Exploring Big Society, asylum seekers and gambling
The Alliance's Forum for Change co-ordinator Marijke Hoek helps us examine theological questions in our daily lives...
Does the Bible offer a vision or a Big Society?
David Cameron's idea of a Big Society is presented as "a guiding philosophy where the leading force for progress is social responsibility". It envisions charities, social enterprises and companies providing public services. Some may be cynical because, in an age of austerity, this seems a convenient social philosophy. The Church, however, can significantly affirm this desire for greater communal responsibility and co-operation.
Also, as stewards who aim to reflect Christ in this world, we can further craft the vision, as the most transforming philosophy of society can be found in the scriptures. This vision is so radical that it has the potential to shape our industrial disputes, asylum debate, education, health care and international relations. It sketches both the broad brushstrokes of life and the daily contours of family, community and vocation.
The covenant between God and His people demonstrates God's concern with the well-being of His creation. Right relations both with Him and among people are core to the Ten Commandments, and we are commissioned to defend the vulnerable and practice generosity and hospitality (Exodus 20.1-17, Deuteronomy 15.7-11). The prophets inspire us to subvert the dominant social reality. Later, Jesus takes the law to another level when He gives a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us (John 13.34).
The scriptures guide us in how we represent Christ in our daily life and they also inspire us to permeate our institutions so that they become places where people thrive. A glance at history shows us, for example, the rich heritage of the Quaker business ethic. Their faith shaped the working conditions in their factories and provided housing, medical care and pension funds for their employees.
In making God our first love, we learn to love ourselves, our neighbours and creation. Paul urges us, in view of God's mercy, to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12.1). Our corporate and individual act of worship takes place everyday in the sanctuary that is this world. It involves our jobs, relationships, creativity, finances, homes and hearts. Our commitment to Him and one another is placed in the light of the shalom He intends: a big society on a worldwide scale.
How can Church contribute to the current asylum debate?
After months of election sound bites about asylum seekers, we almost forgot that this isn't actually a debate about policy but about people. And any debate filled with political slogans and emotive media coverage should have a distinctive Christian contribution.
The asylum theme features prominently in the Bible. Abraham's descendants are "strangers in a country not their own". The Torah displays a concern for the "alien" (Exodus 23.9). Born in a refugee family, Jesus' final instruction concerns strangers (Matthew 25.35). So our "citizenship in heaven" prominently shapes our citizenship on earth.
In the pub, classroom or civic forum, the asylum debate needs to be salted with truth. Recently, children at an Anglican school successfully helped a friend threatened with deportation by taking the case to the media and 10 Downing Street. Their education shaped their citizenship and character, not merely their league tables. A recent Guardian article on hospitality offered by Christian households to destitute asylum seekers echoed the virtues of the early Church (Romans 12.13).
We should be a community of constructive subversion. While respectful of the governmental procedures, Christians must also be mindful of the structural inadequacy that may cause desperate predicaments. Our faith will lead us at times into the arena of civil disobedience. Our classrooms, homes and cities can be places of refuge in a hostile world. For, we have been gifted with a creative grace to shape our society for the good.
Should Christians be opposed to gambling?
The reasons the Alliance objected to the nation's first super casino in one of Manchester's most deprived areas was based on research that shows that gambling establishments tend to be supported by regular local gamblers, among whom there's a high rate of problem gamblers. And poorer people spend a much higher proportion of their income on gambling.
In addition, the recent high-risk strategy of bankers has been likened to gambling. The global credit crunch has caused devastation to people who lost houses, jobs and hope. In such an economic climate, gambling and lotteries seem like ways out of debt and hopelessness. However, as Peter Heslam writes in his excellent booklet Transforming Capitalism, "It is a redemption based not on gift and grace but on chance and fate."
The bigger picture of fall and redemption both raises our aspirations and requires work. We are created with gifts of grace for the common good. Jesus' parable of the talents commends responsible risk-taking stewardship that serves God's purpose. That way, we share in our master's happiness (Matthew 25.14-30).
By contrast, the scriptures warn us that chasing fantasies and eagerness for riches leads to poverty and punishment (Proverbs 28.19-20). In the gambling industry, the house always wins. God's Word warns us of its destructive potential. It also envisions us to develop an individual and corporate virtue that honours Him.
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Marijke Hoek is the Alliance's Forum for Change co-ordinator