I’ve repeatedly heard Andy Flannagan – who leads Christians on the Left – talk about how Christians sometimes quite like acting the Good Samaritan. It gives instant feedback. You can see the good you are doing. But if people keep getting knocked to the floor we’ve got to go look at the lighting and the security on the Jericho road. This takes time and effort, and committees and politics. I’ve heard him say it so many times I can’t help but say Jericho it in an Irish accent.
I could try and pass it off as my own but he wrote about it so recently I don’t think you’d believe me.
The social action churches do and have done so well is vital but it is not enough. It is not enough to continue to feed the hungry without asking why they are hungry, or counsel those in debt without tackling the pernicious practices of payday lenders. Social action must be a prelude to social justice.
But I want to take this even further. I don’t think social justice is enough. Last year I interviewed Jim Wallis, the US activist and campaigner, who among his recent achievements has helped bring together a remarkable cross-party coalition to campaign for immigration reform. While his record is impressive and his passion for campaigning is infectious, something was amiss.
He is completely ambivalent (if you can be completely ambivalent) about political participation and the role Christians can play within the process. Wallis commented: “What impacts politics are social movements from outside of it rather than individuals within it. I do know politicians who will do what is right even if it costs them the next election. I do know some of these. But I don’t know more than one hand count.”
There comes a time when yelling from the sidelines becomes irresponsible, when campaigning looks more like complacency. When calling for action is an excuse for not having to do it yourself.
In the wake of 27 bishops and other church leaders calling on the government to act to tackle the food crisis facing many British families Giles Fraser popped up on the Today programme. He said: “What the bishops are doing is they are reflecting the experience they have, through their clergy on the ground, who see, continually, people coming through their doors who are experiencing extreme poverty.” However, when challenged on what the bishops would do about it, he offered no answer. That’s the politicians’ job, he remarked.
And that’s why campaigning is only ever half the answer. Christians have to lead as well as campaign, because otherwise everyone will know what we think is wrong with the system, with the poverty and the injustice, and the human dignity defying hunger. But will things change? If the next step from providing compassion is to campaign against injustice, then the step after that is to take responsibility and take leadership.
This can be hard: it’s often easy to rail against injustice, but when faced with the dilemmas and complexity of policy it can be equally easy to shirk away from action. If Christians want credibility they have to be willing to take the lead as well as campaign.
Danny will be speaking at the Speak: Soundcheck conference next weekend (28 Feb-2 Mar) on ‘leading beyond campaigning’. The conference is on the theme of Turning the Tables and includes talks, workshops, prayer and worship. Find out more here and come along.