South Tyneside Churches Together recently joined in our Good Society conversation by designing and organising ‘roundtable conversations’ exploring what makes a ‘good society’. Here are some of their reflections on the event.
It is perhaps not surprising that this collective of churches developed a model to take on this task, as they have a proven track record of social action and engagement: responding to the needs of older people; preventing homelessness among young people; giving ongoing support to refugees and people seeking sanctuary; taking on the personally demanding role of ‘street angels’ for those ending up literally ‘on the street’ after late-night revels!
What makes a Good Society?
Feedback from table discussions illustrated that there are numerous marks of a Good Society: justice, equity, economic opportunity, reciprocity, prosperity, critical thinking, ethical standards, concern for good citizenship, and the notion of fairness in an unequal society. Questions were posed on key themes:
Hope and aspirations
A vision of a society with opportunities for both old and young is an aspiration and a hope for 2020. People, whatever their age, need to feel valued, and have self-esteem and something to work for.
A Good Society is profoundly relational – people need support to find a way in life.
A sense of belonging and security gives opportunity for people to fulfil their potential, follow their dreams and contribute to society. The opportunity to belong to a church or faith group can provide a place of hope and a place to be challenged. Events to reflect on ’The Good Society’ bring people together to build relationships and share hopes.
What does ‘success’ look like in a Good Society?
Today’s society is divided and the most vulnerable pay a high cost – they are often stigmatised as scroungers, addicts, losers. There are haves and have-nots: old people are seen as a drain on society: our culture has “normalised indifference”.
We want a community where everyone has a place in society.
We want a community where people care for one another and have time to spend with others … to be more neighbourly and more compassionate, with a place where people feel safe and can go when they are in trouble.
What can be done to bring this vision about?
We must join in and be part of the wider community; develop our potential to express a powerful and influential voice, and encourage church members to get involved and volunteer through social activism. We need to prioritise initiatives and be more focused, advertising our events and activities more effectively using social media.
What responsibility do people with wealth and power have for building a Good Society?
We live in an increasingly divided society. The gap between the most wealthy and poorest people gets wider, as does the divide between the North and the South. Wealthy people have a responsibility to listen to poor people and be aware of their concerns and the adverse challenges they face, empathising and standing in solidarity. Wealthy people are blessed to be a blessing to others and should give generously in a non-patronising way.
Faith in a good society
Faith and religion are not the same but are intrinsically linked; it is difficult to have one without the other. Faith should be expressed in action – love is demonstrated through actions which express our concern for others. It is important to give generously. Wealthy people can become philanthropists and use their resources to build more equitable and sustainable communities where everyone is valued equally. We can all pray for the healing of individuals in rich and poor communities. The relationship between morality and spirituality in a Good Society is important and a potential focus for future discernment.
Contributions in the event reflected the notion expressed by a theologian in the publication On Human Worth:
“We recognise other people’s equal worth by our attitudes towards them, our treatment of them and our regard for them, and also, rather more indirectly, but very significantly, in the way that society and its distribution of resources of all sorts are organised.”
Jim Robertson and Bernadette Askins are members of the North East local group of Church Action on Poverty.