At some points in our lives we find ourselves asking deep questions about our identity, our purpose and our mortality. The need for answers or, at least, pointers become urgent as we try to make sense of our lives, our relationships and our work.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
Christians believe that every human being is made in the image of God and is loved deeply by God. We believe that each individual is of immeasurable worth despite our shortcomings and failings, our flaws and our inadequacies. We also believe that God has made us to know God in a way that is amazingly fulfilling, liberating and challenging.
Throughout the ages, God has invited us to this life of trust and faith by showing what kind of God he is through the beauty of creation, through the way of life (The Law) he gave to the Jews and through prophets: most particularly and fully, through Jesus of Nazareth whose whole life and death shows us who God is and what God is like.
The beginning of faith is to trust in this loving God who knows us more profoundly than we know ourselves.
And from that initial step a journey that will last a life begins.
As we travel, we believe the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen us, leading us to discover more and more of God’s love and also to a place of beauty, wholeness and peace.
A ‘place of beauty, wholeness and peace’ within our life. That must be the dream of every human being (even though they may never consider using such words).
For a great many people such a dream ought to be the consequence of political activity and Government action. Sadly, for many people, that is not reality. Day after day, countless numbers of our fellow citizens, whether elderly or young, endure situations, at work or within their home, more akin to ‘nightmare’ than ‘dream’; and a far cry from any ‘beauty, wholeness or peace’.
As these words are written, the campaign to elect the next Scottish Government at Holyrood is in full swing. For what seems like weeks, political leaders have been traversing the country indulging in all manner of activities both meaningful and fun. This is their ‘meet the people’ time. It is also a time for the electorate to meet them and, in doing so, congratulate what has successfully been achieved while ensuring the candidates fully realise where they have fallen short of past promises and what people really need improved in their lives.
WE NEED TO SPEAK UP AND OUT
This is an enormous task and one which is vitally important for our democratic form of governance. Not everyone has the ability or given the opportunity to speak ‘up and out’ however. More often than not, that means people who are, for whatever reason, most vulnerable or low on life’s wealth rung remain unheard and/or unheeded.
The Holy Ministry of the Christian Churches embraces all political affiliations and allegiances. However, while I may hold strong personal political opinions, I deliberately refrain from promoting any ‘party’ line either in my preaching or writing.
CHURCH’S ESSENTIAL ROLE
AS SOCIETY’S CONSCIENCE
That being said, given all I have written about our Christian belief in the immeasurable worth of each individual and how each individual is part of God’s creation: made in God’s own image, I profoundly believe the Church has a primary and fundamental responsibility to speak up and out for those unable to do so for themselves. Society, simply, does not recognise an alternative voice of conscience.
NATIONAL SCANDAL OF GROWING CHILD POVERTY
One issue on which the Churches must speak up and out (and there are a number!) is the growing and continuing scandal of child poverty in Scotland.
Today, more than 1 in 5 (210,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. In 2013/14 the proportion of children in poverty in Scotland was 22%. This is a level that is significantly higher than in many other European countries.
What is really worrying about such statistics is the forecast by the greatly respected Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) which expects a massive increase in child poverty with up to 100,000 more children living in poverty in Scotland in 2020 than in 2012. (This forecast does not take into account Policy announcements affecting working age benefits made since 2014).
The effect of child poverty should never be underestimated. It can so easily undermine the health, wellbeing and potential educational attainment of children. Not to mention its wider cost for society by way of long term losses to the economy.
The fact that this exists at all in 21st Cy Scotland is a national disgrace.
Politicians throwing money at school development that is not targeted at spending on Early Years programmes, will make little impact on the alleviation of child poverty other than gain a cheap headline or two. Nor does much good come from Scottish Government discussion papers that lack strategic priorities or actions.
Such is the seriousness of this reality detrimentally affecting young peoples’ lives that at the very least, political cross-party co-operation working in partnership and taking heed of those who suffer most (charity professionals, perhaps, being their ‘voice’ if need be) is urgently needed. For one thing is certain: unless people in poverty are included, all attempts to develop a better and fairer Scotland will fail.
The Church in Scotland has a long history of campaigning against poverty and injustice. Given its vocation, how could it be otherwise? The Church in Scotland must not fail the people of Scotland now. Jim Gibson.