Contemporary justice message needed, says Anglican economist

AUCKLAND — Economist and journalist Rod Oram has issued a challenge to Christians who advocate for social justice — that they update their message in contemporary, practical, new and exciting terms.
Mr Oram, a lay canon of the Anglican Church and a member of the Holy Trinity Cathedral chapter in Auckland, gave a talk entitled “Opportunity for all” on February 29 at Selwyn Library in Parnell.
It was the first in a series of four lenten talks under the heading “Injustice in our time — a faith response”, presented by Holy Trinity and St Patrick’s Cathedrals.
Mr Oram set out the economic, financial, resource and human challenges and risks facing the world and New Zealand in some detail, before discussing community and faith responses.
In issuing a challenge to apply “timeless faith, in terms of our understanding of God, as halting and imperfect as that is, to very contemporary responses, to action,” Mr Oram said he “gets really stuck” when he looks at how Christians talk about social justice matters to the rest of the world.
“I think we must seem incredibly boring. We are saying the right things — my faith in that is unshaken. We are saying the right things about that, but we are completely failing to express them in contemporary terms, in practical terms, and in new and exciting terms.”
He added that he said this with “huge respect” for those who work in social justice areas, but the terms used to communicate the message must be both radical and encouraging.
Mr Oram admitted he struggled with finding ways to express the powerful concepts of Christian faith in contemporary terms himself, but it is vital that Christians work at doing this, “then we are able to speak really with a power and a simplicity and a beauty” to all these issues.
He cited the writings of American biblical scholar Marcus Borg as examples.
In biblical terms, salvation is rarely about the afterlife, but is more about transformation this side of death. Redemption is about more than being freed from sin; in the Bible it is about being liberated from slavery, from under Pharaoh and from under unfair and inept economic systems.
Biblical righteousness is a collective virtue, a righteousness of the community. “So imagine a world of justice for all, in all of its various forms.”
Mr Oram said communities are the place for us to act upon our understanding of God, the latter including God’s “radical abundance” and the theology of the relationship between God, creation and ourselves.
Quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Mr Oram said “we are not consumers of what God has made, we are in communion with it”.
In a world growing ever more complex and with change happening at a faster and faster pace, strategies for a sustainable response need to start in communities. Mr Oram painted a picture of the sort of communities that have to be created if New Zealand and the world is not to fall into more social and economic dysfunction — we must develop communities capable of responding quickly to change, which draw on the skills, strengths and resources of all members, so that each one feels valued and part of them.
Such communities must have the courage to “move fast” in a rapidly changing world, but must also have compassion to “bring everyone along with them”.
“And that works if we have a sense of that infinite resource that we are, that God-given resource.”
Quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mr Oram warned against losing faith in humankind. That is the way to certain doom.
“So the challenge is to build those sorts of communities. To help those communities articulate and visualise and then realise their dreams.”

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Michael Otto

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