Growing population and poverty are inextricably linked together in the modern world. Very few Christians in America recognize this problem for what it is nor do they seriously discuss solutions and responses. It seems to me that a simple, basic expression of the love of God requires that we not only have this dialogue but that we prepare our churches and missions to respond to this moment of modern crisis. Can we do less?
In the poorest countries people generally have children at the highest rate, believing that their future is in their children. (It is hard for Westerner people to grasp this since our birth rate is declining rapidly and we are not even replacing our own population unless you include immigrants and undocumented workers who have larger families.) Very little of the financial aid that is given to less developed countries addresses the root problems or leads to sustainable, replicable changes.
In 1950 the industrialized nations were the most populous. But in the second half of the century birth rates plunged while those in the least developed world rose to a peak in the 1990s. In 2000 the most populous countries were India and China, now almost equal in population given China’s “one child” policy. Only five developed countries remained on this list in 2000. Generally speaking the fastest live birth rates are among Muslims.
One of the big, thorny, difficult problems we now face is this: “How should governmental, NGO and Christian aid be administered to achieve the best outcomes possible?” Put another way, to those of us who are Christians, “How would Jesus have us respond to the suffering multitudes upon whom he had deep compassion in his own mission?”
The answers offered to these questions vary but the burning issues remain clear. Global stability, even politically, may well depend on how we in the West help the poorer nations to secure a hopeful, workable future. Failure could lead to an ecological disaster (and I am not speaking of the controversial parts of ecology, just the obvious facts on the ground). Failure could also lead to social collapse and the vast migrations of people as we’ve seen in sub-Sahara Africa over recent decades. It is also striking that the “hot spots” for Christians are likely to be in Africa since the church is growing rapidly there and Islam is also growing rapidly right alongside of their Muslim neighbors. Peacemaking is an acquired skill and Africa is short on leaders who seek peace between Christians and Muslims.
Those who deeply study these demographic issues suggest that by 2050 growth will be the highest among Muslims, particularly in Africa. Of the original developed countries only two will remain on the list for live birth rate growth–Mexico and Brazil. It is suggested that by 2050 even these two nations will become more like the rest of the West and their birth rates will likely decline.
Where will we be in 2100? Growth rates are most likely to be highest in Muslim countries in Africa and Asia. It is also likely that severe shortages of food, water and resources will deeply challenge these places in the world where birth rates grow. Will many migrate to Europe? If so what will Europe look like demographically in 2100 given that it is already very different now than it was in 1950?
This much we can be fairly certain about. Over the next sixty-plus years, less than my lifetime already lived, there will be chasmic disparities between those places where birth rates are in decline and those where it is still rising rapidly. Some suggest that by 2100 the birth rate might actually plateau globally. These huge disparities are likely to increase turmoil inside of countries and between countries over the next sixty-plus years. Inadequate education and vast displays of inequality, which people will know about and thus understand better than ever, are likely to become great challenges to infrastructure and peace. One student of this trend concludes, “The deprived poor will either fight to take their share or migrate to earn it.”
Having studied what Jesus says about the poor and marginalized in Luke’s Gospel over the past two weeks I am deeply struck by just how little attention we Christians in the West pay to what our Lord taught about these types of problems. These problems are faced every day by the poorest and weakest people on our planet. I submit that out “older” European ways of reading the Bible and solving such problems will not likely work in many of these new global contexts. If mission is to be truly effective then we need some serious reflection on these distressing issues and how we intend to deal with them. My hope is that millennial leaders, who generally see the world very differently, will be the “great” generation in their sacrificial response to the great need that the world will soon face. This generation tends to “get involved.” If they get involved what will happen? Let us pray for holy wisdom and great courage.