Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Launch of Christian |Action on Tax Justice

Church Action for Tax Justice – Launch 17thApril 2018

Michaela Youngson
President Designate of the Methodist Conference
Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church

Tax is one of those subjects that many people in the church find it difficult to engage with – sometimes it’s because we can’t get our heads round the numbers involved or understand the legal framework we are working in, other times it is just that we find talking about money at all unpalatable – yet Jesus did not hold back when it came to talking about money or calling for justice, and the early church demonstrated an active commitment to a fair distribution of wealth.

I would like to affirm that the Methodist Church believes strongly paying tax fairly within both the letter and the intent of the law and to a best ethical approach in terms of our own investments and is working towards ensuring that the organisations we invest in and do business with demonstrate rigour and good practice.

By supporting the establishment of Church Action for Tax Justice, the Methodist Church demonstrates our commitment to working in partnership with others in campaigning for changes in the law, when the law and its application fail to deliver justice.

The most obvious reason for taxation is to pay for the services we need to enable our society to function and even flourish. As a Church leader in London and a resident in the Borough of Brent I can see first-hand how, when resources are not distributed fairly, then wider injustice is an inevitable outcome.  

We know that decisions regarding public funding have a direct consequence on events on the ground. This has come sharply into focus in the last few weeks as we have heard with horror, the number of young people murdered on the streets of London. For those of us leading funerals, supporting the bereaved and cleaning up the blood from our pavements, decisions made about how to use tax revenues for public services are not a matter of theory, rather they are a matter of life and death.

Straightforward questions about the number of police and community support officers on our streets are being asked. Questions about the eradication of publically funded youth work, the pressure on mental health services in particular and the NHS in general are being asked. The answers offered are not straightforward and the ideal of subsidiarity becomes a means of passing the blame to local decision makers, whilst ceasing to pass them the bucks they need to meet the needs of their communities in a fair and well-resourced way.

According to Trust For London's Poverty profile, 37% of children in London and 42% in inner city boroughs, live below the poverty line.[1]For this to be true in the capital city in one of the world’s six richest nations is a disgrace. 

When we link the words ‘tax’ and ‘justice’ we move from a neutral ethical position to an engagement with inequalities, not just in London of course, but across the UK and globally. Good, ethical tax policies support people in times of need and allows them to contribute to building communities in which all can flourish. 

My hope for Christian Action on Tax Justice is that it will help churches to understand the gospel-inspired call to justice, through fair taxation, that can lift people from the traps of inequality and exclusion. I hope we can shift the narrative around tax away from it being a dirty word, or a necessary evil, but rather a blessing and a means of all citizens having a stake in a generous society that cares for all.  

Friday, 30 March 2018

Good Friday - Pause for thought

Pause for Thought

Good Friday 2018

One of my favourite memories is, as an 18 year old, spending time on a camping holiday in southern France. I remember visiting the beautiful medieval citadel at the heart of the city of Carcassone. Ancient walls wrap around the citadel on top of a hill, and in between the walls are tiny streets full of stall holders and shops, selling crafts and fabulous French food to tourists who flock to the city in their thousands.

Carcassone has been in the news over the last week because of the heroic actions of one of its citizens, Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame, the gendarme who willingly took the place of a hostage in a dangerous siege in Trèbes. The gunman had already killed three people before setting up with hostages in a supermarket. Lt Col Beltrame, walked unarmed into the situation. Most of us can hardly imagine the courage it must have taken to do such a thing and we wonder what would motivate someone to lay down their life for another person. Things ended tragically for Arnaud Beltrame and the people of France have rightly been paying tribute to his heroism in the last few days.

Good Friday is the day when Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ and we remember his self-giving act of love, that ended in his crucifixion. I believe he was killed because he spoke up for those who were downtrodden, for poor and sick people, children and women. Those in power did not like such courageous honesty; they enjoyed their privilege and Jesus was a threat to their comfort and to the status quo. 

As with the French Gendarme, we wonder what would lead someone to be so brave – the only answer I can find is love. There is no greater love than to give one’s life for a friend – the love which motivated Jesus to be willing to die did not end when Jesus was laid in the tomb. I believe that beyond the resurrection, beyond the story that is now 2,000 years old, the same love continues. That love is in every act of kindness, every act of self-giving care and every time someone speaks uncomfortable truth to those in power. Surely it was love that was at the heart of Arnaud Beltrame’s actions – and it is love that makes it possible to keep going even in the face of great loss. The Christian festival of Easter celebrates that love defeats hate and, in the end, is more powerful than death. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sermon for Notting Hill Methodist Church following the Grenfell Fire.

Sermon: Notting Hill Methodist Church
(with thanks to Rachel Lampard and Roger Walton for their statement, which informed this sermon.)

18 June 2017

Since Wednesday morning many words have been written in news columns and on social media. Words have been spoken on radio and television. Words have been shouted in protest and pain. Words have been whispered by those who have wandered dazed past this building, lost, frightened and bewildered. Perhaps too many words have been spoken and we cannot bear any more but it is the role of the preacher to use words to hold up a mirror to what is happening, to paint a picture of what might be if the kingdom of God were to come to reality and to point people to the glimpses of God’s presence somewhere in all the mess.

I find myself lost for words today – how do we honour those who have lost their lives? How do we do justice to the grief of the bereaved? How can we express our righteous anger? How do we respond to the unholy horror of it all?

