This month’s synchroblog is on the theme of Christianity and Social Justice.
Social justice is undoubtedly a Christian concern – it saturates the Bible, Jesus emphasises it, and the pursuit of it is a necessary constituent part of a faithful life. Over two thousand verses about poverty. And so on and so forth – this is all well and good.
There are various specific ways in which that concern for social justice can be pursued. For me, one aspect came in denouncing Tesco (eg http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2008/03/thou-shalt-not-shop-at-tesco-sermon.html). I’m coming to believe that this was – if not quite a mistake, then at least a misapplication of effort. Indeed, perhaps there was even a little spiritual sin involved.
After all Tesco itself is not completely bad – I don’t see much wrong in buying a CD from them for example – my concerns are primarily to do with their food business, in terms of its sustainability, vitality of produce and their treatment of food suppliers. On all these things Tesco seems particularly poor, irresponsible and short-sighted. It seems straightforward to me that shopping at, say, the Co-Op is significantly more supportive of social justice than buying your food at Tesco.
However, the real problem is the underlying system itself, within which it can make sense for a company to be as reckless about social justice as Tesco is. In other words, the problem is about corporate law and the financial markets, who oblige the authorities at Tesco to pursue short term profit margins. (One of the reasons why the co-op, or John Lewis, is much better.)
This system is at the root of much that ails our present world. It is why the peaking of the oil supply will be a catastrophe rather than a bump in the road. It is why global warming will harm more people than it need to. It is why governments are going to war to preserve their way of life. It is why the life in the oceans is denuded, the water available to much of humanity declining, the top soil depleted. There are lots of symptoms telling us that something is wrong, and lots of people objecting to symptoms.
What is the Christian task here – that is, what is the specifically Christian task? Obviously it is a good thing for Christians to be involved in trying to relieve the symptoms, to campaign for social justice, to advocate good environmental stewardship and so on.
Yet I believe the specifically Christian task is a separate one. The ideological system within which the likes of Tesco takes on its role has a specific spiritual root; it is a knotting together of idolatries – of Mammon in particular, but also an excessively high regard for both law and science. All of which are good things, but they have become distorted, elevated above themselves, and consequently they have become life-denying and destructive. As a society and culture we are worshipping false Gods. What we need to do is to proclaim the true God, the one who gives life in response to worship.
In this context, to spend time denouncing Tesco is to waste time that might be better spent digging out the spiritual roots, and teaching people what right worship actually consists in. It is a temptation – to succumb to a desire for control, to engage in a worldly struggle, possibly even a matter of pride – for if you fight an organisation as large and important in British life as Tesco, then some of the importance reflects back on you – and then the real you gets lost, and you become ‘the vicar who is fighting Tesco’, and the gospel is eclipsed.
Hence my present line of thought: Tesco is a big red herring. If Christians are serious about social justice, and right environmental stewardship, then our paramount task is simply this: we must preach the gospel. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Other people blogging on this theme today: