WOULD YOU RECOGNISE A SLAVE IF YOU SAW ONE?

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Whilst many of us were enjoying the Summer holidays and watching the World Athletics, a darker side of our society also came to the fore last month. The BBCs Home affairs correspondent Dominic Casiani reported how the NCA (National Crime Agency) had revealed that victims of modern day slavery were being forced to work in every large town and city in the UK in far higher numbers than was previously thought – “from the person who washes your car, to the worker who picks your fruit, to the labourer who helped build your house, more people would be coming into contact with them every day” he said. “These are people who are forced to work against their will, under the threat of punishment or as a form of debt repayment. Some of them may not even realise that they are the victims of crime – in many cases they are victims of criminal gangs”.

These are all incredibly vulnerable people who are usually disadvantaged, poor or from other countries who are being repeatedly ill-treated, abused and exploited. The NCA sadly described how the more they looked at the problem the worst the figures became, so much so that they have now asked the public and the general community to help them by reporting any form of this sort of exploitation that they may come across.

Previously, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at a conference in Istanbul had observed that slavery is more rampant today than at any other time in human history and called it an “abomination to human dignity”. “There is no religious basis or justification for a practice that commodifies human beings” he said and suggested that the church with a presence in every parish was uniquely placed to help spot, confront and challenge those who seek to exploit others in this way. The Prime Minister, Theresa May welcomed the subsequent declaration that came out of the Istanbul conference saying that “modern slavery is one of the great human rights issues of our time, subjecting people around the world to experiences that are horrifying in their inhumanity. We have a duty, as human beings and as Christians, to bring it to an end. The UK is leading the way…but governments alone will not be able to stop it. It is vital that all parts of society do their part”.

The Christian will recognise that as human beings, we are all made ‘in the image of God’ and all equally of value and worth before him. Indeed, Jesus not only summarised the Jewish faith as ‘loving God’, and ‘your neighbour as yourself’, but capped it in his own unique way by giving his disciples the ultimate command that they should ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13.34). In other words, selflessly, sacrificially, compassionately and with a generous spirit as ultimately displayed in his own death upon the cross.

These are sentiments, I believe, that whether we be religious or not, we can all sign up to as marks of our common decency and shared humanity. The challenge is of course, would we recognise this sort of exploitation if we saw it – and if we had a suspicion would we have the courage to report it? I truly hope so, for this sort of problem will only get worse if people ‘turn a blind eye’, ‘mind their own business’ or try to ‘sweep it under the carpet’. Ultimately, we always need to put ourselves in the place of the victim, and treat others as we would like them to treat us – with common decency, dignity, value and respect. That’s part of what it means to ‘love one’s neighbour as one’s self’.


“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”

Galatians 3.28


 

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CHRISTMAS – ARE WE IN DANGER OF MISSING THE POINT?

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There’s nothing quite like a traditional British Christmas! The hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping; the writing of cards and the exchange of presents; the decoration of houses both inside and out, and the turning on of lights on the Christmas tree. Christmas is a time for rest and relaxation, family get-togethers and stories of childhood. A time for mulled wine, cake and mince pies besides a real open fire. It’s a time to fondly remember those who are no longer with us and make plans for all we shall see in the new year. It’s a time to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, ‘peace and good will to all men’ and dream of snow, Rudolf, robins and Father Christmas. And – O yes – there’s church for those who want it!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the things listed above – but if Christmas really is, just about rest and relaxation and time spent with families – then are we as individuals (and indeed as a nation), in danger of missing the point? It would certainly seem so if the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent conversations are anything to go by. The Telegraph has printed a story where Justin Welby notes that there is a fundamental lack of ‘religious literacy’ in Government circles about those who are religious. They want the church to back them when it comes to promoting basic “British Values” but fail to appreciate that many of these values stem from our Christian religious heritage. In their efforts to understand religious extremism (mainly Islamic) they fail to understand that Christians are also motivated ‘first and foremost’ by their Christian faith and are desperately playing ‘catch up’ when it comes to appreciating the differences between these two religions and others.

