People are people

 
It’s one of those New Testament stories which many people who aren’t particularly familiar with the Bible know. Acts 9 tells us how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who had been zealously persecuting the Followers of The Way (soon to be called Christians), was travelling to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus asking why he was persecuting Him. Saul then met a Christian in Damascus called Ananaias who placed his hands on Saul, who then regained his sight (scales literally fell from his eyes, where the saying comes from). Saul changed his name to Paul, made it his mission to spread the Good News of Jesus to as many as possible and, in doing so, ended up writing most of the New Testament.

It is the most amazing, dramatic story of redemption; one which has served as an example of hope to Christians for 2000 years. It has always been seen as the most startling example of a life transformed by the risen Christ.

Today, however, there may be stories coming out which are almost, if not equally as amazing. Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in the Middle East have reported a former fighter with ISIS who started dreaming about Jesus telling him he was killing His people. This man was so affected by this and other things which happened, including a Christian who gave him his Bible before being killed, that he has run away from ISIS and given his life to Christ.

The article in the link suggests, although only anecdotally, that this is not an isolated incident. If so, this is an amazing testament to the way people’s lives can really be changed by an encounter with Jesus and how even the hardest hearts can be softened. 

Now, I posted this link on Facebook and a friend of mine, perfectly understandably, pointed out that this makes no difference to those who have already been killed by the brutality of ISIS. He also commented that there was no redemption for those whose lives had been cut short. That is something I’d dispute, particularly in light of Jesus’ own words,

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭10-12‬ NIVUK)

What can be more righteous than refusing to bow down to such an evil doctrine as the warped version of Islam which ISIS espouse. Surely all those persecuted, and killed, by them have been blessed for doing the right thing. Surely their redemption is secure.

Those carrying out the persecution, however, are far from redemption. By redemption, I do not mean escaping from justice. Anyone who has carried out atrocities in the name of ISIS deserves to face justice, regardless of whether they now reject ISIS or not. However, their redemption as human beings, as children of God, as people welcomed into the Kingdom, is still possible if they do the same as the man who approached YWAM. The redemption they will receive, that this one man has received, is a spiritual redemption; one which shows the world that they are human beings, not monsters, and allows them to have the chance to do good with what remains of their lives.

Nothing will turn back the clock and undo the actions of persecutors, but God allows the slate to be wiped clean for every person, regardless of their actions,

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1‬:‭12-17‬ NIVUK)

Paul is the example here. A man whose actions were comparable with those of ISIS towards Christians, but without whom the Christian Faith may not have spread so successfully in those early days. He accepted what he once was, but also accepted what he had become was through God’s grace.

So, I’m choosing, as well as praying for the persecuted Church, to pray earnestly for their persecutors. These are human beings, broken and hate-filled human beings, but people created in God’s image as we all are. I pray that each and every one finally sees the true face of the God they claim to follow and turn away from theatre of destruction they have chosen. Lives can be changed and saved by this, I honestly believe this. Violence against these people doesn’t work, but maybe a true act of love can do.

Is this Britain?

 
 “We have a very clear message: we will provide support to those who need it, but the days of outrageous claims giving people incomes far above those of working families are over.”

These were the words of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith on the introduction of the £500 per week benefits cap in April 2013. The Tory initiative, egged on by their friends in the media, saw a reduction in the maximum amount a family could claim in benefits as, they said,

“a strong incentive for people to move into work and even before the cap comes in we are seeing thousands of people seeking help and moving off benefits.”

This cap, of course, ignored three main problems. Firstly, the big reason it was possible, apparently, for some people to live more comfortably on benefits than on a working wage was that wages are too low; over a fifth of workers in the UK earn less than the living wage.

Secondly, much of the money that the estimated 40,000 families claiming above the cap were eligible for was actually for Housing Benefit. In other words, they didn’t see a penny of it. All the money goes to landlords, already wealthy people in many cases who are directly profiting from the state.

Thirdly, and this is where I want to look at, getting a job is easier said than done for many. Especially those who have been out of work for a long time.

Meet Lee and Katrina Parker and their seven children from Colchester in Essex. Six years ago they were moved into a four bedroom house, at a rent of £930 per month, as a temporary measure by Colchester Borough Council. Unfortunately, at around the same time Lee was made redundant, shortly after switching jobs having worked for Asda for 13 years.

This was not a family who fit the tabloid stereotype of a couple banging out child after child and making the state pay. They were a working family, yes with a lot of children, but a working family nonetheless. And they fell on hard times, as can happen to any one of us.

Thankfully, they had a safety net, the Welfare State. Their rent was paid and money given for food etc. whilst Lee applied for jobs.

And more jobs.

And more jobs.

Hundreds of job applications, all of which were rejected.

Now, I don’t know why he was rejected for these jobs, but he was. He wasn’t sitting on his backside “sponging” off the state. He wanted to provide for his family. But, while it all came to nothing, that safety net was still there.

Until Mr Duncan Smith came along. £500 per month meant they couldn’t pay rent and feed the kids. As it was, as Katrina says, they dressed in second hand clothes, didn’t smoke or drink and didn’t take holidays. Now, however, they needed emergency help from the council just to pay the rent.

Then, last autumn, the discretionary payments stopped. The Parkers couldn’t cope financially and, at the end of May, they were evicted from their “temporary” home of six years.

A family of nine made homeless due to circumstances seemingly out of their control. In one of the richest countries in the world. A scandal, no?

Well, not according to Facebook,

   
     

A few sympathetic comments, but many taking delight in this family’s plight. Some making assumptions about how hard Lee had looked for a job. Some saying they chose this lifestyle. Some blaming immigrants (for no apparent reason). Some focusing on the fact that one of the girls had a laptop (possibly bought, but just as possibly borrowed or from her school).

I have not qualms in posting names next to the comments. The post this came from was public, as were their comments. They are, I presume, proud of their views.

I wouldn’t be, though. The sheer lack of humanity here is scary. This is not a story of someone wanting something for nothing. Lee worked before falling on hard times and has been looking for work ever since. This isn’t an underclass of people, it is a family of fellow human beings, including children who, if the article is to be believed, are working hard at school because they want to get on in life. 

If any one of those commenters (and there are over 35,000 of them) found themselves in difficult times, something which happens to any of us, they would want the taxes they have paid to help support them as they try to get back on their feet. That is where the Parkers find themselves.

This is the real failure in the morals of this country. Yes, there is a “me me me” attitude, but it is held by those who can afford to feel that way as they sneer at those less fortunate. They read their papers, see the stories on Facebook, watch the “poverty porn” on TV and listen to the rhetoric of IDS and they think that they are the deserving and those in trouble are the undeserving underclass. This is where we are at as a country, where our poorest are seen as less than human, deserving to be put out on to the streets, deserving our anger and scorn. They chose this because they are scum, goes the cry.

This is Cameron’s Britain. This is Murdoch’s Britain. This is the Daily Mail’s Britain. This is Iain Duncan Smith’s Britain.

This is not my Britain. Please don’t let it be yours.