See – Judge – Act as Christians Together

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Vice Chair of the Society for Ecumenical Studies shares his Reflection of the Month for July.

See – judge – act is a much-recommended rule of thumb for anyone working in pastoral ministry across Christian traditions. All of us, from whatever church, are in this together as a local body of Christians in a particular place. All of our congregations, parishes, dioceses, presbyteries, synods, or whatever we call our collective body, are rooted in a village, town or city, providing pastoral care for those all around us. Moreover, we are all called not just to serve ‘our own’ but to be missionary disciples on the streets. Not just serving those who come to us, but going out to the margins of our neighbourhoods. It is there we are called especially to see, judge and act together for the flock Christ calls us to tend.

In the west end of London, we have an ecumenical association of church leaders who meet regularly to see, judge and act, and this is proving very fruitful. Just before Easter, we formed a coalition on something we feel passionate about, namely the tragedy of more and more women and men sleeping rough on the streets. For years we have all been reporting what we see daily, and nightly, and now, feeling so strongly the Christian voice needed to be added to that of many campaigning for action to end rough sleeping, we judged that we must use any influence we have to urge elected Members of Parliament to act.

As all our congregations are involved in direct service to the homeless and advocacy work for them, we recognise the complex nature of the issues. However, we judged together that there was one key issue on which we could campaign, namely the proposed legislation attached to the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill through Parliament. It was clear to us from our work on the ground that the proposals to give new powers to arrest and fine rough sleepers for begging would do nothing to help end rough sleeping and only further alienate those we know and serve whose dignity has already been all but lost. An open letter to our two MPs from all the Christian congregations in the west end got an immediate positive response. Nickie Aiken and Keir Starmer committed themselves to do all they could to stop this legislation from going through.

Sometimes elected officials are just waiting for those in leadership in local communities to inform them of what they see so we can as a society judge and act together. On this issue, there has been a similar outcry from homeless agencies and other campaigning groups. Thankfully the proposals have been put on hold following a debate in Parliament. However, this matter, along with many others, is something local Christians together must keep watching closely as a new government is formed. This issue and many others are matters for Christians to take up as they reveal how we conceive society and its basis on justice and human dignity.

Christians together should not then be shy of getting involved in politics. Rather we are called to do all we can to create a society built on the values of the Kingdom of God. The new Parliament will be formed of many Christian MPs and others who are waiting for Christians together to represent those whom society often wants to consign to the peripheries. In this new Parliament, we must as Christians together recommit ourselves as fully as we can to bring the cause of the poorest to the centre of the political agenda as the ones to whom Christ himself wants to show his special care.

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, is Vice Chair of the Society for Ecumenical Studies and member of the Department of Dialogue and Unity Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, Parish Priest at Farm Street Church, London, Lecturer in Theology at St Mary’s University, and Chair, Justice & Peace Commission, Diocese of Westminster.