On Tuesday, the Christians on the Left Summit debated how the church’s social action, such as Foodbanks and homeless shelters, connects to campaigning for social justice. To use Desmond Tutu’s phrase, as well as pulling people out of the river, how could we ‘go upstream’ and find out who is pushing them in?
The news headlines the next day provided a great example, with the release of the letter signed by many Bishops and Church leaders to raise concerns about food poverty as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign.
This week the Church caught the headlines because it spoke up about what it is seeing in the communities in which it is serving people every day. Issues of faith, community action and social justice cannot be separated.
We should expect a backlash against us. The response in The Sun today by Jeremy Clarkson caught my eye because he goes to the heart of the matter and does his own form of Bible study, analysing Jesus’ story about The Rich Man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16. And he comes up with the following conclusion:
“The Bible is basically a blueprint for Marxism. In Luke 16:19-31 we are told that those who work hard and buy nice things for themselves and their families will burn for all of eternity in hell. And those who sit about doing nothing all day will go to heaven.”
Clarkson’s take on the story is telling. In the Bible, Jesus talks of a beggar named Lazarus who was ‘laid’ at a rich man’s gate, ‘covered in sores’ and desperately hungry. For Clarkson he is just ‘someone who sits about doing nothing all day’.
This is exactly the kind of language that so many right wing commentators use to describe those who are poor. Through being labelled as cheats and scroungers, often the ill, disabled and poor are simply condemned as being lazy.
At least Clarkson is not mealy mouthed or trying to pretend that his views are compatible with Christianity. In fact he is very clear about what he think of Christian leaders and of Jesus’ teaching:
“I certainly don’t want the country to be run by someone who believes in that codswallop. Or who believes that the meek will inherit the earth. Or that it’s wrong to covet your neighbour’s BMW.”
Of course, no one will be too surprised by Clarkson’s comments. The Sun pays him well to spout these kind of views. It’s just a shame that so many millions of people are influenced by such garbage.
Locking out the homeless?
Clarkson sums up his column by saying he will not accept lectures from ‘Men in frocks…especially when they close their churches to lock out the homeless.’
This is particularly ignorant. It is the churches who have been responsible for starting most homeless charities and today there is a vast network of churches (over 280 in London alone) who open up as homeless shelters every winter.
And its because churches run night shelters and foodbanks that we have the right to speak up about the increasing poverty we are seeing. It is the combination of community action and social justice – the practical and the political -which gives the church’s message its integrity and its power.