A recent Guardian story about bin-raiding arrests got me thinking: ‘What injustices do I care about enough that I would be willing to be arrested fighting against them?’
Having been very political in my teens I mellowed when I started following Jesus seriously. I hung up the homemade ‘hug me I’m a hoodie’ hoodie I’d worn to terrorise ministers round parliament and stopped spending my weekends in chat show audiences. The church I joined was not protesting against, joining with or engaging in the political sphere; instead it was avoiding controversy. It was opening foodbanks, setting up community centres and hiring youth workers, plugging holes left by the government.
In other words, we’re kidding ourselves; the Church we are part of is undeniably political. A church which with every foodbank opened and every youth worker employed asks why the government has left people hungry and services cut.
Jesus was deeply subversive; he publically criticised established authority, he overturned legal judgements, trashed the temple market and was arrested and killed by the state. When he talked about us proclaiming him as Lord it was not a cheesy truism destined for posters of kittens in Christian book shops, it was a defiant anti-establishment statement. He was asking his followers to be willing to defy Caesar’s authority for his sake. Jesus was not passive. Grace is not passive. Let’s not pretend the Church’s role in politics should be passive.
Take foodbanks, for example. The Trussell Trust, which runs the foodbank franchise doesn’t just feed people, it collects data. Data which suggests that a third of people seeking food parcels are forced to do so because of problems with access to benefits. Meanwhile the government’s reply is that foodbank claimants ‘feel they need a bit of extra food’.
Following the publishing of these Trussell Trust statistics, many job centres have removed the data collection from their referral forms and begun ‘signposting’ struggling clients instead of making referrals. Pursuing justice for those in food poverty here is more than tin collecting. It is Kicking. Up. A. Fuss.
Pussy Riot singer and Russian human rights activist Tolokonnikova spoke out recently about how her time in jail last year for protesting against Putin changed her: “When I sleep I feel guilty that I am wasting time. I feel a burden, a sense of responsibility to act. I think of the eyes and the expressions of the women in prison I met who told me of the abuse they put up with. People on the edge of life and death.”
I’m not suggesting we let ourselves be consumed by the burden of injustice, but I wish I had more of that pull, that urgency, more of the action-provoking anger that Tolokonnikova describes.
As the government continues to criminalise poverty, making arrests for begging, bin-raiding and squatting, justice might begin to look less like signing online petitions. It will probably look a lot more like chaining ourselves to houses as we stand by the evicted, protesting outside Topshop about tax avoidance , going against police advice to invite the homeless and convicted into our homes and lives, or becoming MPs. Albeit with grace and forgiveness, we need to start sticking it to the Man. Just like Jesus did.
(picture via Wikimedia Commons)