Reading “Faith and Politics After Christendom” by Jonathan Bartley I’m fascinated by the section where he gives different examples of the action of politically radicalised Christians. It seems common that, as our society ‘descends’ (?) into Post-Christendom and loses many of the laws and cultural norms brought about by Christianity’s involvement in government, Christians decide to take action and do something about it in the political sphere.
Bartley broadly categorises this into positive and negative responses:
- Where Christians are shocked at moral loosening and wish to reintroduce stricter morals by regulation.
- Where Christians see injustice and wish to encourage government to ‘do something about it’.
Now, I can see that these two categories do exist (and bear in mind that Barley points out that many people involved in these things will have a broad mix of motive that may include both categories), but I’m not sure that they are as different as they first appear.
Surely they both break down into these aspects:
People are being wronged (maybe they know they are [obvious injustice] or maybe they don’t know that they are [moral damage]) and some Christians, who are politically motivated, want to impose a solution on society (whether it is prohibitive law or ‘positive’ action by the state).
We must surely note that even the more ‘positive’ of these two categories does include the taking or diminishing of resources from some people (perhaps taxation) and applying those resources to people as the radicalised group sees fit. A bit of spin and the opportunity to tell people how wonderful this piece of justice is (justice that we as Christians are called to practice in our lives) can promote the action in a positive light, but we also must remember that it is reliant on the backbone of the law, reliant on the ability to control people with the ultimate resort to violence.
Now, if you don’t believe my last point then note this example: A man chooses not to pay his taxes. By law the people (the state) dictate that people pay their taxes. Does this man get to keep his freedom? No, he is put in prison. What stops him continuing to exercise his freedom? The fact that if he were to try to do so people would stop him. Ultimately society is able to restrain, and if necessary be violent against that person in order to force that person to either cooperate or to accept punishment.
So, in my mind, both these categories of radicalised action fall into the trap of trying to control others, rather than trying to be an example to others and trying to love others (without at the same time trying to control others). I don’t yet know what Bartley’s tack on this is, but I look forward to reading on!!!
Keith writes a complex issue so brilliantly I wanted to paste some here
Cotton is a Christian issue! Cotton and other agricultural subsidies in rich western countries are robbing people in poor countries like Burkina Faso of honestly earned income. What should our response be?
Burkina Faso’s exemplary efficiency
Burkina Faso is a model of efficiency and production – at least when it comes to cotton. Her cotton farmers are the most efficient in the world, producing cotton at only 21 cents/lb. Cotton, known as “white gold” in Burkina, is the main export of this, the third poorest country in the world, providing half her export earnings. So you would think that everyone would be keen to applaud such an exemplary effort of a developing country helping itself, independant of international aid. Especially in a country of which US officials recently said: “we are proud of their success in encouraging economic and personal freedoms…”
American cotton subsidies take from the poor
But not so, apparently. Even at such prices, Burkina struggles to sell her cotton. This is because American cotton, produced at 72c/lb is subsidised to the tune of 3 billion/year to her 25 000 cotton farmers, thus depriving the poor of an honest income. It is estimated these subsidies cost West African cotton farmers $250 million in lost income. Burkina Faso, for instance, received $10 million in U.S. aid in 2002 but lost an estimated $13.7 million in exports because of U.S. cotton subsidies.
Next to this, the U.S. pledge of $7 million (of which only $5 million is new money) to aid West African cotton farmers hurt by these subsidies seems ridiculous. As Francois Traore, president of the union of Burkinabe cotton producers, said:
“This is a question of human rights. We’re not asking for a gift, we’re asking for just rules.”
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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)… and gave it to oil barons, multinational mining corporations and property tycoons. No, seriously, it was not God’s intention that a powerful minority would control access to the earth’s natural resources â€“ land and its natural deposits being the most obvious.
One example of sharing the land is that of nomadic tribes who do not recognise private ownership of land but see it as the inheritance of their society to be shared fairly. Another alternative pattern was laid out in the laws of Jubilee in the Old Testament (Lev. 25:10) where land was to return to the original family every fifty years.
We see today that it is the landless who are least able to lift themselves out of poverty. To merely exist they have to pay those who own the land. To work they have to use someone else’s land, either paying them rent or working for that other person on that other person’s land. I cannot imagine that many of you, the readers, have not had to pay someone (usually over a long period of time) for the land you live on. It is also likely that you work on either someone else’s land or land that you have paid for.
For some of us an inheritance in middle age is as close as we come to getting on a level playing field; a point in time where we can stop paying others for the privilege of merely existing.
Travellers are a continuation of the nomadic way of life and set of values, where access to land is a societal right. Those of us who participate in the system of property ownership (whether we are paying rent, paying off a mortgage or own our ‘patch’) find it easy to resent those who have managed to have access to land without paying for it. Perhaps we should question the nature of our land ownership and think about what we are doing to our children who find themselves landless and having to exchange their labour for someone else’s land.
