President-elect Donald Trump ran a campaign focused on scrapping current and pending trade agreements, and increasing tariffs on imported goods from countries like Mexico and China. It’s all part of an America First approach to doing business domestically and globally.
The arguments over trade are being made on economic grounds. Free traders articulate the case that everyone is better off when people in each part of the world produce and sell what they’re best at doing. Those who would retreat from trade point to perceived and real loss of American jobs to other countries – especially in manufacturing.
But to date, few consider whether not just economic but more fundamental moral issues are at stake. Is it moral or immoral to say I will no longer buy from the country next door – or even half a world away?
And so the question is posed: What would Jesus say about being pro- or anti-trade?
The short answer: Jesus is a free-trader. And not on primarily economic but rather on moral grounds.
Trump is wrong. So are fellow travelers Hillary and Bernie. Shutting down free trade is not just bad economics, it’s downright immoral.
Even if it could work, a beggar my neighbor world where my counterpart in China or Korea or Vietnam loses his or her job so I can (maybe) keep mine is helping is certainly not making human-kind better. But rather, more impoverished.
Jesus’ Good Neighbor World
Does Jesus have anything to say that bears on the morality of free versus restricted commerce? Very simply, it’s all to be found in the most famous story ever told by Jesus – the parable of the Good Samaritan.
If nothing else, Jesus is a story teller. In this case, the impetus for Jesus to tell the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan comes from Jesus’ interaction with a lawyer – a trained debater who wants to test the God-man by asking a basic question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds not with an answer but with a question of his own: “what is written in the law?”
As a legal question, the lawyer quickly gives a rote legal answer about loving the Lord your God with all your heart … and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus indicates the lawyer has passed His test: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But rather than being shown up by an itinerant Savior, the lawyer presses the point by asking a definitional question: “And who is my neighbor?” A bit like Bill Clinton before a grand jury parsing out “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Jesus is more than game. He defines “neighbor” not as Webster’s or Wikipedia might do it, but with a story. And to refresh, here are the essential points:
- A man is robbed and left half dead.
- The first people to come across the beaten man are a priest and a temple helper, agents of a supposedly compassionate faith. Neither stops to help but stay away as far as possible.
- Next comes a Samaritan, a low life in the eyes of the first century Jewish elite. But the Samaritan stops, treats the wounds, takes the victim to an inn, even pays for about 24 days of lodging during which time the wounds can heal. The Samaritaan even says he’ll pay more if the tab runs higher.
Here, Jesus’ story ends – as he focuses back on the lawyer to ask a pivotal question: “(who) was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer has no choice but to answer the obvious: “The one who showed him mercy.” Or as another New Testament translation puts it: “The one who helped him.”
And then comes the master’s punchline: “Go and do likewise.”
The World of Trump vs. Jesus
America’s president-elect is like the priest or the temple helper who passes as far as possible from the wounded, the “losers” of this universe. Perhaps a bit more charitably, The Donald might first go over, pull out the wounded’s ID to verify if this victim is native born – preferably one who voted for him on November 8.
For the president-elect, a woman or man is a neighbor only if bred and born in the U.S. For Jesus, the neighbor was the Samaritan – of a different ethnicity, a different religion, a different nation. For Jesus, our neighbor is as much the person in the Vietnamese footwear manufacturing shop or the Indian call center as it is the steelworker in Ohio or aircraft manufacturer in Seattle.
For Jesus, our neighbor is not only the person next door but the individual, family, nation half a world away. Our neighbor is anybody with whom we interact or affect – wittingly or otherwise.
The arbitrary restriction of trade would mean that the person or nation who can do the most for the least is cut out of the action – in favor of the person, business or nation that will do the least for more. Everyone loses. The productive soul that could do it best is displaced, impovrished, beaten. And the less productive entity gets its just reward by paying more for the same (or perhaps inferior) product, resulting in a reduced standard of living, especially for those of the most limited means.
There is a case to be made for free trade that is also fair trade – no selling below cost, no stealing someone else’s invention, no lying or cheating to make the sale. Jesus speaks favorably of those who play by the rules and work or invest for positive, predictable return.
But for those displaced by American industries no longer competitive, consider again the words of Jesus when he admonishes: “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum (or China), do also here in Your country (state, city, rust-belt – as the case may be.)” No people, no country is entitled to rest on its laurels. Eachand every day is a fresh new occasion to prove oneself worthy in the global marketplace of goods, services, ideas and values.
There are two questions the lawyer asks. #1 – what can I do to inherit (not earn) never ending life? Jesus’ answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Lawyer question #2 – who is my neighbor? Jesus’ answer: It’s anyone whose path I cross – whether intentionally or inadvertently.
In other words: I need to be prepared buy from or sell to the worker halfway around the world on similar terms as I would buy or sell from my immediate family member, co-worker, or store down the street. And to give each the same measure of respect.
The bottom line: if The Donald is to define neighborly based on America first (to the exclusion or detriment of our extended neighbor network), then he’s missed the point of what The Christ advocated. The message of Jesus is clear. Eternity belongs to the neighborly – even when it may cost to be neighborly.
In the end, squeezing our global neighbors will prove counterproductive. The road kill we pass by will inevitably include our own.
So come, listen to Jesus’ story, again and yet again. And then, act accordingly.
Rather than beggar thy neighbor; how about assist and enrich the neighbor – whether that neighbor be Mexican, Canadian, Indo-Chinese, Indian, African, Russian, Kurdish, or …
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37, NRSV)
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite (temple helper), when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii (paying for 24 days lodging), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
For additional information and insights on jesustheheresy, check out our full web site at: http://www.jesustheheresy.com