Low pay or Living Wage: does the Church practice what it preaches?

Wages of sinSome Christians might be delighted that today’s front page headline in Britain’s most popular newspaper is a direct quote from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  But the article titled ‘Wages of Sin’ highlights the Church of England’s inconsistency in simultaneously calling for the Living Wage but not paying this to all of its staff.

True to form, The Sun’s journalists found a job in Canterbury Cathedral (of all places) which is advertised as paying well below the Living Wage.

The Church has responded by saying that because they are separate legal entities, each individual cathedral, diocese or church has to make their own decisions around pay levels.  But that really will not wash.

To most people, this sounds like when a major corporation is caught out but claim that it was one of their subsidiary companies who did something wrong. Conveying organisational complexity does not answer the core question: does the church practice what it preaches?

Speaking as one

Last week, in their pastoral letter which hit the headlines, the Bishops spoke out as one. And the debate created by the letter was a great sign of its relevance and impact.  Now, when the backlash starts to discredit the church’s message, the Bishops need to respond as one too.

We have been here before. Just last year, after the Archbishop  spoke out against pay day lenders, it was exposed that the church held investments in Wonga. In response, Justin Welby knew he could not hide behind the Church’s complex relationship with the Church Commissioners – he just had to make sure the issue was sorted out.

Integrity and power

Thank God the Church is not a think tank which simply produces reports.  Rather, it is a living and working institution with outposts in every community in the land. So when it speaks out, it does so off the back of real experience. It’s integrity and power comes from faith in action. For example, it can speak about food poverty because its members are running so many food banks.

So when it comes to the Living Wage, the Church needs to get its house in order. Every diocese, every parish and every C of E affiliated charity should commit to undergo the process to be a Living Wage accredited employer.

Hard decisions

Following a decision by the Methodist Conference, the West London Mission (where I work) underwent the process last year.  We employee over 70 staff so it is an exercise that requires commitment and thoroughness. The terms and conditions of employees, especially those such as cleaners who may get the least pay, have needed to be re-examined. Some arrangements that have been murky and unclear have needed to pulled out into the light and reviewed.

I am sure that it will be a significant project for the C of E. It might be especially complicated for cathedrals who contract with other companies to run their gift shops or catering. It might mean tightening the belt – maybe a few Bishops might need to lose their chauffeurs or a couple of palaces might have to be sold off. It would not be the end of the world.

Firmer ground

But going through this process would make firmer ground for the church to stand on when it then speaks out about low wages. If all churches and dioceses became Living Wage employers, then the Church would be seen to live out the justice of which it speaks. In Gandhi’s words, it would become the change it seeks.

Integrity demands that we should always be skeptical of political theology which is not manifested in practical action.

An issue for everyone

And let’s remember, this is an issue for everyone who is employed.  Everyone could start the process of asking our employees to take the step to pay the Living Wage. If every Christian did this at their workplace the impact could be incredible and the witness profound.

Last week’s headlines have shown the potential of a Church speaking out sensibly, passionately and faithfully. Let’s not give the Harry Chomley’s of this world, or his mates who work at The Sun, more justification for their dismissal of what the Church has to say.

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Left-wing Bishops? The real problem is Jesus himself – by Harry S.B. Chomley

Classic English country churchQuite rightly, there has been an outcry over the latest bit of propaganda issued by the Guardian-readers-at-prayer otherwise known as the Church of England Bishops. Their ‘pastoral letter’ issued yesterday ahead of the election was a thinly-veiled support for the left-wing parties.

I am not much of a believer, but I like a lot of what the church stands for. Nice country pubs, a cricket green and a pretty church: its what makes Britain Great.

Spiritual comfort

But also the spiritual comfort they provide can be useful. I am pretty well off and have done well for myself, but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a good sing-along at Midnight Mass after a few jars. The name C of E sums it up: I really appreciate the church at Christmas and Easter and I am more than happy to stick a few quid in for the new organ or roof or whatever.

But the point is that Churches should focus on spiritual matters – the after-life and that kind of stuff. And I don’t mind them helping people – if they knuckled down they could still play a good role in the PM’s Big Society. But the problem is that instead of sticking to theology, they keep issuing ‘statements’ about the kind of stuff politicians and economists know loads more about.