Getting back in the swing of work except the problems with email when you are away, over 200 to sift through on Monday! Sorting Greenbelt stuff is my main task. Bob and Annette Holman are leading the first Frontier Lecture at Greenbelt this year and will be speaking in The Club Venue at 1pm. NOT TO MISSED part of what they will do will be comparing successful community based mission with the new Green paper (not rizla) Title is Towards a new frontier: Issues that don’t promote shalom. Come along and say hi if you are around.
We are called to change ourselves and to show love. We are called to be Christ to others. We are not called to force others to behave in particular ways.
Also, when we believe, life takes a very different context – life on this planet ceases to be all important as we see what is beyond. We also know a God who gives justice even amongst what seems to be so unfair and unjust. Ultimately justice is that God will judge us fairly – justice between people in this life takes a different place. Justice in this life is something that we should seek to provide, reflecting God’s justice.
When we seek our own survival above the survival of others we fall back into the failed way of living, we fall back into a self centred life which doesn’t look beyond to God’s provision. Attempts at self survival are doomed – we can’t do it – only God can give us our survival as we give our lives to him.
If we back war, police with guns or any kind of ‘self survival over love for our enemies’ then we are reverting to (human) type and we deny Christ’s provision and Christ’s message of love. We will continue to be responsible for the circle of violence and for the death of the innocent.
As a response to news today about taking health staff from developing countries here is an article I wrote that was first published in Benchmark Magazine:
There are many aspects to the immigration discussion, but one that hits me as particularly pertinent to issues of justice is the movement of skilled people away from developing countries.
We can view this issue as a problem of trade. We don’t normally think of migration as a trade in people – after all it’s not slavery that is going on! However, when we offer an individual the prospect of a higher standard of living in exchange for their participation in our economy we are indeed trading. The unfortunate thing about this trade is that it is between a poor individual and our rich society with no thought for the community from which we take, the community which invested in that person, the community which that person was serving. When we trade with these communities in this way we are not practising fair trade, we are not giving them just compensation for their loss, we take and we do not give back.
However, it is worth saying that this exploitation is only possible because of the global inequities between rich and poor. It is only when the root causes of this inequity are addressed that the symptoms are relieved â€“ the ball is in our court, as rich nations, to do something about this.
But where does that put us, as the church in a rich nation? What is our role in the migration of skilled labour? Well, I don’t see our role as global policeman, preventing individuals from moving where they want or even preventing societies from tapping the wealth of societies less wealthy than our own. However, I do see that we each have a personal responsibility – we, as Christians, must seek to not cause such migration. As with any form of trade, sometimes we have to be prepared to give up what is within our grasp, as we are called to be fair in our dealings.
In practice such personal fairness can be difficult to achieve – how do we refuse the caring attention of a Filipino nurse or the school education of a Jamaican teacher? Is there any way that our actions can compensate those societies in another way, perhaps by charitable support? Can you go out to teach in a Jamaican school or give your life to support the health of those in poverty in other parts of the world?
What if you are that Filipino nurse working in the NHS or that Jamaican teacher working in a comprehensive school? This is the hardest question for me, as I’m not such a person. However, one thing that I must say is that, for many of these people, the purpose of their lives here is to support their families back home, to send money home so that their families can live better lives than if they had never left.
So, perhaps our role is to take a back seat, not to judge, but rather to recognise the opportunities that are open to us to do our bit for our global community.
I caught an interview this morning on GMTV about the number of counterfeit wristbands being sold and the money NOT going to the charity. One thing it highlighted was how hard it can be to get young people involved in charitable causes and political action. Their guidance was to only buy the wristbands from reputable shops or via the charity on the web. A few ideas came to mind on how we could tap into the wristband culture in our work with young people, I bet these ideas grab them more than talking about the election.
- Do a survey of all outlets selling the bands and send this to local trading standards. AND/OR report these to local branches of the charity.
- Extend the idea… If you give the young people a name tag from the group (official looking), get them to dress smart with a clip board as they go around the town then it is likely to cause the shop owner to ask questions and the simple response that you are conduct research as to whether the number of wristbands being sold correlate with the income the charity receives for a local organisation will probably be enough for them to withdraw them from sale.
- Get the young people to spend a Saturday morning counting how many are sold from particular shops and send the shop the address of the charity with an invoice for the appropriate amount to forward onto the charity, copy the letter to the charity.
- Get the young people to ask all their mates where they have got their wristbands and explain to them the issue. Ask if their friends would consider returning an dodgy wristbands and ask for a refund. This could be a good way to increase you contact with other young people as if there are enough you could arrange for adults to accompany the young people as they ask for a refund.
- Write to local press to highlight the issue.
Let me know if you try any of these.
Stuart Murray’s ‘Post-Christendom’ has got me thinking!
I wonder if there is reluctance to change in the church for this reason:
If dramatic change takes place, anyone who is in a position of power or influence in the church (or ‘a’ church) is likely to find themselves on a level with others, without an advantage. They would find themselves beginners again, unfamiliar with their newly deconstructed/reconstructed environment.
Does this mean that such people might resist change? I wonder…
Check out the 23rd Psalm Bush is my Shepherdjusttherev