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Need To Be Bold
Justin Welby, now Archbishop Justin of Canterbury, said recently, "I think, we are in the greatest moment of opportunity for the church since the Second World War" and I must say I rather agree with him. We might think that Christians face, not the greatest moment of opportunity, but the greatest difficulty and challenge that has been amassed against us in so many varieties of opposition from secularists, atheists, media, politicians and critics of all sorts. The list is almost without end and we might think that the church is so divided against itself and opposing itself in arguments about sexuality, gender, liturgy, hymnody, sacraments, divorce and more that the whole seems hopeless. However, all of this it seems to me is a call to retrieve the central message of the church, the teachings of Jesus and above all to proclaim it.
In Mathew's Gospel, we read that when Jesus came, the blind received sight, the lame walked, those who had leprosy were cured and the good news was preached to the poor. His message was about justice, compassion and love for your neighbour, or better for all your neighbours.
There has never been a time since perhaps then the Second World War when this has more needed to be heard and when too, it seems to me, that people are more thirsty to hear it. We need a voice for the poor, the oppressed and the sick. This week, Robert Francis QC said of Mid Staffordshire hospital that for many patients the most basic elements of care were neglected; patients were left lying in soiled sheets for hours, patients were left unwashed at times for up to a month and that it would be unsafe to put a figure on the number of avoidable or unnecessary deaths. And this is in a sophisticated, well-educated leading country of the world. In this same country, a house is repossessed every sixteen minutes and so, following this service, there will be four new homeless families. The changes in the way that housing benefit is to be paid in future is expected to drastically increase the rate of eviction, making more homeless. I met a man last week who is obliged to take his son, suffering from progressive incurable multiple sclerosis to be regularly assessed to be sure that he, the son, cannot be sent back into the work force. Why?
And yet many of the people I meet are looking for guidance, are seeking a spiritual dimension to their lives and, above all, want sound ethical and moral leadership in a society where the idol and touchstone of capitalism has crashed certainly through financial crisis and all too often scandal. Those organisations that seem most wary of my dog collar, those which might try to stop you wearing a cross at work, those who are sure that we have an agenda, those who are overly worried that we might bring God into every conversation are exactly those which have replaced the previous reflex that existed in schools, hospitals and town halls, the reflex of a Christian imperative or moral approach with nothing. Please understand that I am against waste, abuse and fraud and am aware of the huge need to review welfare budgets, the extent of central government involvement in our lives, and how we fund healthcare, education and so on but we must always remember to look after the very weakest in our society.
And someone has to give counsel about that, someone has to have a voice. I think it is the church's hour, the great moment of opportunity to stand up and make these points, or in quoting Paul's letter to the Corinthians "to commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God, and since then we have such a hope we (must) act with boldness."
I pray that not only the Archbishop but that all members of the church will find their voice, that we will not put a veil over our faces but will use our time, talents and faith to constantly guide and help decision makers in all places to direct, manage, run and simply do the right thing for the most weak, vulnerable and poor among us.