In recent months, the Bishops have kicked off rows about so-called food poverty, debt and inequality. And now they are telling us how to vote.

Shocked

But this latest furore got me thinking, and for the first time in years I got my old Christening Bible down from a dusty shelf and started reading some of the New Testament.  It dawned on me that the problem goes deeper than just the Bishops: it’s Jesus who is dangerously left-wing.

I opened my Bible at Luke’s gospel and immediately read the following:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20)

Then a few verses later:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (6:24)

Excuse me?  Why so harsh on those who have worked hard and earned a few bob?

Disregard for wealth creation

Even worse is Jesus’ blatant disregard for wealth-creation.  Later on, I read a story he tells about a hard-working and successful man who grows his business and saves carefully for himself and his family. But then he promptly dies and never enjoys any of it! Jesus is hardly sympathetic:

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions…This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (12:15 &21)

It is not just this snideness towards those who have done well, but a completely naive approach to how welfare.  How about this:

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (12:33)

Give? I don’t think so. How will simply giving stuff to poor people motivate them?

Loaded

But the worst bit I read was when a sincere bloke, done everything right, comes up to Jesus and asks how he can get into heaven. Instead of talking about spiritual matters, Jesus tells him that he has to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.

Of course this chap is gutted – it can’t do this because he is loaded. It may be alright for people who don’t have much to talk like this, but this is someone with responsibilities. And once he has left, Jesus says

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (18:24)

So, yes, let’s have a go at the Bishops, but the real problem is really Jesus himself.  You can see where they get all this lefty-clap-trap from.

Harry Chomley, affectionately known as ‘HSBC’ to his mates, works in the finance sector and loves reading The Daily Telegraph 

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Fifty Shades: Testing our Grey matter – by Mandy Marshall

50 ShadesBy now you may be a bit sick of hearing all the news and views about Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it erotic mummy porn? Is it abusive? Is bondage domination sadism and masochism (BDSM) compatible with a healthy relationship?

The film based on the books is being released tomorrow – Valentine’s Day – but, I assume, without the appalling writing that the books contain. There is a certain amount of irony of releasing the film on the day to celebrate love when the principle character, Christian Grey, himself declares: “I don’t make love. I f***”

Wow, what a Prince Charming. Not quite the ‘you had me at hello’ statement of a romantic lead in films.

Billionaire businessman

If you’ve managed to avoid the numerous news stories and blogs so far (well done), the story of Fifty Shades involves the two principle characters of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. He is an attractive, billionaire businessman and Ana a student with a part-time job. Christian defines the nature of their relationship via a contract with Ana, which she never ends up signing. Who said romance was dead, eh?

Rather rapidly the story focusses on the sexual nature of the relationship, specifically the BDSM aspects that Christian prefers. While BDSM relationships are supposed to be based on clear mutual consent, right from the start of this relationship the power base is unequal.

Disadvantage

Ana’s placed at a disadvantage in negotiating safe, sensual and consensual sex. She is a virgin when she meets Christian and he treats her virginity as something to be dealt with. Rather than honouring Ana’s innocence in the bedroom he sees it as a problem to overcome. Christian informs Ana that he wants to discipline her and train her to please him and in that she will find joy: he as the Dominant, and she as the Submissive. While the language of ‘Dominant’ and ‘Submissive’ is normal terminology used in the BDSM community, the concern here is that this is not a normal BDSM relationship.

There are multiple sex scenes within and without the “red room of pain” that Christian uses to play out his sexual fantasies. The best description I read on these scenes is that they very quickly become like reading a set of council car parking instructions –dry, boring, rigid and predictable.

Sadism

Many have said there isn’t a problem with a consensual BDSM relationship. I, however, do have an issue with sadism. I find it difficult to reconcile doing something deliberately to hurt, inflict pain or degrade another human being and a loving, healthy relationship where each individual is respected as made in the image of God. How can sadism be a part of the kingdom of God where this is no more pain or crying? A kingdom that we seek to bring here on earth.

The story lends itself to an adult Disney of Prince Charming rescuing the hapless princess, except with abuse and sex thrown in. Think Las Vegas on heroin, sparkly façade with dark undertones. We start to see chinks in the armour from the start of their interaction. Christian wants ‘control in everything’. Control in an adult relationship is a clear sign of abuse. We cannot ‘control’ individuals. It is in complete contrast to the love and freedom that Jesus brings. Jesus gives us the ultimate choice in the context of love –choose life, life that cost Jesus his sacrifice.

