We live in a fractured world. Nothing new there – the Bible has been saying this for the last 2000 years. But now thanks to modern media, everyone knows it.
Over this last week I have come across articles in three very different publications exposing the fault lines on our disordered planet.
Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph reported that according to Credit Suisse the richest 1% of the world’s population are getting even wealthier, now owning more than 48% of global wealth. 48% – that’s nearly half!
Or to put this more vividly, if you could persuade the world’s richest 85 people to take the 311 bus to Skelmersdale (some would have to stand) their combined wealth would add up to £1,000,000,000,000 (i.e. £1trillion). The poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population own as much.
And such inequality is growing, not just between countries but within countries, especially our own. You may have read that Britain’s top executives are now paid around 130 times their average employee.
Then this week’s Economist led with a perceptive analysis of what it called the Gay Divide. It reported that “the change in attitudes to homosexuality in many countries—not just the West but also Latin America, China and other places—is one of the wonders of the world. But five countries still execute gay people: Iran hangs them; Saudi Arabia stones them. Gay sex is illegal in 78 countries, and a few have recently passed laws that make gay life even grimmer.”
And its conclusion: “The gay divide is one of the world’s widest.”
Then finally there was a disturbing series of articles in Der Spiegel, arguing that the main fault line for our time is between functioning and failing states. With Syria in mind, it argues that the “failing states” that currently stretch from Pakistan to Mali show that the alternative to dictatorship isn’t necessarily democracy – all too often, it is anarchy.”
And its conclusion: “Think carefully about the chaos you might trigger by overthrowing your dictator.”
We are living in a global village of huge divides: financial, cultural and political. But now such is the power of modern communications we can gaze into other’s living rooms and see how the privileged live. And so understandably people want to move for all kinds of reasons – just seeking a better life or in many case sheer physical survival. Such movements may be legal such as within the EU but more likely managed by people smugglers. This growing industry is now valued at nearly £7billion each year.
To say the least it has become a very hot political potato. Just think UKIP or Front National or the anti-illegal immigration activist movement in the US. Mass immigration is causing shock waves for the political establishment. Witness our Prime Minister’s push to change EU policy on immigration.
So how as Christians do we respond, not least when over 500 would-be immigrants drown off the coast of Malta only last month?
We begin where the Bible begins, in Genesis 1:26. Each human being is made in the image of God. Each immigrant, legal or otherwise, has value to God and to people who value what God has created. We can’t avert our gaze and hope they go away. We allow the dignity of every human being.
Following from this, the Hebrew scriptures, radical in their context, give a special status to the ‘ger’, usually translated as the alien or foreigner. The word appears no less than 92 times in the Old Testament.
So how about this, from Leviticus 19:33? “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.” Clear enough.
Above all, ours is a God who breaks down barriers – at enormous cost to himself. So when the apostle Paul identifies the three main fault lines for his world, he proclaims each one obliterated by the cross of Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). We are called as his church is to be a vibrant witness to this truth. But more, we are called to be agents of this truth.
So we now face the hard task of discernment, of thinking Christianly about what would appear to be an intractable problem. And Christians will come to different conclusions. But if we are thinking clearly, we can also see the priority of facing up to the basic causes of greed, intolerance and disorder and to do so in Christ’s name.
For the good news is that God purposes to heal his broken world in the full view of every creature. He’s started and so he will finish, working even through us. And he gives us the tools for the job.