"Justice... do you rulers know the meaning of the word? Do you judge people fairly?"
This question is posed by David in Psalm 58. The Message - a version of the Bible written by Eugene Peterson - renders it in a way that immediately turns our thoughts to a "safe place" - where the focus is away from ourselves and our context. He says: "Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house?"
When I read that, my instinct is to take refuge in head-shaking, tongue-clicking condemnation of despots in distant lands who abuse their power and seem bent on ruining their countries while enriching their coffers.
Do not misunderstand me - such abuse of power should be condemned and, whenever possible, as part of this global village we should make our voices heard to bring about change. However, by concentrating our focus "out there" too much, we can lose sight of the issues "in here" - in our own backyard.
There are challenges related to governance that need to be tackled in the United Kingdom. Sitting on a train a fortnight ago I sneaked a read of a byline in a newspaper read by a fellow-passenger. The article declared that politicians were among the least trusted professions in the UK. It is tempting to go into cynical mode; to joke about politicians as we do about other professions - such as lawyers and, yes, ministers of religion.
But there is a serious element to this claim, which is too serious to place in the context of a joke! Whether it is justified or not, politicians are expected to behave incorrectly and there is an apathetic acceptance of such a status quo - an inevitability about a scandal breaking, whether it is caused by corruption, loutish behaviour, immorality or the ultimate form of political incorrectness, politicians who do not follow their own politics, policies and/or pronouncements. We do not seem to be surprised by seeing the photograph of yet another politician splashed across the dailies.
This is as sad as it is serious and, perhaps, material for a future blog, but I want to pose David's question to our politicians in regard to the way poverty and homelessness is being defined in the UK. Unless one is registered - that is, goes through a not uncomplicated referral system - the State, through its delegated authority to the local municipalities, does not recognise one's need for shelter, for food, or for social benefits, in that people who have not gone "through the system" are denied help. So, a European, who by virtue of his nationality, has the right to be in Britain, does not have the right to receive even emergency assistance from a movement such as The Salvation Army. Nor does The Salvation Army have the right to provide such assistance because of contractual commitments to the local authority - if s/he is not 'registered'. This is a challenge in itself. But the rules even exclude Britons who do not fit the politicised criteria which defines and determines the "deserving poor". Even if we have an empty bed, a homeless person cannot be given that bed if he is not properly (read "bureaucratically") processed - The Salvation Army would be in breach of contract. "The poor" is therefore being defined as someone in need who has attained a bureaucratically-issued right to assistance.
The reality defies the definition. Poverty is no respecter of persons: nationality, culture, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, registered or not - none of these aspects of our humanity by which we tend to define ourselves, are respected by the blight of poverty. Ask us, they come knocking at our doors daily. No, the reality is that a homeless person is in need of a bed regardless as to whether the paperwork is in order or not. I am not comfortable with a system which excludes many who should benefit by it. In the name of common decency, neither should you be.
This year, the World Day of Prayer had as it theme, "I Was A Stranger, And You Welcomed Me". It comes from a powerful passage in Matthew (25:31-40) in which Jesus identifies himself, not with the stranger, but as the stranger. No greater definition of poverty exists for the follower of Jesus. Earlier, in Luke's Gospel (10:29-37) Jesus had extended - as opposed to constricted - the parameters of "those we need to help" by stating that the needy stranger is our neighbour. That's the only kind of definition of poverty to which the Church should subscribe!
If you need shelter from the cold tonight, your right to shelter should not be determined by the documentation you have managed to secure. Any legitimate appeal by someone in genuine need of help should be met - it's the human thing to do; it's the humane thing to do; it's the neighbourly thing to do; it's the Christian thing to do. It's what the Church is called to do; it's what The Salvation Army was raised up to do!
Come on, Whitehall - you can do better than this. Let's prove to the rest of Europe that we know what justice is. Because treating our neighbours with dignity, respect and justice is political correctness in its purest form.
\\\\\|///// ( 0 0 ) ----o00o-------(_)--------o00o--- "It is in the quiet crucible of your personal, private sufferings that your noblest dreams are born, and God's greatest gifts are given to compensate for what you've been through!" (Wintley Phipps)
Blessings, Clive T. Adams --------------------------0ooo------ ooo0 ( ) ( ) ) / \ ( (_) \_)