Solidarity

Guest post by Tom Underwood

The 14th of February 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in the kingdom of Bahrain. Whilst the Arab Spring movement in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya made headlines the small island of Bahrain remained mainly under the radar despite the fierce crackdown on peaceful protest.

I first came across Bahrain through meetng the Bahraini human rights activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Sayed was one of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors (according to his own estimation about forty percent of the population) calling for democracy and an end to discrimination against the Shia’s by the ruling Sunni royal family. Thesayed response from government authorities was brutal. Sayed was severally beaten leaving a permanent scar across his forehead. He was imprisoned for six months during which time he was regularly beaten, sexually harassed and tortured. Finally, he was given two choices; stay in Bahrain and remain in prison or leave the country he loves. In July 2012 he claimed asylum in the UK.

Unfortunately, Sayed’s experiences are not unique and human rights abuses continue to be prevalent in Bahrain. In a recent article about the five year anniversary of the uprising James Lynch from Amnesty International writes, “Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticise the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment.”

Despite all of this British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly during the past five years. Sayed first became aware of this link between the UK and Bahrain when after being attacked with tear gas he collected up the canisters and found that they were all made in the UK. Over the past five years the UK has sold arms worth £45 million to Bahrain. This doesn’t include the impact of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia who were brought in to crush peaceful demonstrations by the Bahraini government.

arms fairIMG_1732In September 2015 I joined with others to protest outside the Excel Centre in East London as it hosted DSEI, the largest arms fair in the world. On that day Sayed was one of many international speakers, all from countries where the UK sells arms despite oppressive human rights regimes. Many of these speakers used the word ‘solidarity’ to describe the impact of us standing alongside them in their struggle for human rights.

The word ‘solidarity’ has tricky connotations in the UK, conjuring up images of Citizen Smith and Che Guevara berets. Outside of Catholic social teaching Christendom has not embraced the word despite the positivity of it’s message of unity and support. However, at the centre of Christianity is the incarnation, God’s declaration of solidarity with the world. God does not stand separate from creation but physically enters into the messiness of flesh and blood, standing with us, close to us and part of us. This is what ‘solidarity’ means for us as Christians. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race. By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which he bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate Lord makes his followers the brothers of all mankind.”

Within this quote I’m struck by the phrase “Bearing the sorrows of others,” as a beautiful realisation of solidarity. Just as the incarnation is physical so too this idea of solidarity must be physical for us and lead us away from ‘clicktavism’ and ‘best wishes’ to a muscular activism where we stand, protest, and march with Sayed and others recognising that through the incarnation God has made us brothers of all mankind.

Profile picTom Underwood teaches young people with autism and writes plays about peace. He is currently writing about peace activism and arms trade activists.  He worships at Raynes Park Community Church and tweets @tomcunderwood

Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books

Reading-booksBy Sam Tomlin

For the last year so or, a group of mainly South London Citizens members have been gathering every 2-3 months at William Booth College for a reading group looking at theology, community organising and justice. It has been an immensely enriching experience and a chance to look in a bit more detail at some of our collective heroes of the faith and unpack their motivations, influences, agitational activity, frustrations and reliance on God.

On a personal level I have learnt a huge amount both from reading the books and the discussion with other members of Citizens institutions at the different discussion groups. Three things in particular stand out to mention briefly: Continue reading “Theology and justice – not sure what to read? Try some of these books”

Martin Luther King on the ultimate revolutionary

storyimages_080121mlkvmed6awidecBy Nick Coke

Today on Martin Luther Day, my social media timelines are full of the great man’s inspiring and challenging quotes. Reading his autobiography earlier in the year I came across a section that I found particularly challenging to Christian activists. In it he explores the intersection between evangelism and social justice. As someone who likes to get involved in justice-seeking I’m regularly quizzed about these two essential ingredients of mission and how they fit together. It often perplexes me how often they are spoken of as if they were mutually exclusive. My own experience in this regards is that whilst acting on issues of common concern with those who do not share my Christian faith there have been many, many opportunities to give a reason for the hope I have in Jesus.

Here’s how MLK puts it:

‘We have the power to change America and give a kind of new vitality to the religion of Jesus Christ. And we can get those young men and women who’ve lost faith in the church to see that Jesus was a serious man precisely because he dealt with the tang of the human amid the glow of the Divine and that he was concerned about the their problems. He was concerned about bread; he opened and started Operation Breadbasket a long time ago. He initiated the first sit-in movement. The greatest revolutionary that history has ever known. And when people tell us when we stand up that we got our inspiration from this or that, go back and let them know where we got our inspiration.

I read Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto years ago when I was a student at college. And many of the revolutionary movements in the world came into being as a result of what Marx talked about.

The great tragedy is that Christianity failed to see that it had the revolutionary edge. You don’t have to go to Karl Marx to learn how to be a revolutionary. I didn’t get my inspiration from Marx; I got it from a man named Jesus, a Galilean saint who said he was anointed to heal the broken-hearted. He was anointed to deal with the problems of the poor. And that is where we get our inspiration. And we go out in a day when we have a message for the world, and we can change this world and we can change this nation.’

