Author: Carol Kingston-Smith, Associate Lecturer in Mission, Redcliffe College
Charity is indeed a noble and beautiful virtue, grateful to man and approved by God. But charity must be built on justice. It cannot supersede justice…to commend charity as a substitute for justice, is indeed something akin in essence to those heresies that taught that the gospel had superseded the law, and that the love of God exempted men from moral obligations (Henry George, 1891).
In our increasingly interconnected and complex world, there is a very real danger that in our desire to show compassion and care for our neighbour, we can unwittingly become part of larger wheels already in motion in a machine which is not Kingdom-oriented in its mandate. Indeed, Henry George articulated well this particular predicament in his response to Pope Leo XIII in 1891, at the height of the European-centred period of globalisation; a time when the industrialised world was rapidly expanding its commercial trade (Steger, 2009, 29-35),
All that charity can do where injustice exists is here and there to mollify somewhat the effects of injustice. It cannot cure them. Nor is even what little it can do, to mollify the effects of injustice, without evil. For what may be called the superimposed and, in this sense, secondary virtues work evil where the fundamental or primary virtues are absent. (George, 1891)
The assertion that acts of compassion or charity can „work evil‟ where justice is absent is a strong one but one which, I believe, is well-founded both in George‟s time and ours. Our challenge and, indeed, our remit as Christians is to live missionally (as ambassadors sent out with Good News), and prophetically in ways which may require a deeply critical evaluation of the structures in our world which can be discerned to be (re)producing unjust relationships and outcomes. If we only action what Henry George describes as the „secondary virtue‟, we risk falling short of the redemptive and transformative tasks of mission to establish justice.
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