Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Tuesday, 9 February 2016
Peter Lumsden prepared this paper for the recent AGM of Methodist Action NW.
a. The over-riding principle: Justice
Why should we be concerned about the vulnerable?
It is because God is concerned about them. Whilst we recognize the universal call to love our neighbour, scripture particularly describes God's taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poorthose who have been called "the quartet of the vulnerable", those with least economic and social power. Today, this quartet could be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless and many single parents and elderly people. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we.
Doing justice; God justifies things by restoring them to their true and full identity in Himself, as opposed to "retributive justice" which seeks only reward and punishment.
b. Recurring history: a call to support the vulnerable is followed by a slide to individualism and materialism
From the OLD TESTAMENT
The seminal event in the history of
The second word is Sedeq which can also be translated as justice, but often appears as righteousness. Today this is often understood in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer. However, as used in the OT, sedeq refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.
These two words roughly correspond to what some have called "primary" and "rectifying justice." Primary justice, or sedeq, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else. Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. When sedeq and mishpat, are tied together, as they are over thirty times through the bible, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is "social justice."
Jesus' teachings are in a direct line of prophetic witness from the earlier prophets of
Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts from the scriptures in favour of texts that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and justice for the oppressed. Indeed his arrest, trial and death are the ultimate example of God, in Jesus, associating with all who are suffering.
Wesley and Methodism
Wesleyan theology is often associated with the idea of 'holiness'. For Wesley this was not a purely individual matter; the spreading of scriptural holiness entailed 'the transformation of the economic and political order'. Holiness was in fact nothing less than a new creation.
Towards the end of his life, Wesley may have concluded that the holiness project had failed; if so, he judged that to have been at least partly due to the growing material prosperity of Methodist people. His great lament was that as riches increased so there was a decline in holiness. Wesley's 'gain all you can' and 'save all you can' were often taken in isolation from 'give all you can'. Wesley even wondered if; true scriptural Christianity has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. (Causes of the inefficacy of Christianity, Works VII: 290).
However, following this apparent failure of Wesley's social vision, further renewal came in the formation of the primitive Methodists (1811). Their aim was to return to the original vision of Wesley, concentrating on the rural poor, and stressing the political implications of discipleship. Perhaps under the influence of the 'prims', from the late 19th century through to 1945, Methodist Central Halls were built in the main towns of the U.K. These were multi-purpose in concept, with social and community activities as well as worship taking place. Some even rented out shop space at the front to bring in funds. During this period other Methodist organisations were created to safeguard the vulnerable, such as National Children's Homes (1869) and Methodist Homes for the Aged (1943).
The post-war period
In the second half of the 20th century as social conventions came under universal scrutiny, church attendance certainly began to decline, and by the end of the century, religion was essentially seen to be essentially a private affair. We should though remember that it was in this same period that a huge step in what might be seen as the mishpat of Britain occurred with the founding of the welfare state, being the culmination of the efforts of Temple, Tawney and Beveridge, to avowedly "slay the five demons of want, disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness". It is not without significance that as students at
The concept of mishpat and sedeq, linking law and justice, can also be seen in the philosophy of Tawney who noted that morality has to have a divine connection, or underpinning, since without an absolute at its root, it drifts to relativism. Lord Denning, in 1953, also stated that the severance of .law from morality, and of religion from law ..has gone a long way . The severance has, I think, gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated from one another, they are still very much dependent on one another. Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law. He noted that many people see it's (the law) function is to keep order, not to do justice.
It is however difficult to argue with the contention that the concept of common good and good society has been subverted, if not quite replaced, by a rampant consumerism and individualism. Yet already the signs were there of a loss of these principles.
· To respond to human need by loving service
· To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
More recently, as indices of poverty indicate an increase in the divide between rich and poor, the church has become more active in the area of social justice, with organisations such as Church Urban Fund providing support for grass-roots initiatives, and the Methodist Church, Baptist Union and United Reformed Church forming the Joint public Issues Team. The election of Pope Francis in 2013 has also seen a stronger message from the catholic church. In the very first mass he celebrated as pontiff, he said: "The message of Jesus is mercy it is the Lord's strongest message." This has culminated in declaring 2016 a "holy year of mercy".
Methodist Action (MANW)
Methodist Action espouses the universal principles of 'doing justice' and of encouraging human flourishing, through neighbourly loving action; supporting and working with people, enabling them to move from crisis and need, to their full potential in the community.
For over thirty years, the
Methodist Action was formed in 2009 by the Methodist church, initially to manage the work associated with
The charity retains its historic roots and governance structure in the
In its ethos and in its work, Methodist Action It provides a living example of Jesus; it is a prophetic voice rallying a church and providing a focus for justice; and it is recreating the provision and support for the vulnerable which was such a strong feature of early Methodism.
The Justice Creed.... Brian McLaren can be found here