Bishop speaks on seeking justice to cut child poverty by helping parents receive a living wage
Speaking at the Diocesan Synod today the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, focused on how seeking justice might be worked out locally and globally.
He said: “I spent last weekend in the land of the Holy One, commonly known as Israel / Palestine. I did so at the invitation of Bishop Suheil Dawani as part of taking forward our partnership together. Inevitably many of our conversations turned to questions of justice and peace. We heard deeply disturbing stories. Yet what we also heard time and again was grace, kindness, gentleness.”
“….The justice we seek must be God’s justice not simply a human creation; and the justice we seek must be sought in God’s way. So in full we should talk of Seeking God’s Justice in God’s way. I am glad I deliberately waited to see what would emerge from my Visit to the Land of the Holy One because they deepened that thought and demonstrated it to me in their conversation and their lives.”
According to the Bishop, the Government does have to try and balance the national budget and so some hard decisions have to be made, but he said: “However there is a deep concern that some of the specific decisions have been unwise as they will push more children into poverty. On the government’s own estimates 200,000 more.”
“…Now given that in 2010 the government passed an Act which states the intention to eradicate child poverty by 2020 something does not quite fit together. Absolutely the best way to lift children out of poverty is through parents working; but they need a Living Wage and as a nation we need to recognise the vital and essential role that parents play in caring for and raising their own children.”
Full text of the Bishop’s talk is below:
DIOCESAN SYNOD APRIL 20th 2013 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS
I spent last weekend in the land of the Holy One, commonly known as Israel / Palestine. I did so at the invitation of Bishop Suheil Dawani as part of taking forward our partnership together. I was joined by Emma Anderton from the Minster Education team, and at the same time 2 teachers from Samworth Church Academy visited the Anglican International School to explore a possible link between the 2 schools. Over the long weekend Emma & I visited schools in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Nazareth & Haifa, and a technical college also in Ramallah. We saw a brand new Medical Centre in Ramallah as well as simply talking with the parish priest about Ministry in this city on the West Bank, the seat of the Palestinian Authority. There are 400,000 people living here and it is growing rapidly. We also had fantastic conversations with the parish priests in Rainih, Nazareth, Shefar amr & Haifa, as well as enjoying worship in St George’s Cathedral. Throughout we received amazingly generous hospitality. We did also manage to see quite a few of the key holy sites in Jerusalem.
Inevitably many of our conversations turned to questions of justice and peace. We heard deeply disturbing stories. Yet what we also heard time and again was grace, kindness, gentleness. I was most deeply struck by 1 of the clergy who shared how he had been very influenced by some aspects of Liberation Theology which had led him to speaking of the Palestine of Christ. But he said it had built a bitterness in his heart. There had come a time where The Lord had challenged him about this bitterness; he was challenged afresh by Jesus to love his enemies and to pray for those who persecuted him. He found his heart changed; filled with love for those who humiliate and treat his people unjustly. He now says he preaches the Christ of Palestine. This for him is being a faithful witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ. He remains passionate for justice, but it has to be done in the way of Jesus.
This chimed deep within me. I had decided before travelling that I should address synod on our theme this year of Seeking Justice. I was conscious that I wanted to remind us all that this phrase alone, apart from Joining Together in the Transforming Mission of God, could take us down a wrong alleyway. The justice we seek must be God’s justice not simply a human creation; and the justice we seek must be sought in God’s way. So in full we should talk of Seeking God’s Justice in God’s way. I am glad I deliberately waited to see what would emerge from my Visit to the Land of the Holy One because they deepened that thought and demonstrated it to me in their conversation and their lives.
So how is our commitment to Seeking God’s Justice in God’s way working out and developing?
Well let me stick with Israel / Palestine and add alongside it Natal & Burundi. We have much to learn from our friends in these 3 very different parts of God’s world. I was deeply struck in the Land of the Holy One by the depth of both the ecumenical and inter-faith relations that exist. It was still Lent in all the parishes we visited. this is because the Protestant and Catholic Churches have agreed to adopt the Easter date used by the Orthodox churches. In return the Orthodox are celebrating Christmas according to the Western date. The amount of joint activity, of mutual sharing in towns and communities between the distinct church communities was impressive. As 1 priest said to me, ‘ we are small in number and our calling to witness to Christ is clear; there is no time left for fighting amongst ourselves it is together that we will show Jesus love to the world’. The pursuit of God’s justice is done through praying and worshipping together as followers of Christ. There are healthy and strong relations in the arab communities between Christians, Muslims, and where they exist the Druze. they are open to this happening with the Jewish commnity too, but at present that is largely not reciprocated; though there are occasional notable exceptions. there is mutual respect, friendship, hospitality; there is honesty about where differences of belief exist and matter but this does not lead to separation or violence. Seeking God’s justice is done by standing in solidarity with those of other faiths seeking the good of all.
In Natal Bishop Rubin’s ministry in advocacy for the poor and the oppressed has much to teach us; I have asked Bishop Tony to specifically seek to learn from him about this when he visits with others later this year. On that visit too Allan Scrivener from our Greener Churches group will be sharing and learning on environmental issues; Richard Clark will be doing the same on some specific social justice issues. Alongside this new and existing parish to parish small story links will be taken forward. It is 10 years this year since the link with Natal began; so part of the visit will also be asking questions of review about where the link has reached and what the future might hold. The Natal group need to be thanked for their work through these years, and notably Barbara Holbrook for all she has contributed.