Power

Throughout the story we see emotional abuse, coercion, sexual and physical abuse, psychological abuse all thrown together and often justified in terms of the choices that Ana supposedly makes. Christian uses the different types of power he holds (structural, financial, emotional, sexual, to name a few) to coerce, control, manipulate, demean and intimidate Ana into doing what he wants.

At one point he even goads Ana that she “didn’t call the cops” when he hit her, therefore suggesting she must have liked it. This completely plays into the myth that someone who is experiencing abuse a) knows what is happening to them and b) is capable of doing something about it.

Distorting

It seems we still wrestle with the issue that power and money can cloud our vision. It harps back to a time when a woman had very little power and marrying well was the escape from ruin and poverty. If we changed the character of Christian Grey to one with less power and money, say a traffic warden, then we might see his actions in a different light. Ana herself describes Christian as “a stalker”, “control freak” and as “wanting to inflict pain”. If Christian had a normal job would we see his actions differently?

Fifty Shades distorts the concept of a relationship from something that should be equal, loving, giving, mutually supporting and for the benefit of one another to a needy focus on self; sexual gratification the basis of a so-called relationship. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a romantic love story, it’s abuse.

Mandy Marshall is co-director of Restored, an international Christian Alliance to transform relationships and end violence against women. This article was originally published by EA’s Friday Night Theology.

Posted in Films & music | Tagged | 1 Comment

For God’s Sake Make a Difference

scargill-logo-2013It cannot be disputed that Churches are very good at establishing social action projects.

Recent years have seen a huge growth in projects such as Foodbanks, Night Shelters and a wide range of other initiatives. The big challenge is how these projects maintain their Christian ethos and integrate this alongside their high quality practical service.

I know of so many organisations, both large and small, which were birthed with a strong Christian basis but have now left it behind.  In our secularised times, faith often becomes just a slightly embarrassing footnote of their history.

Sometimes faith fades due to a lack of passion or commitment or a key person leaving. “We used to be more overt about faith but it doesn’t really happen anymore.”

Sometimes it is due to fear, especially to do with losing resources. “It would not go down too well with our funders if we were too Christian.”

And sometimes faith just become fossilised. “A Vicar chairs the committee but there is no real connection with the church.”

Dis-integration

In these ways that faith becomes dis-integrated from social action and a chasm opens up between the church and the projects it has started.  The homelessness field in which I work is littered with examples because so many homelessness charities were originally started by churches.

The split can often lead to power struggles, bitter disputes and eventual messy divorces between the church and the social projects it has formed. Often both sides end up poorer for the separation.

Relevance of faith

Its tragic because community projects often provide the best witness to faith in a sceptical world. Most people have a lot of respect for genuine care and compassion in action. Often it makes much more sense to them than a church service.

Also, faith and spirituality are so relevant in bring hope to people and tackling poverty.  In my field, this was the powerful findings of last year’s report ‘Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people’ which showed how important and relevant faith was to those on the margins.

Ambition

The growth of social action provides the church with some great opportunities.  But we must learn the lessons from the past and not allow social activism to secularise the church or neuter its message.

Christian social activists should be bolder in their ambitions to integrate faith and spirituality alongside their practical work.  This is not always simple or easy especially when working with vulnerable people.  It does not mean being coercive, inappropriate or forcing anything on anyone. But it will mean being courageous, creative and confident.

We need to remember Jesus’ words:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

It is for God’s sake that we are seeking to make a difference.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

ScargillIf you are interested in a weekend away to reflect and pray more on these kinds of issues then you might be interested in joining me at this weekend I am helping to lead which is coming up soon. It is at the beautiful Scargill House and some places are still available:

For God’s Sake Make a Difference: Friday 27 February to Sunday 1 March

For all the details and how to book in please see the Scargill website.

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‘I have come to see that there is good in every situation’ – Kayla Mueller’s hope in captivity

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Arizona is pictured in this undated handout photoThe family of Kayla Mueller, a US aid worker who was being held by ISIS, have confirmed that she has been killed.

