Activism · Bible · faith · Political · World Affairs

How To Avert The Crisis

There’s a passage I’ve been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9 that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10 And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterwards they turned about and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.

This story relates to part of the
covenant that God had made with Israel. It concerned members of the community of Israel who for whatever reason had fallen on hard times. Maybe their crops had failed and they had been forced to sell their land to make ends meet. Or even worse, they had been forced to live as slaves to pay off a debt. Every 7th year, according to the law of Israel, their debt should be cancelled, they should no longer be slaves, and land that was forfeited should be returned to them.

The context for this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah is that Israel has strayed from God’s ways. They have gone after other gods to worship, and have neglected the laws concerning the care of the poor,
particularly widows, orphans and foreigners.

God’s judgment on Israel is that they will suffer the consequences – and be invaded by Babylon and many of the population be taken into exile.

For much of
the time, the leaders in Israel – the ruling elite of kings and priests, ignore these warnings.

But the
crisis deepens. Invasion looks likely. It seems that Jeremiah’s dire warnings are true.

What to do in a such a situation. For the leadership in Israel this means
trying a last ditch attempt to avert the crisis by obeying the law that God had given them and setting free the slaves that should have had their freedom in the 7th year of their slavery. It’s a cry to God to say -“OK, we’ll do as you commanded. Now please come to our help and stop this invasion.”

What happens next is that king Zedekiah reverses his decision and makes them all slaves again ! The reason is not given. It’s possible that the threat from Babylon went away, and Zedekiah thought he could get away with going back to business as usual –
oppressing the poor.

Or maybe the economic situation got worse – so bad in fact that landowners needed slave labour to survive and put pressure on the king to reverse the decision.

Whatever it was, Jeremiah’s verdict is that once again the King and the
ruling class have ignored God’s commands and will be judged.

That’s a long, but necessary preamble …

This incident makes me think of the Coronavirus crisis that we have lived through, and still are to some degree. In the early days, our government put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on the population by
introducing the furlough arrangements, whereby the government would pay businesses to keep people on the payroll while they were not able to carry on trading. (Eg – restaurants that had to close completely in the pandemic).

Now the direct threat from Covid has reduced because of the success of the
vaccination programme. It’s back to business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, the pressure was off … but the government needed to recoup as much of the financial outlay as possible. So …

We are seeing increases in National Insurance contributions, and other ways that the
government are seeking to increase revenue.

Then comes another crisis … Ukraine and the consequent increases in oil and gas prices as well as effects from the grain harvests in Ukraine being disrupted.

What do we see from the
government – a £150 rebate on council tax … with another sum – that will need to be paid back. For an average household, that £150 will go in two months in their increases in gas and electric bills.

Meanwhile we still read of massive bonus payments to some, while others are sitting with hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm, and relying on
food banks for essentials.

Can you see the parallels ?

happens to nations, businesses, organisations in general when those at the top are sitting pretty while the poorest struggle to survive. In the end those nations, businesses, etc will fall.

settled social order relies on justice for the poor. Without economic justice, society eventually collapses.

What do we need ? Justice for the poorest. When do we need it ? Now !


Tell it Like it is

I’m reading the first book of Kings in the Old Testament.

John Goldingay, my Old Testament teacher years ago, has written a little book to help us understand the Old Testament.  He prefers to call it the First Testament, because calling it old seems to relegate to the discard pile.

I read some words in the introduction that made me think of the current debate about statues of those who were involved in the salve trade.

John Goldingay writes this: “First and Secong Kings tell the story of Israel’s life from Solomon to the exile in such a fashion as to acknowledge the ways in which both nations (Israel and Judah) failed to follow after Yahweh, their God.  They invite the people who read the story to acknowledge that the story is true – not merely in the sense that the historical facts are correct, but in the sense that they accept responsibility for their wrongdoing over the generations. In effect the story is a kind of confession; it says, ‘Yes, this is the way we have lived as a people.’  The only possibility for a future for them is thus to face facts and to acknowledge these facts to God.  There is no way that they can undo those facts, or compel God to forgive them and give them a new start.  All they can do is to cast themselves on God’s mercy.”

The statues that are under debate were originally there to celebrate the lives of men (mostly men …) who had done great things.

We now see how those men were flawed, and the systems that they served were the cause of great injustices.  So, in a sense we have to rewrite history, or at least to retell those events of the past in the light of what we now hold dear.

And, now, in the present, for myself as a privileged white man, to confess to my shortcomings in not doing more to address racism.  We need to confess the things we have not done and said – our inaction, as well as explicitly racist words and actions.

Somehow, through all the tools that are available to us, we must do what the writers of those Old Testament books did – to say ‘Yes, this is the way we have lived as a people.’  There is no way that we can undo those facts, or compel black people to forgive us and give us a new start. All we can do is to cast ourselves on their mercy.”

Back in 2009, I wrote about an inititiative in the USA – ‘Come to the Table’  a project where the descendants of slave owners and the descendents of slaves come to the table and talk and listen about their past. 

The reaction of some people to history is to say ‘Get over it’.  But it is not as simple as that.  Even if the events are way in the past, there may still be unmet needs that, if not addressed, will prevent us all from moving on.