Dr Norman Hamilton: Fratelli Tutti, the Church, Boris Johnson and the Upgrade …
ALMOST exactly a year ago, on October 4, 2020, Pope Francis gave his Fratelli Tutti encyclical to the whole world.
It was, and still is, a fascinating and deeply thought-out document, but unfortunately it does not seem to have had the follow-up or the deep consideration it was due. (Glad to say, however, that the Catholic Bishops of Ireland are still considering how best to meet his long-term agenda).
The Pope underlined the need to give the daily life of all a high priority over the constant acquisition of goods by a few. The root causes of poverty and inequality must be tackled; the lack of jobs, land and housing must be addressed, not to mention the struggle for social and labor rights.
This desire for a better world for people everywhere, rather than for the privileged few, is of course not a new idea among Christians. In the United States, an organization called the Faith and Work Movement claims that it “wants to return the gospel to economic justice.”
“We’re just asking, let’s find ways to level the playing field,” he explains.
“Can we, as a community of believers, work for the development of all – and what does this mean? It means giving children … essential for human development. “
And at a more local level, the Micah Challenge – a coalition of development agencies, organizations, and churches – has a key goal of galvanizing Christians into greater practical and political engagement in the face of the problems and injustices of poverty.
The huge demands on tackling the Covid pandemic mean that governments around the world have barely been able to heed these concerns and aspirations, whether or not they care about religious communities.
Still, there is a glimmer in London with the government doing much of its ‘leveling up’ agenda there, with its promise to increase prosperity, expand opportunity and ensure that no part of the UK is left behind.
In a leveling speech in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to a passage from Matthew’s gospel when he pledged to invest in transport, broadband and infrastructure in cities that have been omitted from long-term plans.
“To borrow a Bible comparison, governments have created a kind of Matthew effect – ‘to him to be given’ – so you end up investing in areas where house prices are already very high and transportation is already. congested and turbocharged … those areas … you’re driving the prices even higher and forcing more and more people to move to the same expensive areas … “he said.
In other words, the better off continue to prosper, while the poor continue to struggle.
He went on to explain that “leveling” should also include addressing inequalities in health, crime and education.
In Northern Ireland, we understand these priorities all too well, not least because 350,000 people – around 18% of the entire population of Northern Ireland – are now on NHS waiting lists.
Given the magnitude of the need to take it to the next level, locally and across the globe, it is difficult to see a government or even the United Nations being able to meet the challenges adequately.
Given this harsh reality, it is highly significant that the Bible does not focus on high politics, economics, or what influential people can do.
His focus is firmly on the contribution the Church and all believers can make, and he is brutally honest about what is required.
The book of James says this: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and without daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go in peace, keep yourself warm and well fed,’ but do nothing for your physical needs, what is it? is it good ? Likewise, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. “
Fratelli Tutti can be global in its vision, but will be better developed locally. Upgrading is an important idea – but not essentially new – but its effects must be seen in struggling communities. And as the book of James makes clear, the mission of the Church must begin at the parish and regional level, and go far beyond what happens in buildings on Sundays.
This two-way understanding of the purpose of the Church has been well described as being more like the two wings of a bird. Both wings are necessary for the bird to fly … the Church can only prosper if the proclamation of the Gospel is accompanied by social and economic justice for all.
It is also very important that Christ’s followers remember that they are also voters and taxpayers who, unlike many others, will not look to the government for their own preferences.
They will want political leaders and public policies to properly reflect the apostle Paul’s call to value others above themselves and to consider the interests of others.
Fratelli Tutti, the upgrade, the Micah challenge, and the Christian gospel itself all point in the same direction. Those in need really matter to God – and therefore must matter to every Christian and every congregation wherever they have placed them.
Reverend Norman Hamilton is a former Presbyterian moderator.