I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in the UK it’s not unusual for Christian charities to work within a kind of legal restraining order, which prevents them from talking about matters of faith with their clients. The idea is to prevent beneficiaries of the charities’ work and services from being burdened by religious proselytizing. A classic example of this would be that of making the poor ‘sing for their supper,’ food and other vitals being provided on condition that those in receipt of them attend Bible study or similar.
I don’t wish to contest these regulations. I am sure there will have been sighs of relief when they were introduced. There have been a number of occasions when, even as a Christian, I have been on the receiving end of some horrendous uninvited and uninspired religious diatribe. Nobody wants that. I would, however, like to offer some observations here in the ungagged blogosphere on some of the things unspoken and some things potentially lost.
Nowadays social justice initiatives are ten a penny, but there was a time when that wasn’t so. We have Christianity to thank in a large way for that change. Every time a politician speaks of free education for all, of housing the homeless or befriending the elderly, or when an Oscar winner nods to the abolition of slavery, to raising up the disadvantaged and improving the lot of myriads of young unemployed, I think of the thousands upon thousands of Christians the world over devoting their lives to these very causes. I also think of William Wilberforce, William and Catherine Booth and others, social reformers from history, whose impact echoes even in our time. We simply cannot detach what these people do and did from what they believe, said and say. Their Christian faith is utterly foundational, their ethic of care derived from their spirituality.
Wilberforce in particular said two things that strike me in this context: firstly, that “God has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners”; secondly, that “faith is everyone’s business. The advance or decline of faith is so intimately connected to the welfare of a society that it should be of particular interest to a politician.” In other words, Wilberforce routinely referenced his faith as the motivation for his actions.
Exactly how far into this social justice project do we imagine we would be without Christian deeds and words?