An affluent life-boat?

The Rectory, October 1996

October is the month in which One World Week calls us to lift our thinking, our prayer, and our concerns, beyond ourselves and our immediate neighbours. It is a week that can help us recall once again that we share our humanity with many millions of other people and that the world in which we live is interconnected. We need each other to be human. We need to hear the cries of the poorer nations to rescue us from the obsession with growth and ever increasing materialism. And there is much enrichment in the culture and beliefs of other communities. Jesus by his actions, and deliberately in his teaching in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, questioned the boundaries to caring that are so easily imposed with a good sounding phrase like charity begins at home. Where does love end ? At Calais or at the borders of the EEC ? Surely One World Week reminds us that Jesus would not be led into to putting limitations on responsible action towards those who are in need.

Recent Government action seems however to work against the principle of hospitality and support. The Immigration and Asylum Act was strongly opposed by all the churches and by the Bishops in the House of Lords where they were joined by many other Peers in seeking to amend it. Their successful amendment was later overturned by the Government. It is clear that the Act aims to make the lot of the asylum seeker so unpleasant, by denying access to state benefits, that people will be deterred from seeking a safe haven in this country from persecution at home. The aim of the Act is not to distinguish between those with a genuine fear of reprisals at home from those who are economic refugees. The powers for that are already in place. At the same time in last year's budget a dramatic cut in overseas aid was announced by the Government. Such action, for short term political benefit at home, only serves to encourage the conditions which create an ever greater number of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants.

Bishop John V. Taylor, former Bishop of Winchester, wrote recently;

In the absence of a keener moral imperative than appears to prevail at present, no predication can rule out the possibility of a future which one writer depicted as 'an affluent life-boat on a sea of poverty' from which the survivors beat back the multitudes of unwanted people who are desperately struggling to clamber aboard.

We seem to be moving one step closer to making this scenario a reality. Recently I heard Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, describe God as a God who calls, as a God who questions, as a God who is the voice of peace and justice, and who calls us to account in relation to that peace and justice. It reminded me of a cartoon someone gave me with two characters philosophising. One says, "Sometimes I'd like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it." "What's stopping you?" asks the other. "I'm afraid God might ask me the same question", comes the reply.

One World Week gives us an opportunity to take stock of our own response and that of our Government to the call of God to a world of peace and justice, for life for all his people. In the harsh economic and political climate of the 1980's and 90's it has been easy for those power to adopt a more defensive attitude towards the two thirds world and let economic aid slip from the public's agenda. But it cannot slip from the agenda of a compassionate and just God and from those who acknowledge Him.

Leslie Morley
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997