So like government, have we all tended to take our ‘Christian Heritage’ for granted, so much so, that like music in a shopping mall it just becomes background noise and largely filtered out? So, in a world which is desperately crying out for peace, have we largely forgotten the ‘Prince of Peace’? Have we forgotten the real meaning of Christmas? I hope not! Christmas is about a loving God, who so loved the world that despite its shortcomings he literally steps into it. Christmas is about a young man who was both at one with his humanity but also his divinity. Christmas is not just about a baby that was born in Bethlehem but the man who died in Jerusalem and rose again. Christmas is all about the one who died for our sins so that we might be forgiven of them. Christmas is all about the start of a process where a loving God puts things right through the power of the resurrection – including us. Christmas is therefore fundamentally a celebration for all about a God who loves us.

So on Christmas Day, we could be left with a lot of empty parcels, that we may or may not, appreciate on Boxing Day, but the significance of Christmas for Christians is that in Jesus Christ every day is Christmas Day and worth celebrating. That’s the point of Christmas!

So may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and warmly invite you to celebrate it with us. God bless you all.


‘The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born… he is Christ the Lord”.’ Luke 2.10-11


 

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE ARCHBISHOP’S IDENTITY CRISIS?

The leaking of the Panama Papers from one of the world’s most secretive companies, a law firm called Mossack Fonseca last month caused a great deal of pandemonium in the press and society as it was revealed how the rich and powerful used so called tax havens to hide their wealth and reduce the amount owed in tax to their respective countries and governments. Shocking revelations were made worse in the UK by the fact that our Prime Minister, David Cameron was shown to have directly benefited from such arrangements made by his late father, in the form of an offshore investment fund called Blairmore Holdings. Despite the fact that no law had been broken and some taxes had been paid, the public perception was a damaging one, that somehow the Prime Minister had unfairly benefitted from some ‘dodgy’ tax arrangement which wouldn’t have been available to the vast majority of ordinary people living on more modest incomes and without power and influence. A rather frantic and clumsy ‘damage limitation’ exercise ensued with the Prime Minister ultimately encouraged to publish his tax return in the name of ‘open transparency’, forcing other political leaders to do the same.

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All this was in stark contrast to another astonishing story to hit the headlines, namely the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby’s father was not the man he thought he was (Gavin Welby) but the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne, the last private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill. What made this revelation all the more astonishing and poignant was that it came as a complete surprise not only to Justin Welby, but to Lady Jane Williams, his mother (although she instantly acknowledged that a brief liaison with Anthony Browne had taken place). At first glance the story seemed incredible, but upon closer inspection it became readily understandable. In fact, it was a human story that no doubt many different people and families could relate to, for as the Archbishop himself acknowledged “My own experience is typical of many people. To find that one’s father is other than imagined is not unusual. To be the child of families with great difficulties in relationships, with substance abuse or other matters, is far too normal.” The amazing openness and transparency of the Archbishop and his family appeared to be in great contrast to the other events of the week, but did nothing to lessen the impact and turmoil that this particular revelation must have had upon him and his family, who still have to come to terms with and be reconciled to it and all its implications. However, the extreme openness, honesty and candour of the Archbishop demonstrated that this man can be trusted – and trust in any walk of life is a precious commodity.

Jesus of course once described himself as being ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14.6), and it’s an appreciation of this truth which gives the Archbishop such confidence, not just about who he is ‘in Christ’ but about the way that he should lead his life. This confidence springs from an understanding that he is greatly loved, not just by his family and friends but by God himself as his loving heavenly father – a love demonstrated through the actions of Jesus and his death upon the cross cultivating trust. One might expect that the recent revelation might make the Archbishop question his identity, but not a bit of it, for as he himself put it:

At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: “We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?” To which I responded: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.” What has changed? Nothing!

Perhaps we should all from time to time, take stock of ourselves and think about who we are – what makes me, me? What is my identity, am I trustworthy and in whom do I place my trust?


Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14.1