Chapter 23 » 23.50

The individual and the community

How can the people of Ordsall, where I work, become our neighbours, our sisters and our brothers, especially when we do not know them personally? It is only through prayer and political action that we can affirm our love and demonstrate in the flesh that we do see that of God within them…

We have a variety of strategies for passing by on the other side: we manage not to know about such things, by living elsewhere and averting our eyes and hearts from information which might trouble us; some of us imagine that Biblical morality only enjoins us to direct personal charity towards those we encounter, having nothing to do with justice, with political action to change unjust structures. (A strange love this, which would shelter a Jew but ignore the struggle to prevent the rise of Nazism.) More often we claim that whilst in principle love does also require us to work for the removal of the causes of injustice, such work is in practice so complex that Friends cannot become involved corporately; it should be left to Friends individually as they think fit…

Complexity, however, may depend on whether we are the well-fed or the hungry. Our delicate refusal to dirty our hands in political turmoil may itself be another way of passing by on the other side. Change seems most complicated and controversial to those who do not personally need it. Would we be so delicate if we were Black South Africans? But surely, you may say, we don’t face such fundamental injustices.

No, we don’t. And yet – come and meet the people in Ordsall with me. You will sense inequality tangibly; you will become aware of the huge range of opportunities which you have and they do not; you will understand the struggle to make ends meet, the problems of debt, ill-health, premature ageing and death, and the hopelessness which is the experience of many. The answers may not be simple: the bureaucratic welfare state did also create some of the problems. But to see the unbridled pursuit of individual self-interest as a solution is grotesque as well as immoral.

Jonathan Dale, 1987

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