Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

I am quite a fan of TEDtalks – there have been many fabulous talks and enlightening speakers presenting on a wide-range of subjects from surviving a suicide attempt to becoming an activist, with almost every conceivable topic in-between.

Strangely enough religious leaders often do not make the best speakers, regardless of the topic they’re exploring. Pope Francis though, unlike his immediate predecessor, has an engaging, well-grounded and warm personality that brings to life the subjects he passionately cares about.  His delivery is straightforward, as are his public messages; they are not couched in convoluted theological language.  In this respect, I often feel that there is a clear parallel between the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury and his predecessor.

Anyway, I digress! Francis’ TEDtalk is not delivered from the typical TED stage; instead he talks from behind a desk in the Vatican.  His message is simple – change starts with individuals; hope begins in the individual heart. From that starting point, hope and solidarity with ‘the other’, those who are marginalised and powerless becomes a powerful possibility. In-so-doing he makes the point that there is really no difference between us – we are all loved by God in our uniqueness and imperfection.

That said, Francis reminds us that the powerful….the significant in worldly terms……are especially tasked by God to use their wealth and influence in ways that bind us together rather than pull us apart.

That our world is in a mess, largely because we have ignored the radical message of Christianity and settled for something that is, in many ways radically exclusive and uncaring, is obvious.  Our world is fractious and riddled with war and cruelty in myriad forms.

But Pope Francis provides a timely reminder that each and every one of us, regardless of creed, can harness the power of hope and promote equality, solidarity and tenderness.  His call, in essence a reminder that we all need each other and that none of us exists in isolation.  In that respect he echoes, in his own words, that wonderful Ubuntu saying, ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’  Hope demands therefore that we should all be ‘team players’, constantly looking at ways to co-operate with each other for the greater good of all.

Never has Pope Francis’ plea, “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic, or a number,” been more important than it is today.  How we work that ethic out in practise in a complex and perplexing world is another matter.  But then again, we need simply start with ourselves, reflecting on the work that needs done within us and amongst us – the rest will unfold against the universal backdrop of hope and love.

You can make your own mind up by watching the whole presentation here:

The former Bishop of Durham, Dr. David Jenkins, has died.  His theological viewpoints were always much more nuanced than were reported, or misreported, in the press at the time.  Nonetheless, what I thought was always rather striking was his espousal of a very publicly engaged form of Christianity, where the questions and answers were worked out ‘on the ground’.  As such he challenged unfeeling market economics and argued that people with the least power and influence should always be at the centre of government policy.

This balanced insight into the man and his approach was produced in 1994 to mark his retirement and is well worth watching. In my opinion we need more Christian leaders that are willing to challenge unjust social structures in such a tenacious and consistent manner.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: German Lutheran Minister, Activist & Theologian (image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: German Lutheran Minister, Activist & Theologian (image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)).

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

LaundePhotoshop2

All too often we hear negative stories about Christianity, where institutionalised religion goes against the grain of a vibrant and living faith and Jesus the revolutionary is lost in a sea of social conservatism.  It can be easy to forget that the plethora of bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to God’s concern for the poor and our responsibility towards them.  After all, who can forget those simple, yet powerful words written in Leviticus 25: 35 – “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you”? And what about 1 John 3:17, where it is written – “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him”?

Against this backdrop I found it so uplifting to read a short story on the BBC News website this morning featuring Einsiedeln Abbey, Switzerland’s oldest Benedictine monastery, which has opened its doors to asylum seekers.

The monastery’s new Abbot, Urban Federer, wants to create new roles for Einsiedeln that show just how relevant Christianity is to our modern age, particularly as these pertain to the challenges confronting 21st Century Switzerland. As Abbot Federer was reported as saying by the BBC, “As everywhere in Europe, there are more and more people coming from other countries, from other continents………….And I thought we should do something too, as a church, as a monastery.”

 Abbot Federer, and the monks who live in his community, are beacons of light that prompt us to reflect on how we live out our faith.  There is much that we can all do to reach out to the margins in innovative and effective ways.

You can read the whole story here.

‘The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. This situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous. The World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all‘, so says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

UN Logo

Social injustice is pernicious and widespread.  Economic exclusion , discrimination and appalling levels of social mobility blight the world in which we live, and as Ban Ki-moon rightly says, most of the countries we inhabit.  Shockingly, recent statistics released by Credit Suisse show that the richest 0.5% of individuals hold well over a third of the world’s wealth (http://inequality.org/global-inequality/#sthash.WrSTo2E7.dpuf). And in the US alone,the richest 20% are 8.5 times richer than the poorest 20% (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trl80suN) You don’t need to be an economist to reach the conclusion that this is not a healthy situation to be in.

Inequality is bad news. It’s as simple as that. Linette Lopez writing in the Business Insider in 2011, focused in on Richard Wilkinson, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, author of a book about income inequality, The Spirit Level. Summarising Wilkinson’s conclusions, Lopez states that ‘The basic thesis is that social ills, like crime and teen pregnancy, that have long been associated with poverty, actually have a stronger correlation with income inequality’.

Lopez’s excellent article looks at some of the most shocking statistics highlighted by Wilkinson.  These include the following (Note: you can read more at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-negative-effects-of-income-inequality-on-society-2011-11?op=1#ixzz2trlpYzQH):

  • Life expectancy is strongly related to income within rich countries.
  • Child well-being is higher in more equal societies.
  • More children drop out of High School in unequal US States.
  • Murder rates are higher in more unequal US States and Canadian Provinces.
  • Mental illness is more prevalent in unequal societies.
  • Social mobility is lower in more unequal societies.

