NAFTA and a Biblical Worldview


Donald Trump has called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the “worst trade deal in the history of this country.” Repealing NAFTA has been a cornerstone of his foreign trade agenda.

But a lot of people in Congress, even conservative Republicans, are not on board. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) wrote an article for the Washington Post saying that NAFTA needs modernizing, but not repealing. Lankford makes some interesting points about trade deficits: “The administration has . . . emphasized its desire to reduce the trade deficit—the degree to which the United States imports more than it exports—in NAFTA renegotiations. This is rooted in the belief that when the United States buys more from foreign countries than those countries buy from us, jobs increase elsewhere and decrease here at home. This is a faulty assumption but one that has unfortunately found its way into mainstream political dialogue.”

Lankford makes a point that anyone who has studied the issue knows: Trade deficits are sometimes good things and should not “remain the focus in NAFTA renegotiations.” His article is worth a close read.

As I read Lankford’s article, it became obvious to me that even though he did not mention the Bible or a biblical worldview in his article, he was deeply concerned about an idea that permeates Scripture, an idea that many theologians and economist have come to call “human flourishing.” It is the biblical idea, present in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, that God made us in His image and wants us to create, innovate, and thrive. It is first, simply, and elegantly stated in God’s first command to us humans: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Lankford makes a point about human flourishing when he says free trade between nations, even if it results in a trade deficit for the U.S., contributes to the flourishing of both nations: “One of the best things that can happen to our economy is for other nations’ economies to grow.”

It is, of course, a huge logical and hermeneutical leap to go from this biblical principle to a definitive position on NAFTA, or the recently contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, or many other specific economic issues. However, the Bible is not silent regarding principles that can help us make decisions on such issues. Wayne Grudem, in his classic book “Politics According to the Bible,” contends that the Bible has a clear bias toward free markets. He explains that a free market is better at producing jobs, producing goods and services, and efficiently distributing these goods and services than a market controlled by government—no matter how well-intentioned that government might be.

That’s why Jay Richards, writing at The Stream, says fighting NAFTA is a waste of time. Richards writes that Trump’s contention that NAFTA is a bad deal for Americans is a claim that “doesn’t fit the facts.” He makes the point that “far more U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation than to Mexico or Canada. And the U.S. has gained overall from the deal. Pulling out of NAFTA would probably harm the rural states the president wants to help. Many congressional Republicans know this.” Thus, the Lankford article in the Washington Post.

(By the way, Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed, and God” is the best primer on biblical economics I have read in many a year.)

Now, I realize that people of good will can disagree on matters such as trade agreements, and it is true that there is no place in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt (or shalt not) support NAFTA.” However, since the Bible is not silent on economic matters, we should seek to apply its teachings when we can. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not one thumb’s width of . . . creation over which Christ . . .does not declare, ‘Mine!’”

In short, a truly biblical worldview teaches that God is concerned about all areas of life, including economic areas, and we—his stewards here on earth—should be too.

Image courtesy of ronniechua at iStock by Getty Images. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.

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  • Dear Warren Cole Smith

    Thank you for sharing NAFTA and a Biblical Worldview – DOES THE BIBLE HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT ECONOMIC ISSUES? With us.

    It was an interesting read.

    I like when Christians also take the time to write about financial topics, thanks.

    I learned something new by reading your thoughts on “human flourishing”.

    I do believe God wants us to be creative, innovative and thrive.

    Why? Because I believe we are more capable of helping others in the world when we financially educated and know how to be creative and innovative.

    It’s often mentioned how many of Jesus’ Words relate to money-topic. I believe he must have felt a deep need to educate people about this topic.

    By the way, thank you for pointing me to Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed, and God”. I’ve taken a closer look at it, and it’s surely worthy to put on my to-read-list.

    Edna Davidsen

  • disqus_MG7XgmMuEx

    But, the concept of “free trade” that is articulated in this article implicitly assumes that all parties (nations) trade equitably and fairly to promote human flourishing. There are two problems: limited human capability and original sin. Sometimes nations enact policies that they honestly believe are in the best interest of their people, and they may very well be so, but they have real or perceived effects on other countries’ economies. The US often accuses certain countries of currency manipulation, and both sides defend their practices. I’m not in a position to judge one way or the other, but my point is that both sides may honestly and innocently believe that they are doing the right thing. Who mediates any disputes between sovereign nations that may arise?

    The second problem is original sin. Some countries intentionally try to get around free trade agreements or to twist them to their advantage. I would not be surprised if some countries have accused us of these things; and they may have a valid complaint(s). Additionally, some countries don’t have the environmental and OSHA standards that we have, and – lets face it – they won’t adopt them anytime soon because of various reasons and/or worldviews. Is there not a moral problem with the mass importation of goods made under veritable slave-labor conditions? And what if these cheap material goods curse us too by aiding and abetting gluttony, busy-ness and hedonism? Think of our “throw-away culture” which various religious authorities such as Popes have criticized.

    I’ve heard a few things about the principle of “subsidiary,” which basically means that political AND economic issues are best solved at the most local level that is possible. I’ve also heard that politics and economics weren’t considered separate issues until modern times.

    So, I respectfully but emphatically dissent from the principle of free trade.

  • Jonathan Swift

    Good intentions are not necessary good. Massive food donations to Haiti made life difficult for Haitian farmers, further increasing dependency on foreign donations.

  • EBurkeDisciple

    No agreement that mitigates our sovereignty is good for us. The basics of free trade are true and good but we must be ever vigilant for those that would use it as a tool for nefarious ends.

  • L.

    The thing to remember is that the jobs that go to other countries are not just statistics or data–they represent real jobs and income that real people in this country have lost at a time when our country was reeling from 9-11 and they have not ever recovered financially from that blow. Their “new normal” will never be the same and many of them are within ten years of retirement now without any chance of catching up financially to what they had and now retirement is impossible.