The prophets of the Old Testament lived among a people from whom everything had been taken and they responded to horror and injustice by joining in the lament of the people. That is where we as a faith community find the beginnings of a response – to be alongside people and hold silence. To sit with people. To listen to them. To pray and lament for and with them. To offer care and to be silent as we feel the loss, the pain, the fear, the anger. Many people have been doing just that in these last few days. The space outside our church, the public boards and gathering points, covered in candles, flowers, messages, drawings from children – all this is how we join in the lament of the bruised, the broken, the lost and the dismayed.

Listening is no passive thing – listening honours the other person, it allows them to be, it gives space to hear their story, it says “You matter and what you have to say matters to me.” Listening can lead to change. It can motivate action, it can begin to shift the narrative and bring justice and compassion into the centre of the picture. Many people in our community have not felt listened to – have felt ignored – not necessarily by individuals but by the combined weight of a system that seems designed to work against them.

The rich and powerful of the prophets’ time did not listen to the calls of the poor for justice, because to listen would have been to put their own desires aside in order to respond to the call for a righteous society, where the widow, the orphan and the refugee would be offered shelter, would be given access to the law and would have a share in the resources of the land.

We as a community share in the role of the prophets – firstly to share in the lament of the people – to give space for grief, for dismay, for anger. We are also called to share in the prophetic task of speaking truth to those in power, to hold a mirror up to our society that reflects back just how things are. The prophet Amos railed against those who offered empty gestures and platitudes but continued to oppress the poor – he demanded justice, he painted a picture of what the world could look like if people paid attention to the needs of others. He, like the other prophets, was filled with righteous anger.

And today we are angry. Anger is not to be dismissed or condemned. There is much to be angry about. People will feel angry at God. Angry at those who had the power to act, but didn't. At a society which values less those who are the poorest or most disadvantaged.

We are often afraid of anger. We too often cling to an image of Jesus as "meek and mild". But we also see Jesus in the temple, who was angry to the point of overturning tables. Yet this was not an act of violence but a symbolic expression of anger in the prophetic tradition, disrupting the actions of those who would discriminate against and exploit the poorest at the door of God's house.

We should be angry at the kind of injustices emerging from this catastrophe: the underinvesting in the well-being of the poorest and the ignoring of their concerns. And we should all repent where we have been complicit with injustice in the past.

We need to find a way to channel our anger that will give us the energy, passion and commitment we need for the long road towards healing that lies ahead. The anger of Jesus is focused not on retaliation but on the righting of injustice. Matthew tells how, after the overthrowing of the tables, the blind and the lame came to Jesus, the very people who had been excluded from the temple by those with power. They came to Jesus and they were healed. Jesus's anger led to justice. It showed that a different way was not only possible, but was required of the people who followed him.  

In the midst of lament – God is with us, weeping, knowing what it is to watch helplessly as his child was brutally disposed of at the hands of the Roman war machine.

In the midst of anger – God is with us, roaring with pain and frustration that over millennia humanity is still getting this so wrong.

In the midst of our actions for justice and our longing for the world to be different – God is with us.

I know you will want to shout at me – how can God be in the midst of this? I have asked the same question and I do not have a simple answer to that – as a person of faith I can only look for those glimpses of God’s presence in the midst of this godless mess.

I see God in the actions of the firefighters and the police – in the willingness of people to risk their own lives to save others. I see God in the skills and devotion of the medical teams who were on the scene and in hospitals and of those who ran towards the Grenfell Tower to help in whatever way they can.

I see God in the mountains of clothes, toys, toiletries and rivers of bottled water that arrived in this building and other centres, and in the many thousands of pounds people are donating – these are the love gifts of those who like us all feel the need to do something in the midst of helplessness.

I see God in the faces of the volunteers working endless hours to move goods, to drive vehicles, to make gallons of tea, to do what needs doing.

I also see God in the work of those quietly getting on behind the scenes in supporting families, in setting up the infrastructure that will be needed to care for them.

It is not for us as a faith community to offer platitudes about God’s love in this time – those words will seem empty – it is our job to demonstrate God’s love in action. We have done that already, side by side, with this community – our community. It is our job to stand in solidarity with those who call for justice. It is our job to be in this for the long haul; there are wounds that do not heal and we will need to keep tending those who carry the loss and the trauma of these days for many years to come. The cameras will leave, the gifts will dwindle and stop, the strange glamour that draws people to travel miles to stand and watch will fade. We will remain, listening, lamenting, naming injustice and working out how we play our part in making this world reflect God’s desire for a righteous and inclusive community of love.

We know what is required of us – we need the courage to take up the task. What does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God? Now is a time to cling to those words, realise that they demand of us repentance for our past actions and present privileges, and to commit ourselves to love without measure, act for justice whatever the cost, and do so whilst walking humbly with a God of love and justice.

Michaela Youngson

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Statement in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower

Statement and Prayer from the London District Chairs in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower

It is with shock and dismay that we woke up to the news of the fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Hill this morning. This has taken place in a densely populated, vibrant part of our city and the tower block has been the home of many families. Notting Hill Methodist Church is close to the fire and within the cordon established by police. Superintendent Minister of the Notting Hill Methodist Circuit, Mike Long, visited rescue centres this morning to see what help the Church might offer. The facts of the cause of the fire and the events that followed will take time to emerge and the effects on the local community will be long-term and far-reaching. As a District we will do all we can to support the local church as it works with the community in the weeks and months to come.

Gracious God
We pray for those caught up in the fire at Grenfell Tower,
for casualties, for the wounded, for the missing and the traumatised.
We pray for the emergency services and for those who are responsible for co-ordinating the response to this major incident.
In despair bring hope
In injury bring healing
In fear bring comfort.
In our helplessness be our strength.
In your mercy hear our prayers.
In Christ’s name.

Michaela Youngson and Nigel Cowgill

Chairs of the London District of the Methodist Church