No one today doubts the marketing dictum that “sex sells.”

Magazine covers, book jackets, television commercials, even restaurant advertisements often demonstrate this truism: a bit of flesh, a hint of the salacious, grabs attention like few other things do.

What is less appreciated is the role our fertile prurient imaginations play in the prioritization of biblical teachings.

For example, there are famously six verses (total) that touch on the subject of same-sex relations, and there are at least three times that many that clearly and unambiguously condemn loaning money at high interest rates.

When was the last time you heard a sermon on unjust interest rates?

Here’s just one example — of about 25 verses in the Bible touching on the subject — from Leviticus 25:35-37: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”

There’s a lot in that passage that might surprise someone not aware of the complexity and richness of the Bible. For example, Leviticus is assuming that you should help your “kin” as you would a temporary resident or an “alien.”

The instruction, in fact, is based on the idea that you should treat your fellow patriot as you would an immigrant or refugee. The presumption is that everyone knows you should treat a visitor as a guest, so treat your kin that way as well.

There are many verses along these lines, so why are they not more prominent in the pulpit of those who claim to be biblical literalists? It’s certainly not because they contradict verses about adultery or fornication or sexual purity.

In fact, there is at root a common ancestry of verses about economics and those about sex. The root of the matter is quite simple: no human should be treated as a thing.

Or to put it positively: every person is a child of God and worthy of respect and dignity. That fact prohibits people being used as tools of empty gratification – either sexual or economic.

I fear we’ve so stressed the former that we’ve completely lost the biblical emphasis on the latter. A fully formed biblical ethic would both prohibit the vulnerable from being used as sexual objects for the powerful and it would propel a robust response to all people caught in extreme poverty.

Correlatively, the trafficking of young girls (and sometimes boys) for sex trade is rooted in extreme poverty. If every person were valued in society in a way that basic needs were provided, education was fully funded and housing was made affordable, then would children be sold as a means to eat? They wouldn’t have to be.

Of course, wealthy people prove every day that you can have all you need economically and still do very bad things to others. The Bible certainly never claims that utopia will be established by economics. But the Bible is clear that we have an obligation to relieve suffering by treating all with economic and inter-personal dignity.

Michelle Bachelet, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “Human rights are guardrails to help us rescue the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, dismantle structural drivers of exclusion and inequality and prevent instability and conflict.”

“Guardrails” may not be the most beautiful of images for human rights, but if you consider our current path as a treacherous one with cliffs on both sides, it’s not a bad picture. Jesus taught us to walk the narrow road. The idea is similar.

On one side, you have the disastrous path of communism that has never worked because human rights are too often sacrificed for the utility or security of the majority. But neither has un-fettered capitalism ever worked as a means to a fully dignified economy.

In late 2019, Bachelet and her office established the Surge Initiative. The aim is to increase field engagement on economic, social and cultural rights with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In other words, to strengthen the link between human rights and economics.

This “surge” has four foci engaging over 90 field presences and U.N. country teams to:

  • Provide data so that macroeconomics policies are built on economic and social rights.
  • Operationalize the findings of the Universal Periodic Review (and other human rights reporting), by supporting field colleagues to translate these into strategic options to inform country policies.
  • Advise economic policies by focusing on fiscal space for social spending and human rights-based budgeting, taxation and inequalities.
  • Interface with the new generation of United Nations Sustainable Development Common Country Analysis and Cooperation Frameworks to implement the vision of a rights-based economy.

While some of this seems like U.N. jargon, there is no way around the fact that we must elevate the place of human rights in the development of our economies.

We would condemn any parent who instead of feeding their children gambles or drinks all the family resources away. To everyone this is a reprehensible act of irresponsibility.

But what of the country that spends untold resources protecting the power of the wealthy and cannot seem to provide clean drinking water (for example, Flint, Michigan or Jackson, Mississippi)?

Global examples of the national “drunk parent” are numerous. An obvious solution is to recognize, as does the Bible, that economic rights are as important as the rights to our own body and base policies on that understanding.

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