Insight

Welcome to the blog of Commissioner Clive Adams. Leader of The Salvation Army United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland
 
 

Politically Correct

4 March 2013 - 3:30pm
| by Clive Adams
|

"Justice... do you rulers know the meaning of the word? Do you judge people fairly?"

This question is posed by David in Psalm 58. The Message - a version of the Bible written by Eugene Peterson - renders it in a way that immediately turns our thoughts to a "safe place" - where the focus is away from ourselves and our context. He says: "Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house?"

When I read that, my instinct is to take refuge in head-shaking, tongue-clicking condemnation of despots in distant lands who abuse their power and seem bent on ruining their countries while enriching their coffers.

Do not misunderstand me - such abuse of power should be condemned and, whenever possible, as part of this global village we should make our voices heard to bring about change. However, by concentrating our focus "out there" too much, we can lose sight of the issues "in here" - in our own backyard.

There are challenges related to governance that need to be tackled in the United Kingdom. Sitting on a train a fortnight ago I sneaked a read of a byline in a newspaper read by a fellow-passenger. The article declared that politicians were among the least trusted professions in the UK. It is tempting to go into cynical mode; to joke about politicians as we do about other professions - such as lawyers and, yes, ministers of religion.

But there is a serious element to this claim, which is too serious to place in the context of a joke! Whether it is justified or not, politicians are expected to behave incorrectly and there is an apathetic acceptance of such a status quo - an inevitability about a scandal breaking, whether it is caused by corruption, loutish behaviour, immorality or the ultimate form of political incorrectness, politicians who do not follow their own politics, policies and/or pronouncements. We do not seem to be surprised by seeing the photograph of yet another politician splashed across the dailies.

This is as sad as it is serious and, perhaps, material for a future blog, but I want to pose David's question to our politicians in regard to the way poverty and homelessness is being defined in the UK. Unless one is registered - that is, goes through a not uncomplicated referral system - the State, through its delegated authority to the local municipalities, does not recognise one's need for shelter, for food, or for social benefits, in that people who have not gone "through the system" are denied help. So, a European, who by virtue of his nationality, has the right to be in Britain, does not have the right to receive even emergency assistance from a movement such as The Salvation Army. Nor does The Salvation Army have the right to provide such assistance because of contractual commitments to the local authority - if s/he is not 'registered'. This is a challenge in itself. But the rules even exclude Britons who do not fit the politicised criteria which defines and determines the "deserving poor". Even if we have an empty bed, a homeless person cannot be given that bed if he is not properly (read "bureaucratically") processed - The Salvation Army would be in breach of contract. "The poor" is therefore being defined as someone in need who has attained a bureaucratically-issued right to assistance.

The reality defies the definition.  Poverty is no respecter of persons: nationality, culture, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, registered or not - none of these aspects of our humanity by which we tend to define ourselves, are respected by the blight of poverty. Ask us, they come knocking at our doors daily.  No, the reality is that a homeless person is in need of a bed regardless as to whether the paperwork is in order or not. I am not comfortable with a system which excludes many who should benefit by it. In the name of common decency, neither should you be.

This year, the World Day of Prayer had as it theme, "I Was A Stranger, And You Welcomed Me". It comes from a powerful passage in Matthew (25:31-40) in which Jesus identifies himself, not with the stranger, but as the stranger. No greater definition of poverty exists for the follower of Jesus. Earlier, in Luke's Gospel (10:29-37) Jesus had extended - as opposed to constricted - the parameters of "those we need to help" by stating that the needy stranger is our neighbour. That's the only kind of definition of poverty to which the Church should subscribe!

If you need shelter from the cold tonight, your right to shelter should not be determined by the documentation you have managed to secure. Any legitimate appeal by someone in genuine need of help should be met - it's the human thing to do; it's the humane thing to do; it's the neighbourly thing to do; it's the Christian thing to do. It's what the Church is called to do; it's what The Salvation Army was raised up to do!

Come on, Whitehall - you can do better than this. Let's prove to the rest of Europe that we know what justice is. Because treating our neighbours with dignity, respect and justice is political correctness in its purest form.