Before she was captured, she told her hometown paper in Prescott, Arizona:

“It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”

Kayla’s family have released a letter sent to them by her from captivity written in the spring of 2014:

Everyone, If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released.

I have asked them to contact you + send you this letter. It’s hard to know what to say. Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.

I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.

If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else … + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.

I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another … I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation.

None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me.

I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes. I wrote a song some months ago that says, “The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left …”

aka-The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.

Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.

All my everything, Kayla

Her generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness for others and dependence on God reminds me of the attitude and writings of another Christian who was held captive in prison by an oppressive regime.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following when imprisoned by Nazis during the Second World War, before he too was killed:

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”

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The Church, gay relationships and the truth

seek-truthAll Christians have to grapple with the challenge of how the truth revealed in the Bible relates to the truth revealed in our experiences.

Over the years truths that are accepted in previous eras are challenged and church practice evolves.  For example, few Christians still believe that St Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians mean that women should wear hats in church.

Defending slavery

But it is not just the more trivial issues on which the Church has decisively changed its mind. There were few injustices more terrible than the slave trade, and yet Christian advocates for slavery were passionate in their use of scripture to defend it and attack other Christians who fought against it. In 1860, the eminent evangelical scholar Charles Hodge wrote:

“To call slavery sinful is a direct impeachment of the Word of God. If the present course of the abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and his apostles was wrong.”

Here, Hodge stakes the entire truth of the gospel on his belief about this one issue. Undoubtedly he was highly knowledgable about the Bible but his words seem almost incomprehensible from a Christian perspective today.

Sexuality

In the rows today within the Church between those who affirm the legitimacy of gay relationships and those who don’t, both sides appeal to truth – but they are often drawing on different sides of this tension between scripture and experience.

This tension was well expressed in a comment by a 16-year-old girl in a discussion at a youth camp that I was part of last year: ‘The thing is, I love the Bible and I love my gay friends and I want to be true to both’.

The ‘truth’ of the Church’s anti-gay stance is being constantly challenged by the truth of people’s experience. And its clear that increasing numbers of Christians are changing their minds about gay relationships because they have got to know, care about and love gay people. Even without this direct experience many are finding that anti-gay teaching simply does not make sense in the real world where they are living and working.

It is this experience that makes Christians go back and read their Bible’s differently and emphasise the inclusivity in the life of Jesus and his gospel message. As ever, the road between experience and theology is a two-way street.

Lack of honesty

Whatever we believe, the key factor needed is honesty.

Until I was about 25, I had never knowingly met a gay church leader. But my work with homeless people took me into different parts of the church where I met many gay priests. All of them were working within a Church which formally did not accept gay relationships.

Balancing pastoral care and maintaining truth is incredibly hard but it seems that for generations Bishops and other senior leaders have chosen to turn a blind eye about the reality of the situation.  A lack of honesty and truth had been institutionalised.

And even within the most conservative evangelical churches, there will always be a wide range of views on gay relationships from among those in the congregation.  Whatever the line taken in sermons from the front, the discussions in home groups, and especially youth groups, will betray a wide diversity. This reality often goes unacknowledged.

All of this adds up to a situation where there is a gap between what is said and what is really lived out. It creates a lack of integrity.  The Church is at its best when it is a place of honesty and openness, but when it comes to sexuality there has been many layers of untruth which have created resentment and hypocrisy.

Something everyone can do

So for all these reasons, I would encourage everyone to complete this online survey which asks you your opinion about the church and gay relationships,  It is being run by Oasis, ahead of a conference on Church and Sexuality they are hosting in April. No survey is perfect but I think it offers the best opportunity to get behind the Church tribalism and actually hear what Christians believe.

It is time to be more truthful and this is a good place to start: Oasis’ Open Church survey

Monday 9th February: Rather unfortunately, I have just found out that Oasis’ Church survey closed today. Jon K

Posted in Ethics & Christian living | 3 Comments

How to help someone with an eating disorder – by Emily Norris

BeyondBlueMentalHealthImageToday is ‘Time to Talk’ day, where people are asked to take 5 minutes out of your day to talk about…(bring on the scary taboo topic)..MENTAL ILLNESS.

