Since I last blogged, I have been to some diverse meetings on behalf of the United Reformed Church: the Forum of Churches Together in England, as David Cornick demitted the office of General Secretary, the fringes of the Conservative Party Conference and the Governing Body of Westminster College. They were stimulating and worthwhile.
In the past month, though, I have also been asked – as I discover moderators are – to comment upon Universal Credit, upon the end hunger campaign and upon the right to work for asylum seekers. Each one of these issues appealed to my conscience. Indeed, I believe profoundly in the significance of them all. I believe, too, in the importance of the church standing in solidarity with people whose lives are distorted by injustice in those and many other areas.
I also know why these things matter to me. It is not because I grew up in poverty, or denied opportunity. I didn’t. I had everything one could need, not to excess but to more than sufficiency. Nor is it because I imbibed the politics of protest in my childhood environment at home or school. I didn’t. It was establishment, middle of the road and could have left me unquestioning. Less still is it because I am instinctively radical. I am not. I can see both sides of many arguments. No, things like Universal Credit, the ending of hunger and the right of asylum seekers to work matter to me because of Jesus. You see, I think that over the past thirty-five years I’ve encountered socio-political truths that set us free by exploring and experiencing Jesus’ word and grappling with Jesus’ way.
It came into starkest relief when given the opportunity to complete my initial ministerial formation in the South Africa of high apartheid, years before the election of Nelson Mandela. There I was immersed in that African concept of ubuntu, which asserts that my humanity is only authentic when it is woven into a tapestry with yours. That sealed for me the Old Testament imperative to let justice flow like an everlasting stream, and the New Testament’s stuff about your joys being my joys and your sorrows being my sorrows, too. In South Africa I saw Desmond Tutu live out what the student poster used to say, that the only Bible he knew profoundly shapes our politics and changes our living. In South Africa I encountered the Jesus who claimed the commitment of my faith and worship but who also left me forever discontent with having too much until all have enough. As John Ferguson’s hymn hauntingly puts it, ‘as long there’s injustice in any of God’s lands, I am my brother’s keeper, I dare not wash my hands.’
Jesus has not left me where he found me. And though often challenged, I am grateful.