                  \\\\\|/////
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"It is in the quiet crucible of your
personal, private sufferings that
your noblest dreams are born, and
God's greatest gifts are given to
compensate for what you've been
            through!"
      (Wintley Phipps)

Blessings,
Clive T. Adams
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           ooo0            (     )
            (     )              ) /
              \ (              (_)
               \_)

 

Comments

Submitted by Jonny Smith on

10 years as the officer of Southwark, 100 metres (ish) from thq, and what I witnessed in that time was both heartbreaking and life changing. Daily people who were NRPF, who were in desperate need, we're given love, the basic provisions, conversation and a very warm welcome, yet we had no access to hostels. We got involved in a churches together night shelter initiative, which saw many given a bed for the night, yet still so many people we witnessed who could not receive help from our hostels. Is it just happening in the inner London boroughs? No. As an officer in the Wood Green Salvation Army we witness the same problems, offering the same, but limited in offering beds within our hostels to those who do not fit the 'correct' criteria. May God guide you commissioner as you wrestle with this, and many more issues, but I pray that you will be used, like so many, to bring us back to our calling, which is why we were raised!

Submitted by Graeme Smith on

What a wonderful and refreshing stance to hear the leader of The Salvation Army in this country posting this challenging piece. Does this mean we can expect to see The Salvation Army lobbying publically for a change in the policies of the current government so that they are able to provide shelter to those who have not secured the necessary documentation?

Alternatively, is there space for The Salvation Army to provide accommodation regardless of a person's status and to put the necessary expense into it should our appeals fall on deaf ears in the ivory towers of Westminster?

Submitted by David Cavanagh on

Dear Commissioner,

Whitehall certainly needs to do better. Do we? Are we talking to the people who count in the corridors of power? I assume we are. If results are unsatisfactory or slow, is there a case for asking our PR people to air the issue, as you have here? Is there a case for a campaign of "civil disobedience" where we do the humane thing and give beds to those without documents if they need them? I know these are complex issues, and those are not rhetorical questions...God bless you and The Salvation Army in the UK as you grapple with these questions

David Cavanagh
Major
Italy & Greece Command

Submitted by Shaun Skinner on

A great encouragement to someone who has worked in SASS for a number of years I know the frustration that you speak of from my experiences. We do need to become more independent of government and bureaucracy

Submitted by paul scott on

You have been quick to see these flaws Clive and hopefully challenge those who make such rules.
God bless you for writing such an honest and brave blog.

Submitted by Rob Little on

Our new TC writes well - and honestly about such difficulties. This is what happens when we take the governments cash; 'he who pays the piper, calls the tune'. And we cannot fulfil all our obligations with doing so. So here's an idea; when our LifeHouses 'bid' for cash from their local councils,how about the SA retaining control of 10% of the beds/rooms...so the local Managers can control whether s/he offers them to a 'bureaucratically processed' person in need or to any who come their way not so processed. Just as in our personal health regime we should restrict our intake of processed foods, let's always retain at least 'some' control' over the accomodation we offer. Unless we can refuse the governments cash (best option) then let's offer a 'tithe' for the 'submerged tenth' that Wm Booth was so interested in. It seems an appropriate and good Biblical approach - that happily sits with our SA historical view. I commend it to you Commissioner. (And you are, sir, very welcome here. Please speak your Christ-motivated-heart to any politicians with whom you engage. Social 'JUSTICE' needs a higher profile from the UKT. Lead us. God Bless you.)

Submitted by Nick Coke on

This is a refreshing and prophetic read. Have you considered a press release on this story? We come across daily on the streets of Stepney and Whitechapel people facing exactly the issues you raise. Something has to be said loudly and publicly and who better than the SA?

Submitted by Tom Jones on

Thank you for the challenge, Commissioner!

Rob Little's comment above encapsulates well my thinking. I agree with what you said at your installation, Commissioner, that we shouldn't get hung up about some abstract notion that we want Booth back, but there are principles of his which we have forgotten and which hold good.

The extent to which the Army, like other Christian churches, has neutered its own prophetic voice because of the 'golden handcuffs' of state funding, is to me a significant part of the problem. It is harder to lobby Government when you are their contractor. Whatever toys they buy you, you can only play their games with. Booth's willingness to take money from anywhere was matched only by his reluctance to be hamstrung by others' agendas.

