This action, however, did not sit well with the slave owners. We read, “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.” Paul and Silas were then thrown in jail for this action.
While we do not know whether Paul knew he and Silas would be thrown in jail for this, we can see that he was fed up with the spirit that possessed this slave girl. Paul could no longer stand the voice of the evil spirit (even though it was actually stating truth about Christ) and he likely knew that this girl was being exploited by the slave owners. He took a risk for her sake by calling the spirit out of her.
Exploitation does not always come in the form of literal slavery. Today, we see many examples of exploitation in the global economy. The rights of the poor are often overlooked and not protected by authoritarian governments or political systems which operate as a pseudo-democracy. Gary Haugen, the CEO of International Justice Mission, stated in a Foreign Affairs article:
“For a poor person in the developing world, the struggle for human rights…is the struggle to avoid extortion or abuse by local police, the struggle against being forced into slavery or having land stolen, the struggle to avoid being thrown arbitrarily into an overcrowded, disease-ridden jail with little or no prospect of a fair trial. For women and children, it is the struggle not to be assaulted, raped, molested, or forced into the commercial sex trade.”
If we are to bring good news to the poor and proclaim liberty to the captive as Jesus did, we will have to work in ways that are more intentional and sacrificial than just sponsoring a child for $1 a day. I am not saying that sponsoring a child should be seen as a negative thing – good work has been done through programs like this – however, this type of program does not address the root cause of the poverty. Our attempts to redeem the poor must be attempts to protect the rights of the poor. Paul recognized the cost of going against the slave owners to liberate the slave girl – he acted anyways. How will we stand up, use our voice, and take action to protect the vulnerable and powerless?
Baylee Molloy is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.