I haven’t told many people this, but I was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa seven years ago. I was confused, ashamed and therefore kept it quiet for a very long time.

Over the years it took over my life, became my identity and isolated me from the people I loved.

I am currently nearly 9 months into my third hospital admission on an eating disorder unit within the last 2 years. As a by-product of anorexia I have also experienced severe anxiety and depression.

Mental health condition

Anorexia is a scary illness, many wrongly assume its a physical illness, that once you put on some weight, eat a few meals hooray you’re cured.

No. It’s a mental health condition…it is irrelevant how much a person weighs. In fact, in my experience, the toughest times have been when I’m in a healthier place physically, yet my mind is very much anorexic.

What very few people realise is an eating disorder in itself is not the problem…it is the symptom to a problem – the maladaptive coping mechanism someone turns to in order to cope with an other issue that’s just too much to face. And for everyone that can be different.

It is not a diet.

It is not to be glamourised.

It is not attention seeking.

It is not a choice.

And it can happen to anyone, of any gender, race, age and weight.

Ashamed

I was ashamed for so long, and perhaps if I hadn’t been I could have gotten help sooner.

Mental health of any kind is nothing to be ashamed of. 1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness, and it is vital for people to talk in order to get help.

Please help stop the stigma attached to mental illness. If you are struggling, or know someone who is or might be, talk.

Listening

And if someone talks, listen.  Don’t judge. Don’t try and fix them.

Listen, and help guide them to someone who can help.

I have been so lucky, I’ve had people supporting me every step of the way, willing to listen, put up with me, love me when I was very much unlovable, never given up on me and let me know they’re always there for me.

I literally owe my life to those people who listened.

Emily is 24, lives in Exeter and is into playing the piano, the ukulele and out of tune singing.

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‘I just want to do God’s will’ – Martin Luther King’s final speech

Every day around 100 homeless people come to the day centre run by the West London Mission for a hot breakfast, showers, clothing or to see our in-house doctor or nurse.

Every Tuesday a Spirituality Discussion group takes place in the TV room led by our Chaplain.  I love it when I am invited to come to the group and participate in the discussions because they are always lively, raw and honest.  Discussing the deep questions of life and faith with homeless people has been a richly rewarding experience.

This week, the group asked me to lead a discussion on the life of Martin Luther King. Of everything shared, the most impact came from watching a clip of his final speech, made to striking sanitation workers on April 3rd 1968 in Memphis.

Some people believe that MLK had some form of premonition of his impending death:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

The next day, Martin Luther King was shot dead.  He was 39 years old.

Do you have 3 minutes to spare? Then watch this:

See R&R’s review of the film ‘Selma’ which is on general release in the UK next week.

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Remembering the holocaust means fighting anti-semitism today – by Alan Bolchover

Anti-semitic graffitiThis week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Many of my Jewish friends are sharing their own family experiences of the holocaust. Nearly all of us have them.

Before the Second World War, my grandfather Elio lived in a village called Lubcz in Belorussia, where he had been brought up.

In 1941 the Germans invaded Belorussia and “liquidated” the village – the Jews who lived there did not even make it to Auschwitz.  My grandfather managed to escape but the rest of his family and friends were murdered. Along with the rest of the Jewish population, they were marched out of the village and machine gunned to death en masse in one day. A thousand men, women and children. including many of my relatives, all brutally killed in one day.

I have visited Lubcz and seen where all this happened.  The experience had a deep impact on me. It is part of my family’s story, part of my identity, part of who I am.

Rise of anti-semitism

There is a reason why so many of my friends are posting these stories at the moment and it is not just because it is Holocaust Memorial time. It is because increasingly, we as Jews feel concerned about our future and the rise of anti-semitism throughout the world.

My brother, who works as an accountant in Manchester, was hit in the face last year at a Jewish delicatessen.  The motive of the assailant was that he was buying Israeli food.  The police were there and asked him whether he wanted to press charges.  All this for being Jewish and buying bagels.

My other brother lives in Southgate in London. The synagogue he takes his children to has had bricks thrown at it.

This is happening today in 2015 – and Jews are nervous again.  I believe in the old Churchill adage that “the further back you look, the further forward you are likely to see.” History could not be more relevant in today’s world.

