I was invited to write this blog but feel a bit sheepish about it because it is really a shameless plug for a newly published book – A Faithful Presence: Working Together for the Common Good. My only excuse is that I think the intended readership would overlap considerably with that of Church Action on Poverty’s publications.
The book was prompted by my involvement in the Together for the Common Good (T4CG) movement, which brings people together across different Christian traditions and alongside people of other faiths and secular allies, to become agents of change for the Common Good. As well as having a website containing lots of resources, such as opinion pieces and case studies, T4CG produces a regular newsletter. The first book associated with T4CG was published in March 2015.Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation is a collection of 13 essays by leading thinkers from across different political persuasions, Christian denominations, Jewish, Muslim and secular traditions all addressing the idea of the common good and its relevance to national life.
This second one, A Faithful Presence, focuses more on the ‘together’ dimension. It asks: what does it mean for Christians and the Church to ‘do justly and to love mercy’ and to have the integrity to call on others to do likewise? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Rather my aim is to encourage and ‘strengthen the arm’ of all those working for social justice, whether through local community action, prayer, advocacy or campaigning and to draw them, too, into an ongoing conversation addressing these questions.
In some ways, this book is highly personal. It derives not simply from T4CG, but from everything that has been formative for me. Not surprisingly, one of the chief among these has been Church Action on Poverty. I take for granted that faith encompasses social action. It is not a particular brand of Christian witness confined only to people who happen to think that way or have certain callings or inclinations. If it is integral, then certain things follow. First, the quest for social justice requires going beyond acts of generosity or administering first aid to those experiencing problems of poverty and disadvantage. These are important and necessary, but not sufficient. Tackling causes entails grappling with questions of power, oppression and inequality. One of the key ingredients of the common good is the idea of ‘solidarity’. On the one hand, this means that we have to be concerned not just with one-to-one relationships but with the way that political, economic and social structures shape our common life. On the other hand, the notion of solidarity has to have a profound significance for the way that we work and campaign.
Church Action on Poverty’s Director, Niall Cooper, makes precisely this point when he is quoted in the book. He asks a vital question:
“Do we treat people in poverty as an undeserving underclass, hapless victims, or potential agents for change and transformation?”
He goes on,
“Church Action on Poverty’s experience has proved again and again that people in poverty not only understand the root causes of their problems, but are highly effective at creating lasting solutions to them.”
And so say all of us!