Friday, 12 August 2011

Reflections on Riots and Finacial Markets

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God – Mth 5: 9

It is precisely at a time like this that we need to be reminded of the values of God’s just and peaceful rule which Jesus expounds as blessings - poverty, mourning, meekness, righteous desire, mercy, purity of heart and peacemaking (with persecution). These values, which we know as the as the beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel, are profoundly counter-cultural and challenging in times of peace and prosperity; they risk becoming mere sanctimonious escapism in times of crisis and anarchy.

However, they remain pivotal for us as Christians in the light of recent events in the UK and the global shocks in the financial system (which are not as unrelated as some would have us believe). Both are, after all, predicated on an economy of scarcity and greed which promotes voracious consumerism, possessive individualism and instant gratification as the norm. One could argue that the impact of high frequency trading and short selling on the stock markets, whilst legal, has reeked more havoc on the livelihoods of ordinary people all around the world than the localised pillaging and looting that has been taking place across England. Both are a product of our fascination with ‘wealth without work’ which Gandhi catalogues in his seven deadly social sins.

The beatitudes call for conversion to God’s economy of grace and generosity based on the ‘richness which is related to sufficiency.’ The following quote from an open letter written by the Asian churches to Western Christians during the Asian financial crisis in 1999 captures this sentiment very well:

Is there not in the western view of human beings and society a delusion, which always looks to the future and wants to improve it, even when it implies an increase of suffering in your own societies and in the South? Have you not forgotten the richness which is related to sufficiency?  If, according to Ephesians 1, God is preparing in human history to bring everyone and everything under the lordship of Jesus Christ, his shepherd-king Gods own globalization! shouldn't caring for and sharing with each other be the main characteristic of our lifestyle, instead of giving fully in to the secular trend of a growing consumerism? 
The answer to the rioting across London and other parts of England is not about more ‘visible and robust’ policing or ‘principled parenting’ in the first instance. It is about conversion from the delusion that our well-being consists in the abundance of our possessions to the fullness of life which Jesus offers in a life of love and service to others. This quality of life has been seen in the tragic aftermath of the riots by compassionate and caring neighbours and faith communities (often led by churches), but will never be realised by the fear, anger and calls for retribution which many are now demanding.

In the light of the loss of public trust in our political, civic, religious, financial and media institutions in the UK and the general loss of purpose and meaning among young people, we urgently need to develop the skill as churches of what the late John Stott called double listening - listening to the wisdom of the ancient Word and the pain of the modern world - and then enacting hope in our communities in the power of the Spirit!