How Should The Church Respond To Neoliberalism?
A new conference has explored how the church might tackle systemic changes to the economy.
Held at United Theological College from 28 to 29 June, Neoliberalism, Civil Society and the Church considered the impact that neoliberal policy settings had on society in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Eleven speakers delivered papers dealing with neoliberalism in terms of its implications for the church, from a variety of different perspectives.
Dr Elizabeth Strakosch, a University of Queensland lecturer, delivered the keynote address. Dr Strakosch has written several books on neoliberalism, including Neoliberal Indigenous Policy: Settler Colonialism and the ‘Post-Welfare’ State.
Neoliberalism is a philosophy of government that was popularised in the 1970s. It places particular emphasis on individual responsibility and private sector initiative rather than public programs.
This, Dr Strakosch argued, has big implications for welfare policy. “What was once seen as a right is reconfigured as a gift,” she said.
The conference heard that neoliberalism was on the decline and that a new narrative was needed to replace it.
Dr Straksoch suggested that the US President Donald Trump, who ran on an anti-immigration and anti-free trade platform, was emblematic of the shift away from neoliberalism.
“Both Trumpism and Bernie Sanders’ social liberalism… [are] attempts to retake the state,” she said.
Uniting Earth Ministry’s Jessica Morthorpe suggested that the church already had a narrative, the Gospel, that told an alternative story about people, their purpose, and the value of community.
Several speakers identified that, for all of their criticisms, neoliberalism also delivered certain benefits.
Dr Strakosch said that, in the transition away from neoliberalism, one aspect of it that might be worth retaining was neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual agency.
Uniting’s Doug Taylor suggested that the church should not approach the subject in a “binary” manner.
“We have to think situationally,” he said.
In dealing with governments in neoliberal policy settings, Mr Taylor recommended that churches draw on H Richard Niebuhr’s 1951 work, Christ and Culture. This involves discerning when to ‘adapt’ to particular laws, when to ‘reform’ them, and when to resist.
In another address, Dr Doug Hynd recalled how church agencies in 2007 had resisted the Howard Liberal Government’s policy of suspending payment to welfare recipients by refusing to tender for services.
Conference organiser Chris Budden told Insights that he hopes many of the papers will be published in an upcoming edition of Uniting Church Studies.
For more on United Theological College, visit their official website.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor
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