Isaiah 1:17; ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’
In July, 2005, I was just an 11 year-old-girl who dreamt of ending world poverty. Now that may sound obnoxious or unrealistic, but I was genuinely part of a campaign which I had full faith would change the world; Make Poverty History (MPH). This was a global campaign, supported by churches around the world, that sought to put pressure on our world leaders in the run up to their G8 summit. It had three simple demands; more and better aid, dropping the debt (huge amounts of money owed by some of the poorest countries to a few of the wealthiest), and trade justice.
My mum took me to a lot of protests when I was 11-13. My first was a lobby outside parliament, campaigning for Gordon Brown to let go of the debt owed to the UK by countries that couldn’t possibly afford to pay it back. At the time, with zero knowledge of economics, I did not understand why the UK couldn’t let it go – all of those billions of pounds owed was not real money to me, just a huge number thrown around – and the UK was doing fine without it! Now, aged 21 with barely any more knowledge of economics, it still makes no sense to me. However, partly due to that campaign, much debt owed by African countries has been reduced. Then there was the MPH march around Edinburgh. Hundreds and thousands of us travelled from all parts of the UK to form a huge, human white-band around the city. I went to a rally for Climate Chaos in Bristol (my home city); this was the first time I begun to understand the concept of Christian stewardship, and how we have a responsibility to challenge how we are treating our planet. I asked my Mum recently why she took me to all those protests. She firstly said, ‘well partly, I couldn’t really leave you at home the whole time.’ We’ll ignore that bit. She went on to explain that she wanted me to understand early that social justice is integral to Jesus’ teaching. Social justice aligns with Jesus’ most basic teaching that we should love one another as we love ourselves. Giving a voice to the marginalised, a helping hand for the needy, giving hope to the downtrodden – it’s woven all the way through the Bible, not just in the verse above.
In his speech ten years ago at a Make Poverty History event, Nelson Mandela declared that “as long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” We cannot lie down, press snooze, and continue to doze whilst there is so much agony around us; we must wake up and be active, pursue greater freedom, equality, standards of living, and health for all. Hence the name of this blog series; it is our responsibility as Christians to stay alert to what is happening in our nation, and our world, and to be a force in challenging injustice. We were born equal on this earth, we are loved equally, we deserve to live equally! Acting on social justice is as important as sharing the gospel, praying to the Lord, reading the word. It’s obeying the greatest command of all, and it’s being visable agents of God’s love for His people and His world.
10 years on, we haven’t made poverty history. Perhaps goals like that cannot be achieved overnight; but the campaign made a lasting impact – especially for raising the desperation of the issue to the public awareness. The action of millions of protesters around the world, including a vast number of Christians in the UK, undoubtedly put pressure on the world leaders attending the G8 summit, and lead to them being more charitable in aid, handling of debt, and lead to increased access to education and healthcare. This campaign first introduced me to how Christian principles should, and needed to, work in action to help solve issues far from my own experience, and also taught me the value of political protest. Not just on the streets, but through lobbying our MPs, writing to councilors, we can exercise our democratic power to seek the justice God wants to see in His world, and to hold our leaders to account when they fail to deliver just decisions. That – and lots and lots of prayer!