In Burundi there is so much to learn about peace and reconciliation after years of conflict; handling the return of refugees and basic helping people out of poverty. My visit in August with Sarah Clark, Poppy Richards, Andy Clasper from Christian Aid and 4 MPs, 2 from our area, John Mann & Lilian Greenwood will teach us more. Our partnerships with the world church are growing. School to school links are beginning to develop; New parish to parish links are happening with all 3 places; and our 2 year partnership with Christian Aid is proving to be very fruitful. In the coming months we will have to consider further how we keep taking these forward but the signs are encouraging for real 2 way mutual support, prayer and learning. A key part of this will be how we stand together advocating for justice in each place. what might the kind of justice we find described in Isaiah 58 & 61 look like in each context? What might the beatitudes of Jesus look like if really lived out in our churches and communities?
Then when we turn to think about our Diocese itself there are the many developments taking place. I want here to pay tribute to David McColough & Liam O’Boyle, and also Paul Howard, for the terrific work they have been doing building partnerships that are bearing fruit. They have patiently and quietly worked away at many of these to take them forward. So too Karen Rooms, Steve Silvester and others in relation to Nottingham Citizens. The launch recently of a partnership with Age UK, the forthcoming Founding Assembly of Nottingham Citizens in June, theblaunch of Transforming Notts Together this month, and Nottingham Rural Support Network next month are very significant moments for us working in partnership with others. They offer us real ways of effectively tackling poverty together. This is not simply material poverty; in both Age UK and the rural support network there is real concern for the poverty of loneliness for the elderly and some farm workers. Many farmers face deep struggles to survive after last summer’s poor weather, the severe cold and flooding through the autumn and winter, they need support.
The deep concern about child poverty is high on the agenda for Nottingham Citizens and TNT. It is fabulous that Jane Todd, formerly Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council, agreed to Chair the TNT Board. She has been joined by other outstanding Board members. this partnership with the Church Urban Fund, will move forward step by step but the potential of this work to bring about real transformation is very good. Our encouragement to people to act practically by joining either the Nottingham or 2 Shires Credit Union has made steady progress. Our aim was 100×100; that is 100 people saving £100 for a minimum of 12 months thus making £10,000 available for the Credit Unions to make small affordable loans to those in greatest need. The encouraging news is that there is in fact over £25,000 now at the Credit Unions’ disposal through those joining through the scheme. It is also encouraging that other churches are picking up on the idea and encouraging their members to do the same. However that £25,000 has come from only around 50 people, so what might it be if we had 100 saving? And 500? Relatively small practical steps can make a significant difference to the lives of people in greatest need.
Here I want to comment on the welfare benefit changes that have recently come into force, and the letter that I, along with 42 other bishops signed. Ecumenically behind the scenes we also new we had support from all the other denominations. They did not go public at that point because they were waiting for the publication of their own excellent report, “The lies we tell ourselves” which was published just before Easter and also made the headlines. Let me make it clear that the underlying purpose of Ian Duncan Smith’s work is I think to be supported. It is right to seek to ensure that being in work is better than living on benefit. The aim of simplifying the whole benefits system is laudable and necessary. Government does have to try and balance the national budget and so some hard decisions have to be made about where the national wealth is spent; that does mean some areas have to be cut. I suspect we have not been as clear as we could be in making it plain that we understand and support the intention and many of the changes being made. However there is a deep concern that some of the specific decisions have been unwise as they will push more children into poverty. On the government’s own estimates 200,000 more. Now given that in 2010 the government passed an Act which states the intention to eradicate child poverty by 2020 something does not quite fit together. Absolutely the best way to lift children out of poverty is through parents working; but they need a Living Wage and as a nation we need to recognise the vital and essential role that parents play in caring for and raising their own children. They must have time and space to be with, play with, encourage their own children. The best childhood is not found in vast amounts of childcare and little time with parents. There is a balance to be found. Part of that balance is through the redistribution of wealth from those who have most to those who have least through a just and fair tax and benefit system. Both ends of that system have to be tackled, tax is a good when it enables healthy redistribution and better childhoods for all our children. Parents have the most vital role of all, but the whole community has a responsibility to enable them to fulfil their role to the very best. This is the real intention behind child related benefits. Children suffering now creates potential very long term problems for us all. This is why there were calls for specific changes to specific bits of the legislation. Unfortunately we were not successful. So concern remains about the impact of these changes. TNT will be one way in which hopefully we will be able to help people act to bring support and relief where it is most needed in the coming years.
Jesus was very clear in his teaching, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice / righteousness’. He echoed the prophet Micah, ‘What does The Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.’ Seeking God’s justice in God’s way; the way of humility, peacemaking, mercy in which the child is welcomed in the midst of the people of God is not an added extra for the super keen. It is not only for those of a particular theological or political persuasion it lies at the heart of the gospel. It is intricately entwined with worship and core to how we express our discipleship for God’s transforming mission is to bring in his justice for all creation, not simply all people. Let us simply keep seeking God’s justice in God’s way every day of our lives.