Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The social gospel?

"But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people. I am not the pigs. You’ve got to make a distinction" - Fred Hampton

I am a proletariat, and because I'm conscious of that fact I am necessarily a socialist and I am a revolutionary and so when I pick up my Bible and read it I read it as a conscious member of the proletariat and I'm looking for answers to proletariat questions.

If I continued to pick it up only in the way I'd been trained, in the way that has been handed down to us by the ruling classes, I'd be picking it up looking for the answers to questions I wasn't really asking. Abstract questions that I have very little time for. If I had continued to approach the Bible that way I would have probably given up on it a long time ago.

The ruling class have everything they need but they feel that their souls are troubled and so when they come to the Bible looking for salvation it's to save their souls alone. 

They may find it but they have to tread carefully, lest they fall into the hands of the real Jesus.

"The work of salvation is a reality which occurs in history" - Gustavo Gutierrez

The real Jesus, real salvation. What are these things? We exist in a material reality. We are not divided up into two, the body and the soul/spirit we are one. The real Jesus was one and was one with us and the real salvation is a plan to save the world.

"...creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies." - Romans 8:21 - 23

The ruling class' have done their best to spiritualise away the true message of the Bible, that is to divide it, to divide it away from the everyday experiences of the majority of people on this planet and to confine it to a false prison, the soul. But read the above, isn't it creation that is to be liberated, isn't it our bodies that wait eagerly to be redeemed?

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." - Luke 4: 18-19

In the ruling class' message of salvation it is essential that the prisoners and the blind and the oppressed are only imprisoned, blind and oppressed in a spiritual sense. In the real gospel of salvation we take Jesus at his word.

"What if Jesus meant what he said?" - Shane Claibourne

If Jesus meant what he said then the good news of the gospel is the announcement of the coming Kingdom of God. A revolutionary society in which those who are now first will be last, a society that has literally abolished death, sadness and pain (Revelation 21:4). This is not 'heaven' for after we die, it's the world transformed and turned upside down (Revelation 11:15). The mission of the church is to embody it now and to and fight for it. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are radical incarnations of the future - the future Kingdom of God already among us. The second coming of Jesus is that rupture with the old order where the revolutionary decisive break has been made. Sin is conformity to the old order, obedience to God is preparation for the new world and the new society.

Salvation really means salvation from all the things that you really thought you needed salvation from.

No blog post can stand in for you doing your own investigation. Read one of the gospels in the Bible (I suggest trying Luke first), suspend what you thought you knew about it or what Christians have said about it. Don't try to step outside of yourself, reflect deeply on your life, your needs, your anxieties and your hopes - not just individually consider your class, consider the ways in which people like you are oppressed and then go to it and see if it's got any of the answers.

Solving homelessness; novelty gestures, manipulation or housing activism

Novelty gestures

Special vending machines, reverse advent calendars, so called 'tiny houses' and attempts to squat and set up encampments for homeless people on derelict land, coats tied onto lampposts etc. These are examples of the 'novelty gesture' approach to solving homelessness. In some ways they're a bit like the old soup runs/ soup kitchens but they're way more fun and they generate much better social media content.

Image result for coats tied to lampposts for homeless people
Homelessness in the UK is at critical level and continuing to worsen. It's an acknowledged fact that there is a very serious housing crisis and that the entire housing market is broken from the perspective of millions of working class people, especially younger people. Real people are dying and real families are being torn apart. So does this model have what it takes?

Image result for tiny houses homelessAbsolutely not. This response continues in the tired old tradition of charity designed to make dire poverty feel slightly more tolerable but lacking any ambition to change the fundamental situation. At it's worst practitioners of the 'novelty gesture' approach limit their involvement to one off random outings where homeless people are not even consulted on what they want or need in any way.

The first vending machine for the homeless, set up by the charity Action Hunger in the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre, Nottingham. The real goals of this approach are to: get rid of waste food and old clothing, make givers feel better about themselves and provide them with the experience of a little adventure. Whether the practice is illegal - such a squat or handing out food against the wishes of local authorities or whether it's all permitted and above board makes no difference, it's simply not effective, doesn't really set out to change anything and only succeeds in treating homeless people like pet projects and receptacles for waste.

Image result for food not bombsThrowing spare change into a hat was never going to solve the housing crisis, neither was setting homeless people to work selling magazines or getting them to eat copious amounts of soup. And that's because, if we're all honest, they're not even vaguely intending to.


What about manipulating people into changing their behaviour so they make correct life decisions? Could this solve homelessness? This is the basis of most of the professional work done with homeless people in the UK. Again, no. However it's dressed up it's a way of blaming individuals for being the victims of systematic problems and cajoling them into doing things that commissioners of services find acceptable.

Maybe if homeless people would take more responsibility, maybe if homeless people would learn to be more independent, maybe if homeless people would stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs? Maybe it would turn out that there wasn't really a housing crisis after all, it was just a growing number of lazy stupid people who couldn't get their shit together all along and they could have had somewhere to live if they'd just put the effort in.

No. That's not the one. It's not setting out to solve homelessness. It does nothing to make housing more accessible, or affordable or to win more security for tenants... it just sets up hoops for people to jump through in order to help ration what little housing is available for the very poor.

Housing Activism

Housing activism is different:

  • Treat the crisis of homelessness as a housing issue - soup can't fix it. 
  • Treat housing as a right - stop trying to work out who deserves it. 
1. First of all you can't have the people you're trying to help dying on you. Homeless people's average age of death in the UK is around 47. You also need to beat that crappy idea that people need to hit some kind of 'rock bottom' before they'll accept help. Rock bottom is often death, even if it's not it's just letting people fall further into the abyss making the journey out that much harder and longer. People who are traumatised and suffering from extreme depression or anxiety or other issues are not some how magically going to say - "okay I guess the only way is up from here!". It just hurts people so you do need to start with meeting some immediate needs - food, clothing, basic shelter, safety. But's it's got to be well organised and reliable and involve the homeless people in planning and operationally.

(If you feel I've slated your good work above under the 'novelty gesture approach' try thinking about what you're doing as 'step 1 housing activism' instead. You may need to think about how you can make some tweaks to make it more reliable and include the intended recipients in what you're doing but that's achievable right? - I encourage you not to stop there though, could you go on to step 2 below or link up with others who are attempting it?)

2. Step 2 is case work. Even under the existing system people do have some rights. Some people have a right to housing from their local authority, some evictions are illegal but does everyone who is a victim of this housing crisis know exactly where they stand? No. You can learn the ins and outs of homelessness and housing law. You can find out what help people are owed, you can understand the codes of guidance that local authorities work from, how case law has impacted on the way the system works. You can find out what landlords can and can't do, you can advise tenants getting into difficulties how to avoid being chucked out. You can offer to go along to court with people, you can even start calling yourself a 'legal advisor' if you get confident enough (since it's not a protected term like 'solicitor'. 

3. Finally, you've got to campaign to change the system. You know how to maximise people's ability to get what they need out of the current system but is it enough? No it is not. We need:
  • A mass social housing building programme - now.
  • Unions of tenants beating back landlord tyranny.
  • Legislation that recognises the fundamental right to suitable, safe, affordable accommodation for all. 
This is the answer to homelessness.