If the 'third sector' in this country declined to provide the state with a charitable 'front' for what it wanted to buy, would the state make its brand of provision in its own name? I doubt it, because it does not have the depth of resources which we have - those which you cannot buy. Rather, it could be a watershed at which the state was made to recognise the motives that make us tick, and which turned the relationship associated with the funding of social care for the most vulnerable into one more equally yoked, which showed faith in our stewardship of finite resources and care for the vulnerable, rather than merely in our ability to meet the terms of a contract and do as we are told.

Perhaps at that, the Army needs to consider lobbying for the 'big society' to be manifest in such a way as to give individual charitable giving, and not taxation and state appropriation, primacy in how we fund help for the submerged fifth in today's 'Darkest England'. To do so we would have to accept that we might need to become unpopular once more.

It would be an interesting 'Big Collection' that rested its public appeal explicitly on raising money to fund the things that the state won't, which we would like to provide but otherwise can't...

Submitted by John Mclean on

Thank you commissioner, refreshing and inspiring, may we all rise up and speak out for those who have no voices

Submitted by Graeme Smith on

Just want to say that this blog needs to be more visible on the UKT homepage. I only discovered it because of a tweet and it would be a shame for this not to be read by a much wider audience!

Submitted by David Craik on

What a refreshing article. I pray you are able to bring some influence to bear on the issue.

I had the privilege to be involved in the launch of a "homeless" drop-in at Peterborough SA some 5 years ago. We stepped it in faith not knowing what response we would get. Maybe 10 or so? The first evening with little broadcasting of the service 35 folks entered our doors for a nourishing hot meal, shower, clothing etc. it was not long before the numbers reached 80+ looked after by an army of volunteer helpers from the worshipping community and external community.
There was no attempt to restrict entry despite knowing there there must have been those who were not "homeless" and taking a free ride. However I always felt we were led to provide for the "whosoever"!
A reprimand from THQ about not wishing to work with the LA and effectively undermining their efforts to clear the streets of homeless was disappointing.theres much more which could be said about that debate.
As much as we developed a good relationship with the LA the application of strict homelessness definitions or refusal to "engage" plus a major repatriation programme for the many Eastern Europeans in the city ultimately reduced the numbers to less than 5 and frankly ended the service.
I understand the arguments around engagement however for me and I know others it "beauracracy" you describe was counter to the desire to give comfort, friendship and love to the sometimes not very loveable souls. However I believe we offered a trusting, safe and non-accusing environment.
I am pleased to have been associated with the venture and there were successes along the way.
I wish you well in renegotiating the "social contract(s)".

Submitted by Kevin Fenton-Herring on

Very interesting article and i agree entirely about the nonsense of the situation.
However, i do wonder whether it might be time for a full review of SA involvement in Homelessness in the UK.
The SA is now one of a number of agencies in this sector and many of the individuals now homeless have other issues and addictions which lead to their continuing on the streets.
I wonder if the time has come for the SA to become a referral service to other agencies rather than devoting the enormous resource that we do every year to this particular section of society.
While i dont seek to detract from the fantastic and worthy work given in this sector i wonder if our resources could also be spent in other areas affecting a far larger percentage of our population such as helping the estimated 700,000 Londoners alone (not including all those others throughout the UK) who currently use the "services" of loan sharks, payday lenders and the numerous other short term debt lenders who ruin lives of ordinary families every day of the week with their disgusting interest rates.
The Salvation Army has banking and credit licences - is debt also not a scurge of our present age? What are we doing to help these people - some of whom, no doubt, we end up finding on the streets? How many lives could the SA change before homelessness by entering in to this market in a positive and low cost manner?
I am not discounting the fantastic work of our Homeless services or of the officers in inner London Corps who see the needs every day of the week of desperate homeless people.
However, I just wonder when the last time was that anyone dared ask whether we should still be devoting such enormous resource in this direction and whether we can achieve the same outcome for homeless people by inter-agency referral rather than current methods.
Kevin Fenton-Herring, Regent Hall

Submitted by Clive T. Adams on

The comments that appear here are both encouraging and inspiring - they speak to me of engaged, passionate and insightful people who are reflective about mission. Your comments are valued and we will consider carefully how we can continue to partner government - because as responsible followers of Jesus we should be "wise as serpents" in our contact with the secular, while simultaneously seeking to address the injustices we encounter - because as christian citizens we should hold government to account for what is their responsibility. Finding a healthy, effective balance in this role of being Jesus' hands and voice requires the wisdom of the Spirit. So, keep praying as well as thinking! And feel free to share where your thoughts are led.

