As we approach the Harvest season, it is right to reflect on how fortunate many of us are to have food readily available to us. But the numbers of people who don’t have enough to eat is growing, both here on these shores and overseas. So this year, as I prepare for my harvest offering, I find myself asking a different set of questions; these go from beyond ‘Charity to the poor’ to ‘Why are the poor still poor?’ There is nothing wrong with charity – we all need it from time to time – but seeking transformational change to systemic situations often requires long-term change. This is because that pathway is about tackling structural wrongs and wickedness, so it means taking time to understand that the default system at work is working against the best interests of people . It’s naming injustice when it’s happening, and it’s about discerning the Spirit of God, so that when we speak out, we speak to restore justice with conviction and authority.
Today, world leaders preside over a reality that
- almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
- 3 billion people (1 in 3 of the world’s population) don’t have access to water and adequate sanitation
- nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names
- 1 billion children (1 in 2 children in the world) live in poverty.
Digging a bit deeper, we learn poverty is a realism for the majority of the world’s people and nations. Somehow that is not what I believe our Creator planned, so then why are these statistics the norm? Is it enough to blame poor people for their own predicament? Have they, as some media messages spout, been lazy, made poor decisions and been solely responsible for their plight? And what about their own governments? Have they pursued policies that actually harm their own development? I could go on and on, but such causes of poverty and inequality are complex, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. I would, however, encourage more conversation in Christian communities, because this is an intersection where the Church, as a massive service provider of care, connects with the wider world.
Several development economists tell us that many of the governments of poor nations and their people are often powerless in so-called ‘global partnerships’. As a result, in the global context, a few get wealthy while the majority struggle. For example, let me take the case of climate change: Christian Aid – and many other INGOs – has long argued that climate change is a catalyst of poverty, and poverty is the result of the inequality of power. The science is real; greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are naturally present in the atmosphere, and stop heat escaping. However, human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, mean that more of these gases are emitted, causing the global temperature to rise. The impact of this will be: smaller harvests and more hunger; national and regional insecurity, bringing risk of conflict, and increased extreme weather events, which we are already witnessing.
The first response to the injustice of a world in which the images of climate change catastrophes, such as droughts, famines, tsunamis and migration, should be strong ones. What human being would not weep to see children die needlessly for want of clean water? Or whole communities of homes washed away? Don’t let the statistics harden your hearts, because behind those figures are real faces, real hearts and real souls.
This Harvest, let’s make some real connections, ones where our collective love can be turned into collective action. We should not be afraid of showing our emotions, but know that true love finds its expression not just in sentimental feelings, but also in resolute action as a response to what the heart feels.
As Christians, we are called to put our faith into action, by loving our neighbours and caring for the earth – our common home. We can put love into action by playing our part to tackle climate change. We can make a shift* towards clean, renewable energy and, by doing so, we can help restore the earth and bring balance to God’s creation. Clean energy sources offer a reliable and secure energy supply and secure long-term jobs, fuelling prosperity for our neighbours near and far. This can be our offering toward climate justice.
Surely if our collective effects can send astronauts into space to study the galaxy for six months at a time, then we can work together to protect this earth. As the best and most talented scientists work together on a sophisticated space programme that exceeds all expectations, then I want to have faith that mankind working together can help keep a promise to the earth, so that we and our children can enjoy what God has provided.
So, if you want to be part of a Christian community who put their money where hopes and prayers are, then consider becoming part of a 21st century exodus out of fossil fuels, and invest in bringing about a cleaner, safer world, by checking this website: *The Big Church Switch https://www.bigchurchswitch.org.uk/ – an initiative supported by Christian Aid and Tearfund.