Dr Viv Grigg
1. For approximately 20 years I have received the regular literature and mailouts of Liberty Trust and in my research I have perused several booklets they have published. I am not, however, a member nor have I contributed to Liberty Trust.
2. I have been asked if such activities can be described as being the advancement of religion and if they have a public benefit.
The Location of Liberty Trust in the Grand Scheme of Advancement of Religion that Contributes to the Public Benefit
3. There are parallel models to Liberty Trust in history and across the globe that demonstrate how religious-based cooperative economics advance religion such that it provides public benefits, particularly cooperative loan mechanisms related to housing.
4. I would go so far as to say that cooperative economics as a basis for Christian missional communities is normative. The very core of protection of religious groups as charitable organizations is a configuration of societal arrangements that promote liberty and enable structural experimentation. I expand on this under the following heads.
5. Economic Base to Christian Spirituality: The broad Christian theme of an economic base to communal spirituality is generally derived from Jesus sharing of a common purse with his disciples. This then was reproduced in the first Jerusalem church community of 3000, then 8000 persons, where the rich sold what they had and laid it at the apostles (and later the deacons feet) who distributed it to any who had need. By Acts 6 this was structured into specific diaconal programs. The role of diaconal ministry had become an ordained role (people appointed to handle the economic redistributions of communities of disciples) by the time of writing of St Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.
6. Historical diaconal organizational models are both related to the local church (as in Timothy and Titus) and across churches (as in the Apostle Paul’s collection from the Turkish and Greek churches for the Jerusalem famine), at times denominational (as in the Baptist Social Services and Caritas on behalf of the Catholic Church), at times interdenominational (as in World Vision, Tear Fund, Christian World Service, Habitat for Humanity, and Liberty Trust).
7. Historic Theological Consistency of Economic Principles: Liberty Trust is built on economic principles which are consistent across scriptures from Genesis 1, the Jubilee principles of Leviticus 23, the patterns of Jesus, the early church community, the international redistributions between churches about which The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians.
8. There is a historic consistency of these principles across Catholic, mainline and evangelical traditions.
9. These principles include:
(a) cooperative economics (for God is an “usness” who in the beginning, produced out of discussion between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thus Christians consider the foundation of economics as communal productivity for the common good);
(c) creativity, for God is the creator;
(d) work and rest;
(e) protection of private or familial or clan ownership of property;
(f) voluntary redistribution so there was “not a poor person among them” (to quote from Acts 4.34);
(g) seeking some levels of simplicity and equality of wealth “give me neither poverty nor wealth, lest I be poor and steal or rich and forget my God” [(Proverbs 30:8,9]);
(h) stewardship involving savings, management, avoidance of debt, etc.
10. In my opinion Liberty Trust has sought to emphasise and teach a number of these principles broadly across New Zealand in line with historic Christian engagement with culture.
11. Modeling of Christian economic principles (in diverse patterns) has consistently created economic alternatives to capitalism and socialism, popularly known as a search for a “third way”. This is derived from theologies of (1) dispersed power of (2) cooperation within (3) grassroots Christian communities.
12. The first common good I would indicate is an “alternative prophetic imagination”. This needs essential protection by government if society is to survive. The teachings of Liberty Trust are consistent with that and the need to live out Christian principles. This principle is seen particularly within the stream of non-State Christianity - the Fransciscans, Pietists, Anabaptist, Wesleyan, Salvation Army, Pentecostal progressions). Their withdrawal from the values (and at times structures) of the world, (e.g. contentedness vs greed, generosity vs. usury, chastity vs. immorality, simplicity vs. opulence, spirituality vs. secularism…) have created new patterns of societal arrangement.. Such groups have repeatedly evidenced the prophetic imagination of small alternative models of social and economic and political society that have challenged the status quo and provided markers for furture societal change.
13. Many of these later become mainstreamed (e.g Wesley’s impact on Wilberforce in his labor laws, abolition of slavery; William Carey’s creation of scores of institutions within emergent Indian society).
14. One could further ask what is the public benefit (or, to use other words, common good)? This public benefit is the good reflected in being the highest and best for communities. It is defined theologically in terms such as justice, equality, equity, shalom, harmony in society, liberty, etc. In economic terms it focuses around redistributive justice, cooperative economics, godly production and wise management of God’s resources, both in conservation of resources and maximising production.