Submitted by Garry Smith on

Commissioner Adams, welcome to the UK Territory and thank you for opening up your blog for public comment. As a committed Salvationist and one that has worked at THQ within the areas on which you touch in this blog, I think both you and those who have commented have hit on the dilemma that The Salvation Army faces in this age.

On one hand there has always been the drive to, in our Founder's words "go and do something", to reach out in God's name to people who are hurting in our World. We are stirred up to do more and to expand our work. However at the same time we have limitations to our resources, as you will know only too well having studied our accounts and budgets. There are many and varied demands calling for our limited resources, all with merits - even within our Social Work there are demands for funds from homelessness, older peoples services, learning disabilities, addictions, human-trafficking. If we look wider at the scope of the UKT you will hear cries for more funding for our children's ministries, youth work, family tracing, music ministries, evangelism - let alone any statutory requirements to comply with things like health and safety and keeping our property assets in good repair.

It is therefore no wonder that over the years there have been cries for us to take whatever Government money is out there to support and expand our work - indeed my first ever appointment at THQ was in 1996, at the old Social Services Headquarters in Judd Street as "Statutory Funding Officer" so it is not a new thing for us to seek out Government funds to support and develop our work. However these funds always come with strings attached, limitations that tie our hands and constrain the way we work and who we work with.

The good news for you is that as our TC and Chairman of Cabinet and SATCO - your voice will be loudest in leading us in whatever way you consider best - if you wish to free us up from the shackles of bureaucracy and untie our hands so that we can work with whomever God leads to us, then it can be done - HALLELUJAH!

However the bad news for you is that our own resources are limited, and therefore if you are to free up resources to cover for the withdrawal of statutory funds you will undoubtedly have to withdraw funds from some other area of our existing work. Maybe that will mean withdrawing from another area of social work, closing some corps, scaling back some of our children's, youth or musical work. All or any of these will cause pain to those for whom this is their passion and they will lobby you and your team against it (as they have done to your predecessors when they have suggested closures and withdrawals in the past).

May God grant to you discernment to know the right path to take and the best use of the limited resources now entrusted to your stewardship.

Garry Smith, Chelmsford

Submitted by Ian Loxley on

Commissioner, I am so encouraged to read your comments and I warmly welcome your commitment to call our Government to account.
It could be that the model of a local congregation responding to need should be revisited. I share something of the initiative that I have been privileged to be part of over recent years, in the hope that it might encourage others who have been stirred by God’s Spirit and challenged by the lack of provision for the most marginalised in society.
I write from the context of The Salvation Army corps in Bedford, where we grapple on a regular basis with the issue of not being able to find accommodation for homeless people. Some have ‘no recourse to public funds’, some are barred because of their track record of inability to conform to expected behaviour patterns, and there are a myriad of other reasons why they are without accommodation. All are our brothers and sisters who deserve to be welcomed as we would welcome Jesus Christ.
At Bedford we were able to accommodate an average of 14 people on the coldest 33 nights of the 2012-13 winter. The provision is basic; a cooked meal, blankets on the hall floor on which to sleep and a light breakfast in the morning. Over the last 7 years the bureaucracy involved with providing this service has grown out of all proportion, to the point of almost stifling the initiative. However as Christians in a Salvation Army context we took the decision provide this service for the poorest of the poor, and we are determined to continue. We take funding from the local government but we maintain the right to take in any who we believe would otherwise be sleeping outside.
The night shelter which opens whenever the temperature is forecast to fall below zero is part of a multi-faceted corps programme. An earlier contributor referred to the misery caused by loan sharks, payday lenders etc., and we are blessed to be able to provide a professional debt advice service where the full-time manager is currently funded by a local grant making trust. In these services and along with everything else we offer, our aim it to be true to true to gospel of Jesus Christ which is for the ‘whosoever’. We are not just providing a meal, a place to sleep for the night, or debt advice – we are offering Jesus Christ. This comes about because Christians see a need on their own doorstep and actively respond to that need, being compelled by their conviction to be Christ in their neighbourhood.
Our prayers are with you, Commissioner, as you seek to influence our Government and as you lead our Territory. Pleased be assured that we are not only praying for you but are seeking to do what The Salvation Army was raised up to do.

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