Life is relational, and therefore society needs to be understood from this perspective. Each of the great themes of biblical social teaching can be shown to directly or indirectly impact on whether and how citizens relate to each other. Key elements include strong and stable families, decentralised government and an absence of material and relational poverty.
Prosperity is a consequence, rather than a precondition, of relational wellbeing, so the focus of national Christians and those who seek to assist ‘development’ from outside should not be on producing wealth and then dealing with the symptoms of poverty, but on working to achieve an institutional framework that will help to prevent relational poverty and contribute to bringing about right relationships.
The environment, like prosperity, is a derivative rather than a primary issue. That is not to underestimate its immense significance. However, it is only by following biblical teachings on family and loving our neighbour that it will be possible to create the social solidarity required to persuade the complacent Western public, and ambitious Asian governments, to make the changes needed to leave an inhabitable world to our children and distant neighbours.
Some might see technology as the major driver of social change. However, others have argued that technology is driven by the institutional context of the day. Large companies, for example, seek new technology for large factories and large markets, rather than innovations for efficient small-scale production; an individualistic culture seeks new forms of entertainment that do not require a second ‘player’.
We need to balance tackling the symptoms of injustice and exploitation (e.g. hunger, ill-health, landlessness) with tackling the causes (e.g. skewed distribution of access to land, capital markets, concentration of political power, foreign debt). There is no single right solution. Each country needs a strategy for each of its regions, sectors and ethnic groups; each organisation needs its own package of relational reform proposals.
Concentrating our attention on economic growth, or even on the growth and distribution of income, is not enough. Reform of the markets for resources (e.g. land reform or opening wider access to capital) is vital for promoting positive relationships between rich and poor and between different sections of society. Equity must be built into the economic system through safeguards in markets for resources, rather than relying on a redistribution mechanism after a polarising growth process.
To conclude, we need to understand that relationships are at the core of society, and all policies need to take that fact into account.