So the picture is clear and it’s not a pretty one.  Nor is it a new one. But we can do something about it.  After all inequality doesn’t happen by accident – it’s the result of governmental economic and social policy – therefore if it can be created by these mechanisms it can be deconstructed by them too.

The Christian witness to social justice has always been a strong one.  Who can fail to take heed of Isaiah 1:17: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’? Or what about 1 John 3:17-18: ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’?

There is much to reflect on today.  The ‘World Day of Social Justice‘ calls us to think how we, each in our own small way, can do something to make a difference.  The status quo is not an option. As Ban Ki-moon reminds us:“The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. … We must do more to empower individuals through decent work, support people through social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor and marginalised are heard.”

 

Heat or Eat poster

Northern Ireland has the worst fuel poverty levels in the UK. The local Church Action on Poverty group in Northern Ireland is building partnerships and providing much needed practical assistance.

 Scott Peddie, Chair of the Northern Ireland group, explains what they have been doing:

According to the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, around 300,000 households in Northern Ireland cannot afford to heat their homes. Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of fuel poverty in the UK and one of the highest in the EU; the most recent estimates indicate that 42% of households are experiencing fuel poverty.

It’s against this backdrop that the NI branch of Church Action on Poverty launched its ‘Heat or Eat’ Campaign in 2010.  Focusing on the South Antrim area, where most of the NI branch committee members live and work, the campaign was a response to what we were hearing on the ground.

The shocking reality for many families living in the South Antrim area is they face the stark choice each winter of heating or eating.

Moreover, the increasing cost of home heating combined with rising living costs places many individuals and families in a desperate predicament.

As Christians from across the denominations, we were very much aware of our duty to help the vulnerable among us, many of them hidden and voiceless. Church Action on Poverty NI’s campaign is therefore grounded in the biblical injunction exemplified in 1 John 3:18 to demonstrate Christian care in action:‘Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth’.

Our campaign, which essentially asked local churches, businesses and concerned individuals to contribute to a central fund, raised a modest amount in the first year.  Donations were received from Presbyterian, Anglican and Baptist churches and community groups among others.

Our aim was, and still is, simple: to provide gifts of heating oil, gas and electricity to those most in need. Moreover, we had the specific aim of enabling local people to help local people in need over the Christmas/New Year period.

In order to do this most effectively, Church Action on Poverty NI built a coalition of partners to help raise funds, administer the scheme, identify needy families and to distribute grants. Our particular focus in the early years was to help struggling vulnerable young families.

Heat or Eat photo

Today, our coalition of partners includes Citizen Advice Bureau (Antrim and Newtownabbey), the Newtownabbey Methodist Mission, Home-Start Antrim and local MLA Danny Kinahan. In addition to identifying needy families, the CABs offer benefit checks for people involved in our scheme, while Home-Start has particular expertise in working with young families. Mr Kinahan has been invaluable in raising funds and in increasing the profile of the campaign among the local business community.

Given the success of the ‘Heat or Eat’ campaign to date, we look forward to continuing to raise money and build partnerships during 2014.

The problem of fuel poverty, as we and our partners experience it on the ground, is not going away; with more money we could do even more in our local community to help those people who desperately need it.

But there are, of course, wider policy implications for our legislators and representatives.  Fuel poverty is an injustice that requires concerted cross-party efforts, both in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Church Action on Poverty NI will therefore continue to lobby our local and Westminster politicians on this issue, as well as running our ‘Heat or Eat’ campaign, and we look forward to making substantial progress on both fronts.

For further information, visit the Church Action on Poverty NI website at: http://www.cap-ni.org.uk, or the main site at: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk.

Was Jeremiah a Failure?.

This is an excellent article that has raised a number of issues for me!  I wonder – is it possible to be a successful ‘parish minister’ and still retain anything more than a tenuous link to an authentic prophetic calling?  The temptation to live a comfortable life devoid of controversy would seem to preclude it in some cases………….

Jeremiah was branded a failure in his lifetime.  Perhaps more of us should be content to be branded failures as measured by the standards of the world around us?  After all, whose judgement really matters?

 

 

Archbishop fears impact of welfare cuts on families | Christian News on Christian Today.

Well done to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, for speaking out once again about the tendency of our current government to direct cuts towards the most vulnerable (and least vocal) in society.  His letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, comes hot on the heals of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s excellent piece published in the New Statesman.

We need more church leaders to speak out on behalf of the marginalized and the poorest in our society.  After all, is that not what Jesus would do??

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that 300,000 children will be pushed below the poverty line due to reduced state benefits and tax credits. So much for the governments promise that they would protect the most vulnerable in society!
 
UTV have reproduced the Guardian article here:

UTV News – Cuts will force child poverty levels to increase again, says thinktank.

Dear friends,

Since the recession hit, a third of families are now spending more each month than they have coming into their households. 4 in 10 people across the UK are worried about their debt, five million are permanently overdrawn, and 22% will carry a credit card debt throughout 2011. Legal loan sharks are taking advantage of a lack of access to credit faced by many of these consumers as they try to make ends meet, lending them money on which they charge interest rates of up to 4,000% or more.

As part of a UK-wide Church Action on Poverty campaign, I’ve just emailed my MP asking them to support legal measures which would regulate these companies and stop them from exploiting vulnerable people. Could you do the same?

Please take two minutes to email your MP!  Just click on this link and Church Action on Poverty will do the rest for you!

Thanks,

Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Chair, Church Action on Poverty NI