15. I would presume that advancement of religion involves at least “the missional expansion of religious teaching, love and faith, and of religious communities that model this faith, love and teaching”.
16. There are many Christian economic communities which teach these principles in the public domain, as well as to their own members. They are all thereby contributing to the common good. For example:
(a) Liberty Trust or Christian microfinance groups teach Biblical truths on savings in a culture buried in credit cards or debt to moneylenders. This contributes to the common good.
(b) These organizations teach on cooperative economics as against divisive competitive economics. I work with groups in the slums who similarly put clusters of poor people together to develop ways whereby these poor finance businesses and homes without paying usurious interest to banks. Again this works for the common good.
(c) If such organizations teach on simplicity and frugality as the means of accumulation of capital as against expansion of paper money by financiers, this is the key to successful foundations for sustainable democratic capitalism – in our society generally considered a common good.
(d) If such teaching is further modeled in practices, then there is a genuineness to the advancement of religion. Such genuineness is important to the operationalising of religious teaching that advances the common good. Indeed if it is not modelled in practice then the teaching is in vain.
17. This advances the common good, even if it only advances these principles among members of the groups themselves. To be effective witnesses for the Christian faith the members of the faith community need to put into practice what they preach.
18. But where such principles are taught more broadly in society, this is even more relevant.
19. Liberty Trust openly teaches such principles across a wide spectrum of society as is demonstrated in its literature, its list of places where seminars are held etc.
Further historic examples of modeling of Christian cooperative economics
20. Since charitable laws have derived from European historical contexts, it might be significant to be reminded of historical examples of communal cooperation that have advanced religion and how their teaching, faith and communities have benefitted the common good.
21. First churches under a corrupted Roman Empire cared for the poor, such that eventually the Empire itself become “Christian”; monasteries during the dark ages became centers of economic production based on these principles, supporting local communities; the Irish Celtic evangelization of Europe was accomplished through radical preachers travelling into the Germanic and Nordic enemy lands and setting up centres of agricultural production and learning; the Moravians are of note, where for every ten families, the common fund would support one missionary overseas, and among the mission teams 3 would do business to support two in the advancement of religion (in not a dissimilar way, Liberty Trust beneficiaries speak of the freedom through mortgage repayments to support advancement of such teachings globally).
22. Global Modelling of Christian cooperative economics: There are thousands of global examples of Christian organizations, usually interchurch, that are advancing religion and through such economic foundations for spiritual community in their teaching, faith and communities are benefiting the common good. There are a range of models:
(a) There is an explosion of NGO’s (= charitable trusts) such as Christian Community Transformation (CCT) in Manila, that has 5000 micro-enterprise projects linked to 5000 bible studies on economics. This is based on co-operative groups of 5 to 8 people initiating small businesses, a common implementation of a Biblical principal of co-operation. Many people have joined churches, had their lives and families transformed from drunkenness, immorality, drugs etc, as a result, all to the common good alongside the common good of exiting from destitute poverty.
(b) Similarly round the world there are many church-based non profit (= charitable trust) co-operative housing programs, where the common good is a natural product of the advancement of religion. This is particularly significant in the African-American church context where whole blocks are often being converted into housing projects by churches. Another example which operates in New Zealand and overseas is Habitat for Humanity where people join together in a “self help” way to build homes for each other with other volunteers joining in.
(c) These relate to the specifics of Liberty Trust, which grew out of a wave of charismatic revival in New Zealand in the 1970’s from which 400 Christian communities were formed based on economic sharing, and many new churches developed such as Spreydon Baptist which outworked these principles implemented in a Kingdom Bank, employment for recovering addicts, or Hamilton Apostolic which lead the way in employment schemes for out of school youth.
23. Liberty Trust falls within the historic and more recent Christian definitions of a missional diaconate, which multiplies Biblical teachings on economics both in word and deed. It demonstrates these principles with an applied focus to the basic need of housing, creating an alternative imagination within the context of a faltering capitalist universe.
