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What charter for humanity? Defining the destination of ‘development’ (5/5)

From a Biblical perspective, what are the ultimate goals for the development of any given society? This is what Dr Michael Schluter explores in this final instalment of his Cambridge Paper.

Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre. (September 2006)

Intermediate goals

To some, seeking to define the goals or ends of society in terms of values such as justice, mercy and forgiveness seems too abstract. They prefer the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as universal primary education and reducing infant mortality. However, in a relational framework MDGs are intermediate goals: for example, universal primary education stands between the means (financial provision) and the ultimate goal (right relationships).

Thus, universal primary education may contribute to RWB (the ultimate goal) by increasing understanding of other races and ethnic groups, and broadening children’s ability to help people in need around them. It is likely to reduce disparities in opportunities for employment between rich and poor, and thus contribute to people’s sense of justice in society. For Christians, it helps them read the Bible and strengthen their relationship with God. However, universal primary education may also undermine RWB. It may lead children to think of themselves as autonomous individuals who have a right to pursue ‘freedom’ regardless of others’ welfare. Through the history syllabus it may feed racial or ethnic hatred, and make group-level forgiveness harder to achieve. It may promote bitterness towards wealthy elites rather than constructive approaches to achieving economic justice. Hence the need to orientate education towards the ultimate goal of right relationships.

There are many other intermediate goals, including a fair criminal and civil justice system, longer life expectancy, strong family and community networks, high levels of civic participation, and good industrial relations.

Consequences of defining development’s destination

•    Policy is still about hard choices. Not only are there choices between alternative relationship priorities, but also choices among alternative means to pursue those priorities.

•    Within a relational framework, the West is not more ‘developed’ than countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America. On many key indicators, such as the length of marriages or social inclusion of older people, lower-income countries score more highly than high-income countries like Britain.

•    International donors and Christian NGOs should consider adopting relational analysis of policies and projects rather than accepting the materialistic agenda of a purely economic worldview.[1]International co-operation should be based on relationships between countries where each helps the other to tackle areas of relational or financial deprivation.

•    We cannot set aside the priority of meeting the physical needs of those living in absolute poverty, whether those needs are for food, healthcare or justice. However, it does suggest seeing such poverty as an expression of relationship breakdown between rich and poor, whether within a society (as in the story of Dives and Lazarus)[2] or in the global community.

•    Should Christians use the word ‘development’ at all? Generally, the words ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ are used as a description of rich and poor, in which case it would be more appropriate to refer to ‘high-income’ and ‘low-income’ nations. This would avoid the nuance of cultural superiority in the word ‘developed’.

•    How can a movement towards or away from values like justice, mercy, faithfulness and truth be described appropriately? Countries might be labelled as ‘progressing’ or ‘regressing’, or perhaps as ‘converging’ or ‘diverging’ in relation to these values. What is certain is that a different underlying paradigm of social change will need different vocabulary to express it, as well as different institutions to embody it. New wine needs new wineskins.

The second part of this paper (due March 2007) will examine reform priorities to achieve the relational goals set out here.


In addition to the writing group I would like to thank my research assistant for the paper, Helen Mocatta, and John Ashcroft, Deryke Belshaw, Peter Kimuyu, Raymond Lang, Paul Mills and many other friends for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Dr Michael Schluter is founder of the Jubilee Centre, a Christian research group based in Cambridge, and also founder and executive director of the Relationships Foundation.

[1]For details of some tools for relational analysis, see

[2]Luke 16:19–31.

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