The Common Good

As Passionate as the Parisians

They are rioting in Paris to prevent the government from resolving its debt crisis on the backs of the middle class. In England, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne detailed their deepest budget cuts ever, "eliminating almost 500,000 public-sector jobs," according to Bloomberg News.

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In the midst of it all, Alison Tomlin, president of the Methodist Conference UK, preached at Central Methodist Hall this week in London, giving the perspective from Christian ministries on-the-ground. "Just in the last week," she said, "I have been told about an emergency housing project in Birmingham at threat; a project in Newcastle working with women seeking sanctuary anxious about its future; a young offender rehabilitation project in Liverpool wondering if it must close." All examples of governments "scrooging" the poor.

Tomlin stands in a long line of Methodist women who have taught (Susannah Wesley), funded (Lady Huntingdon) , and organized (Barbara Rucke Heck) for the Methodist revolution that believed it "inconceivable to follow Christ and not have the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable close to your heart." Here's a excerpt from Tomlin's speech at Central Methodist Hall this week:

You may not have noticed but this but you are sitting in a Methodist Church, where a vibrant multi-cultural congregation meet each Sunday. When you came in on the first floor, on your left there was a life size statue of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. You may have missed it - he was a very short man.

In his journals Wesley wrote about a press that stigmatized the poor, he wrote of politicians who did not wish to look at the concerns of the poor, and who continually blamed the poor for their own fate. He wrote of people using that stigma and blame to continually treat the poorest and most vulnerable badly. Thank, goodness that was 250 years ago and could never happen now!

The past ten to fifteen years of boom benefited some sections of society but not the poorest. Relatively their income went down. Justice or, to use that popular word, 'fairness', demand that they do not suffer now during the bust. Earlier [ in October 2010] Eric Pickles [Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government] asked us to judge the government on how they treated the most vulnerable. That we will do.

For the past ten years Christians worldwide have been working with governments to promote policies that will end poverty. As has been repeated ad nauseam, "We have the ability, but lack the political will." Now, as the gamblers' deck of financial tomfoolery slides wildly out of control, Christians will need to place ourselves alongside the poor and aid in their mutual defense -- against government policies, banking regulations, trade agreements, budget restructuring, etc, that will inevitably kill them.

Tomlin continued with a fine example of what makes a strong financial community:

This building was built a hundred years ago using money donated by ordinary Methodists. To ensure this was a building of ordinary people, initially no-one was allowed to donate more than one guinea. Rich and poor alike. In the historic roll, which you can see on the left as you leave the building, the names of all the people who gave one guinea, including my grandparents, are recorded.

This hall was built because Methodists believed that ordinary people, people who could afford no more than one guinea, should have a voice in the heart of Westminster. Hearing today's contributions, the stories of ordinary people, the concern for ordinary people, I am confident my grandparents would have felt that theirs was a guinea well spent. Methodists support a wide range of views about deficit reduction. It is possible to be a Christian and a member of almost any political party. But John Wesley, and the Methodist Church he founded, believe it is inconceivable to follow Christ and not have the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable close to your heart, and we are proud to stand beside others who share those concerns today.

Rich and poor alike, if we follow Christ, then we will find ourselves deepening our relationships with the newly homeless, battered women without a refuge, and teen offenders at a loss without the re-hab programs previously available. We must be as passionate as the Parisians (without the random violence) and as courageous as the Methodist women if we are to step boldly in this new era.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She's the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

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