 

‘May all who come behind us find us faithful’

Guest post by Casey O’Brien Machado

Sydney Congress HallI belong to a Corps which has a rich heritage of vibrant Salvationism. A quick look through the history books of Sydney Congress Hall Corps shows long-term discipleship, enthusiastic evangelistic outreach, strong community, innovation in worship, musical excellence, and a strong engagement with social issues. Sydney Congress Hall has much to be proud of in its history. Yet the history means little if we do not draw on it to impact the present. As ‘Marching towards Justice’ tells us, “The stories of old have a power to impact the present. These stories remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. If they remain only as aspirational legends, however, they can rob us of what we can learn about the reality of justice-seeking today”. Continue reading “‘May all who come behind us find us faithful’”

‘…no holiness, but social holiness’: my journey with the Living Wage Campaign

prophetBy Nick Coke

This week is Living Wage Week in the UK. It’s a time of celebration and action for a remarkable campaign, started by a group of church, faith and community leaders, trade unionists and cleaners in East London 15 years ago. The story is a wonderful testimony to the power of grassroots community organising – how conversations initiated in church halls and homes (civil society) have agitated and led government (state) and business leaders (market) into adopting the idea. I’ve written before about how I had the privilege in my previous appointment of being involved in the campaign for 8 years and observed first-hand how it transformed the life of families in my neighbourhood and congregation. Continue reading “‘…no holiness, but social holiness’: my journey with the Living Wage Campaign”

The justice-seekers dream… Spiritual exercise #2

By Nick Coke

What is a justice-seeker? What do we dream of becoming? What characteristics should we desire and pray for? What should we be doing? Here are some personal reflections. Although far from this, I pray I might walk this path. When you have read it, have a go at writing your own version. Use it as a source for daily prayer.

Justice-seekers are…

Present: justice-seekers understand therbrick lanee is no justice to be done from a distance. Like the Good Samaritan, they go out of their way and take risks to recognise and know the suffering of others. There are no boundaries that they will not cross, nor comforts they will not dispense with in order to build relationships and understand others. They know that first and foremost change begins with relationship and relationship can only begin with presence. Continue reading “The justice-seekers dream… Spiritual exercise #2”

Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1

By Nick Coke

A year on and there’s only one sentence I can remember from the justice-seeking seminar. Such is the way of things, as we preachers and teachers well know. It came do be do be doright at the close, just as the speaker was heading for the door. She’d packed up her notes and left the microphone behind at the lectern when suddenly she glanced back over her shoulder, fixed her eyes on me and from under her breath came the throwaway remark – ‘of course we don’t do social justice, we live justly’. She disappeared out of the door and down the corridor. I looked around to see if anyone else was struck by the Colonel’s final word but the post-session hubbub had already began. Perhaps it was meant just for me.

I’ve pondered this one-liner ever since. Continue reading “Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1”

Joining the dots – global and local justice-seeking

Guest post by Lt-Col Dean Pallant

isjcThe International Social Justice Commission was established by The Salvation Army in 2007 and mandated to assist The Salvation Army address “social injustice in a systemic, measured, proactive and Christian manner”.  Much progress has been made in developing foundational resources, (books, positional statements, etc) and strengthening relationships with major global organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. However, the ISJC has also always emphasised the importance of people seeking after justice in their locality. The small ISJC team based in New York, Geneva and Nairobi is determined to support corps and social centres to seek justice in the local community and not just address the macro international problems. Continue reading “Joining the dots – global and local justice-seeking”

What would Jesus do? The art of public action.

By Nick Coke

In our pamphlet, Marching Towards Justice, we outline a methodology for justice-seeking. We highlight four key elements required for bringing about lasting change: visitation, power analysis, training and development, and public action. Of the four, public action is the most contentious. Why? Because it involves struggle and agitation. In our section on ‘public action’ you will find the following words and phrases: ‘actions are targeted and personal’, ‘they should involve confrontation’, ‘the appropriate action is the one that will provoke the action one is looking for’. Provoke, target, confront – words that might make us uncomfortable as followers of Jesus. After all, isn’t the Christian life all about love, mercy and grace? Yes of course it is, but if we ask the question ‘what would Jesus do?’, we might soon realise that he would not have been too squeamish about the kind of public action we write about. In fact, not only was he a remarkable practitioner of agitation and confrontation (turning over the tables in the temple courts, healing on the sabbath, telling stories about good Samaritans, reclining at the table of ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’), he also taught his followers exactly how to do it in some of the most revolutionary political statements you’ll ever find. In Walter Wink’s wonderful short book, ‘Jesus and Non-violence: A Third Way’, there is brief exposition of Matthew 5:38-41. You will know the passage well: Continue reading “What would Jesus do? The art of public action.”

Review of ‘Marching Towards Justice’

It’s great when you get a good review. Even better when you get insights like these:
‘…justice seeking through community organising is part of the DNA of the Salvation Army. Indeed without such principles, being content simply with charity without justice, it is actually a betrayal of the founding principles of the Army and will result in detracting from its mission.’ Continue reading “Review of ‘Marching Towards Justice’”