You may be aware that Archbishop Justin recently addressed the Trades Union Congress annual conference. First he invoked the prophet Amos, whose words coruscated Ancient Israel’s disregard for justice and fairness towards the poor: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Then he turned to the figure of a young woman, unmarried and pregnant in Roman-occupied Palestine, and quoted her words to her cousin Elizabeth:
“He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.”
You will recognise the Magnificat, which Archbishop Justin called “Revolution in immortal verse.” The lines are revolutionary because they envisage the action of God overturning the ‘natural order of things’ in which the rich and the powerful take all the good things in life for themselves and insulate themselves against the risks of the bad things which happen to those without the means to protect themselves. For example the risk of bad things happening to the poor is increased when those with power and influence contrive to avoid paying taxes which would otherwise be available to provide care for the elderly and a decent level of protection for those without jobs, or those dependent on zero hours contracts.
But how and when is this turnaround in the fortunes of the poor to be achieved? Predictably enough the Archbishop was criticized in some sections of the press for confusing the spiritual with the political, suggesting that religion has no place in the ‘public square’. However I agree completely with the Archbishop when he says that the ‘common good’ is both a ‘spiritual’ matter – because we are all God’s children and worthy of dignity as bearers of the ‘image of God’ – and a ‘political’ matter – because it is up to us to decide how to bring about the ‘common good’. Quite rightly, the Archbishop argues that the kind of fatalism that suggests that only crisis and catastrophe can bring about change is simply wrong – the poor are at the greatest risk from crises and catastrophes, as we saw in the aftermath of the financial crisis that struck ten years ago this month.
While austerity has led to the erosion of services such as health and elderly care, and in some places a crisis in local government spending, owners of shares in low-tax paying corporations have seen their wealth triple in the last ten years.
Having a sense of the character of God – loving, abundantly generous, merciful, just – requires us to act in the interests of the common good and not merely in protection of our own privileges. Our readings from the Letter of James emphasise this – “faith without works is dead.” [James 2. 14-17] This is why you can expect to see the fruits of our Community Mission Group’s work beginning to appear: we are supporting two food banks in Macclesfield this Autumn – one run by Silk Life church, and one by Hampers of Hope. We are also looking at the expansion of coffee shop as a forum for addressing social isolation. Other practical projects will soon follow.
And yet as a church we have a wider role to play in advocating for change – change that should lead to the end of the need for food banks – at both local and national level. Standing in solidarity with those who lack justice, whether economic or social, is a way of living out our faith, challenging injustice and holding to account those who try to stand in the way of the flowing stream of righteousness. To accomplish this, we need your prayers, your involvement, your wisdom, your experience and your generosity, but above all your passion to see the Kingdom of God growing in our midst.