Theological foundations of All We Can
All We Can is an integral part of the Methodist family and is inspired by Christian principals. Here is an articulation of the key theological thinking that lies behind our activities and approach to tackling poverty and injustice.
A theological understanding of why injustice and poverty exists
Our world is not as God intended it to be. Our relationships with God, each other, ourselves and creation are damaged. Instead of submitting to God as the benevolent Creator and seeing creation as his Kingdom, which out of his goodness he invites us to steward, we grasp at autonomy seeking to establish and dominate our own kingdoms. By being rulers of ourselves, rather than submitting to the loving instruction of God, our tendency is to put ourselves first and control what’s in our power to our own end and advantage, often, tragically, at the cost to others.
Now, rather than a world where all people and creation mutually flourish (as was the intention), we experience a world where broken relationships have led to oppression, marginalisation, violence, exploitation and poverty. The two greatest commandments for humans to follow, of which all other commandments hang, seeks to redress the effects of this brokenness: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself” Matt. 22:36-44. Injustice occurs any time humans fail to do this, because we are falling short of giving what the relationships deserve. When humans fall short in this way, we are by its very nature impoverishing those relationships. Love leads to flourishing, lack of love leads to impoverishment.
In our world of unequal power structures from within a family unit through to national governments/corporations, we see that some groups of people are more adversely affected than others. In biblical times (and arguable even today), those particularly vulnerable to injustice are the poor, fatherless, widows and the foreigner. They were in situations where they did not have a ‘protector’, which for the orphan and widow in a patriarchal society was a father / husband and for the foreigner they lacked a community with shared national heritage, they were an ‘outsider’ or in the case of war, an ‘enemy’. Today, there are still people who are particularly vulnerable to injustice and the poverty that results because of the power dynamics at work in our relationships.
- Injustice and poverty is not what God intended when he created the world and perceived it as being ‘very good’.
- Injustice and poverty are a result of brokenness in our relationships with God, each other, ourselves and God’s creation, caused by our pursuit for autonomy to establish our own kingdoms.
- Injustice and poverty happen when we fail to love God, each other, ourselves and creation. We fail to give the ‘other’ what they/we/it deserves, causing an injustice. By failing to love we impoverish the ones/things we relate to.
- Injustice and poverty is experienced by people most impacted and made vulnerable by unequal power structures.
A theological understanding of how Jesus’ disciples should respond to injustice and poverty
God chose the Israelites to be the ones who would be a ‘light to the nations’. The Israelites were to follow God’s commands, which included measures to help reduce the extremes of unequal power structures that lead to injustice and poverty. Including rules on – slavery, land distribution, sharing of resources, lending, Sabbath rest, and protection for widows, orphans and foreigners.
In Jesus’ day some laws were elevated above the ‘spirit’ of the law, such as by the Pharisees who Jesus confronted – e.g. when Jesus was criticised for healing a person on the Sabbath. Today, followers of God are from many nations with different cultural and societal backgrounds where many of the laws that Israel followed would not be appropriate today. However, the ‘spirit’ of the laws which reduce the extremes of unequal power structures can still be advocated by Christians today in their desire to love their neighbour.
The prophets (including Jesus) called out the failure of Israel to implement God’s laws and other nations in their actions that led to idolatry and oppression. On behalf of God, they described the injustice they could see, including those of local business, religious and other influencers and challenged the people with power to change their ways.
Jesus is the only one who has lived a just life, fulfilling the teachings of the law and the prophets. A passage which has become known as both ‘Jesus’ manifesto’ and the ‘Kingdom manifesto’, is a quote from Isaiah recorded in Luke 4:
“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.”
This is a jubilee passage, a time when society is re-levelled and the injustices undone. As the church continues in Jesus’ kingdom ministry and seeks to be like him, arguably, these same activities should be evident in its life and ministry.
- Advocate for practices, policies and laws that reduce the unequal power structures to help overcome injustice and poverty.
- Be a prophetic voice exposing the causes of injustice and poverty and calling for change
- Do justice with practical acts of love with our global neighbours
- Evoke Jesus’ disciples to grasp hold of and embrace a life of Kingdom ministry
A theological understanding of the approach Jesus’ disciples should take as they respond to injustice and poverty
In the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, share the same substance; their persons undertake different functions in the creation and redemption of the world, expressed through their relationships with one another and the world. God is a relational being. As humans made in God’s image, we too are equal in substance and undertake different functions depending on our skills, gifts and abilities expressed through our relationship with God, each other and the world. Just as God is love, which he expresses through his relationships, so we are made with the capacity to love, which we express through our relationships with God, each other, ourselves and creation.
The church follows in Jesus’ Kingdom ministry. Jesus became fully human, humbling himself to serve others and to minister to their needs. He shared in the poverty and injustice of this world as a friend of others and victim. He suffered and died, so that humans might flourish and the world be redeemed. This is an ultimate expression of sacrificial love and amazing grace. It lays aside selfish-ambition for the sake of a flourishing of life for all that God has created.
God fills his Church with his Holy Spirit, and fruit is evidence of this (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Through the work of the Spirit in our lives, we should be becoming more like Jesus.
- God is by nature a relational being expressed through love, as humans made in his image, we too should be relational in our approach expressing it through love
- All people should be respected, treated as equal, and valued
- Christian service requires humility, to walk with people on the margins, laying aside selfish ambition to act to see all life flourish
- The fruit of the Holy Spirit should be evident in the interactions of Jesus’ disciple