24. Such alternatives may be confusing to government departments or taxation experts, because they are just that, alternatives, envisioning new futures, creating a future common good through experimentation in the present that impacts only 200 families today, but could enable scores of thousands to break free from bondage to banks where profits must be made and paid to shareholders.
25. Envisioning the public benefit does not mean the status quo.
26. Although some of the individual donors may benefit from the offer of loans that does not, in my opinion, destroy the central theme of advancement of religion or the public benefit of the scheme.
27. Religion is advanced if either:
(a) Christianity is spread among those who have not already come to faith; or
(b) The spiritual life of the adherents is deepened.
28. There is, or should be, a direct relationship between (b) and (a). That is, if the spiritual lives of the adherents is deepened the result should make Christianity more attractive to those who have not yet come to faith.
29. Putting that round the other way, someone professing to be a Christian but not living out the Christian ethic is hardly a good ambassador for Christ. There is the trite saying that Christians should practice what they preach.
30. Looked at in this context Liberty Trust can be seen to be advancing religion by combining teaching Christian principles in relation to finance and money and putting these principles into practice. Of necessity on the practical side it has to start with the household of faith.
31. Moreover all Christian teaching should be beneficial in the long term for the members of the faith so that personal benefit is a necessary element (but, because of the interrelationship already referred to at para 36) that is not the end of it.
32. In any event, although donors may eventually receive an interest free loan, they never, as I understand it, get back their donations which are held by Liberty Trust as a “storehouse” (a biblical term, taken from Malachi 3.10 which exhorts the people of Israel to bring their full tithes into the storehouse and then they will be blessed, see also Deut 24.28). This is then to be used to bless many over the succeeding decades.
33. This is just the part and parcel of living and practising the Christian faith as exemplified by Liberty Trust and its teachings of biblical doctrines and the need for their observance.
1. I am currently Associate Professor, Transformational Urban Leadership, Azusa University, California; International Co-ordinator of the Encarnação Alliance of Urban Poor Movement Leaders and International Director, Urban Leadership Foundation.
2. I hold the degree of Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (Canterbury), Master of Arts (Fuller Theological Seminary) and PhD (Theology), (Auckland University).
3. Since 1969 I have been extensively involved in student ministries, pioneering churches, and pioneering urban poor ministries starting in New Zealand, then Manila, Kolkata, the United States and Brazil. This has resulted in over 213 organisations (churches, development agencies, missions, advocacy, denominations, etc.) among the urban poor of over 40 cities.
4. In addition to my position at Azusa University I have been a visiting faculty member at a wide number of seminaries and bible schools, teaching on Discipleship, Cultural & Urban Anthropology, Theology and Practice of Holistic Urban Poor Church-planting and City-wide Transformation. Other courses include Urban Leadership Strategies, Biblical Critiques of Economic & Development Theories, Strategies for Urban Ministry, Mission in an Urban Context, Theologies of the City, Global Issues, Transformative Revival, Doing Contextual Theology, Biblical Hermeneutics, Church and Society, and Community Organising and have given seminars on Development of Protestant Apostolic Orders, Linking Rich and Poor Churches, Urban Poor Awareness Seminars, Transforming Your City, The Kingdom and Societal Transformation.
5. My recent publications include:
Grigg, V. (2000). Transforming Cities: An Urban Leadership Manual. Auckand, Urban Leadership Foundation.
--- (2000a). Creating an Auckland Business Theology. P.O. Box 20-524, Auckland, Urban Leadership Foundation.
--- (2004a). Companion to the Poor. Monrovia, CA, Authentic Media (revised and updated), originally Abatross: Sydney (1984), revised MARC: Monrovia (1990)).
--- (2004b). Cry of the Urban Poor. London, Authentic Press.
--- (2007). Transforming Cities: An Urban Leadership Guide. Auckland, Urban Leadership Foundation, P.O. Box 20-524, Glen Eden, Auckland.
--- (2009). The Spirit of Christ and the Postmodern City: Transformative Revival Among Auckland's Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Lexington, KY, Emeth Press and Auckland: Urban Leadership Foundation.
--- (2010). Economic Discipleship. Kingdom Economics Forum. Wellington, New Zealand, Urban Leadership Foundation
Plus over 40 published chapters or articles