Anti-Jewish coalition

Increasingly we have a bizarre anti-Jewish European coalition growing in Europe between radical Islamic views, the far right and the far left. They are different in many ways but they unify on one key point – seeing a common enemy in Israel, and by implication, Jews.  From George Galloway to Jean Marie Le Pen via Nicolas Anelka – they all share one core belief – that Israel and “the Jews” are at the heart of the “problem”.

In France we have a situation where Jean Marie le Pen and the founder of the “quenelle”, Dieudonne, have founded a strong anti-establishment voice which has a contempt for Jews and Israel at its heart.  The result: 35% of those under 35s in France voted for the Front National.

No wonder French Jews are leaving France.  Over the last year or so many French Jews have fled to two places: London and Israel.

Why London?  Because it is in the EU and is relatively easy to travel back to Paris to continue with their jobs.  But also Britain has a proven history of protecting minorities.  Jews have lived here for 360 years in relative peace.  My family have lived happily here and are testament to that.

Open arms

The vast majority however have gone to Israel.  Why?  Because it welcomes them with open arms and says “here we will look after you and we will die to protect you”

Of course this is not ideal as we share the land with another people.  I hope and pray that Israelis and Palestinians can live alongside each other in peace, with a Palestinian state founded alongside an Israeli one. Where both peoples can live freely.

Everyone should be able to walk freely without fear of intimidation and violence but currently we are walking a tightrope. As we remember the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we must commit to making sure that such hatred never takes hold of our world again.  As George Santayana put it “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Alan Bolchover lives in North West London with his wife and two children.

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False Profits: why all companies should pay the tax they owe – by Laura Taylor

Tax Dodging Bill campaignTax collectors had a pretty bad name in New Testament times. And perhaps rightly so. At the time, taxation represented subordination and injustice – collected by a Roman regime stripping wealth from the territories they occupied to fund the machinery of their empire.

Religious leaders of the day debated whether it was morally right to pay these taxes.  This is what led to the famous question put to Jesus in Mark’s gospel, to which he replied “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

The common good

In January, when many of us are racing to fill in our tax returns, we might have similar feelings about tax collectors. We are asked to part with our hard-earned cash and to hand it over to the government, in the trust/hope that they will spend it well.

While we may have some concerns about precisely what happens to the money, few would say that tax itself is an emblem of injustice. Rather, taxation can be one of the best ways in which a society can share its burdens, duties and responsibility to provide the goods and services we need for our mutual “common good”. It is tax that pays for schools, hospitals, and the protection of the vulnerable – the stuff that makes us a decent society.

Outrage

There has been huge indignation about the tiny amount of tax paid by many multinational companies, such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks.  People are outraged because it seems to be another example of the rich and powerful acting with disregard for the rest of society. But also, if like me you have visited a country where women face a two day walk to a hospital to give birth, or where children are taught in the open because not enough classrooms have been built, then you know just how much difference this money could could make to those in desperate need.

Changing the law

One of the common defences put forward is that the highly complex reporting processes that companies have put in place mean that what they are doing usually is not illegal. However, as the public outcry confirms, just because something is legal, it doesn’t mean that it is moral.

Of course, boycotting Amazon or Starbucks is one way we can express our fury at a personal level but, as the law is meant to set out a society’s common view of morality, then if we don’t like what’s going on, then we need to push for a change in the law, and ask the government to close some of the loop holes which let companies get away with this.

A Tax Dodging bill

A campaign has launched this week which is seeking to do just that. A group including Church Action on Poverty, Church Urban Fund, Christian Aid and the Quakers, as well as Oxfam, the NUS and others, are asking all political parties to introduce a Tax Dodging Bill in the first 100 days after the election. This Bill would tackle some of the loopholes and could help make billions more available to tackle poverty both in the UK and overseas.  You can read more about it and sign up here.

Tax may have felt like an injustice in the Roman empire 2000 years ago. But fighting for tax justice looks a bit different today. Rowan Williams summed it up well recently when he said:

“The campaign for tax justice has a moral foundation. A just society expects companies to contribute their fair share towards the common good. When some multinational companies find ways to manipulate their profits to avoid paying tax where it is owed, this has a real and direct impact on others, particularly the poorest.”

Laura Taylor is Head of Advocacy at Christian Aid.

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