As the incarnation of progressive politics, Christ would be taking a stand against every evil, from the arms trade to Ukip. The Church of England needs to do the same
The Church of England has just announced that Libby Lane is to be the first female bishop – 22 years after the General Synod decided women could be priests.
Many of my generation have watched this slow change with a mixture of frustration and embarrassment as the church has made itself seem increasingly irrelevant. And yet the church is where I have found home, community, family and a life-changing faith.
For me, Jesus was the definition of progressive – preaching that the “last shall be first” and “blessed are the peacemakers”. He stood alongside women, sex workers and lepers, and changed many of the ways in which we understand society. As a reflection, the church must be progressive and radical in its practice and preaching.
I hope we can be on the right side of history in the future. So, all I want for Christmas is for the church to take the following five actions:
1. Disinvest immediately in fossil fuel companies
We cannot continue with business as usual if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, so the church must respond quickly to campaigns such as Bright Now, taking decisive action and divesting itself of its £60m investment in fossil fuel companies. At the moment, the church’s response to the call has been to say that it will study it until late 2015 – a period slightly longer than Jesus’s entire public ministry. Desmond Tutu, the Church of Sweden and the World Council of Churches have already clearly outlined both the theological and moral case for disinvestment, and the church must act accordingly.
2. Unmask intolerant Ukip language in the run-up to the general election
The church needs to call out scapegoating and stereotyping of migrant and refugee communities wherever these are seen, be it on posters or Newsnight. Jesus was a migrant – part of a displaced family who needed sanctuary – and traditionally many churches have been welcoming towards migrant populations.
However, in a tight election year, as the anti-immigration voice is given a platform by Ukip and even Labour, the church must go further, asking for increased support to moderate Islamic voices and proclaiming inclusivity and tolerance. Currently, the UK government has accepted just 90 Syrian refugees, according to Amnesty International – a completely unacceptable response to what has been called the worst refugee crisis since the second world war.
3. Understand the Bible in terms of its context and its history
We need to move towards reclaiming the liberating qualities of the Bible, which promotes feminism, gender and racial equality for marginalised communities. When we do this we will become the truly non-patriarchal and anti-oppressive voice that Jesus had: one that saw women and men as equal, and celebrated diversity. Initially the church must prioritise the voices of women and of the LGBT community, redressing the balance and providing a model for other faith communities around the world.
4. Actively oppose and campaign against austerity
We cannot be a progressive force for good unless we challenge the system. The current government has forced thousands into food poverty because of a neoliberal ideology of growth for the 1%. It is not enough to provide food banks, although these are greatly needed. The church must challenge the policies of austerity and see them for what they are: a systematic dismantling of the welfare state that damages the most vulnerable. We must stand with groups such as UK Uncut and Disabled People Against the Cuts who are offering workable alternatives to these policies.
5. Build peace and reconciliation worldwide to support the global poor
In the same way that we would condemn the violence against Christians in Iran or the Central African Republic, we must condemn the violence against Palestine by Israel. The church must sign up to the Kairos document, written by Christians in Palestine, which asks Christians worldwide to stand against injustice and apartheid, to work for peace in the region and to reconsider theologies that justify crimes against humanity.
The church should renounce any involvement in the arms trade, standing against fairs in this country such as the DSEI, the world’s largest arms fair, which is taking place in London in 2015. Standing alongside the global poor also means vocally and practically supporting liberation movements. From Venezuala to Ecuador to the Zapatista communities in Chiapas in Mexico, there are those who are fighting for a radical redistribution of global wealth. We don’t need to look very hard to find indigenous communities in the global south to which we could lend our voice.
A church that spoke and acted like this is a church that I, and many others of my generation, could recognise as representing the faith we follow and the Jesus who inspires us.
Hannah Martin lives in Brixton and tweets @Hannah_RM. This article was originally published today on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website