Those who attended the demonstrations in London on March 26 must have felt they were too large to ignore.
Perhaps as many as 400,000 people marched against the British government’s cuts, and this before they have really begun to bite anything like as hard as they will.
Well, perhaps, the demonstrations will be too large to ignore, but we have been here before.
The marches against the Iraq war did not stop it; the Countryside Alliance failed to prevent fox-hunting being banned.
The great anti-poll-tax campaign is arguably the only one in recent years to have actually helped change anything.
The government is set on its course, and it won’t be diverted so easily.
But the number of marchers, and their evident commitment to their cause – and we are not talking about the hate-filled wreckers who, as usual, hijacked the media agenda on Saturday evening – does indicate that there’s a deep-rooted and deeply moral unease among a great many people about what is being done.
Readers might well feel that all those “No Cuts” signs did not carry very much credibility, given the state we are in, but we can at least recognize that there are strong arguments against their speed and depth, even if we are supporters of the coalition government’s plan.
The question for us is, how should churches respond?
Many Christians were among those who marched, and many Baptists. Church members will be among those who’ll lose their jobs as civil service departments are cut. And we have a stake in this society; we are part of it, and what happens to it matters.
But as someone said, “Protest is good; alternatives are better.”
There comes a point when we have to accept that we cannot change the big picture. We do not then have the luxury of washing our hands of the whole business, standing off to one side and letting the world take care of itself. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” asked Cain – a rhetorical question to which the answer is surely, “Yes, in a way, you are.”
Whatever our views about what is being done in our country at present, there are opportunities for ministry and service opening up before us which – whether or not they pay dividends in terms of increasing numbers at our services – cannot be ignored.
Already, churches are offering job clubs, marriage preparation, after-school care, breakfast clubs, debt counseling and money advice and a host of other provisions.
We do not have the personnel – or the expertise – to meet all these needs from the resources of our own congregations, but many churches have buildings that can be used, and ways of partnering with other organizations to make it happen.
If we do not accept the need for such cuts at such a speed, can we at least agree that there is a gospel imperative to promote human flourishing, and that people cannot flourish as they should when they are poor, neglected, vulnerable and hopeless?
And if so, can we rebuild our ideas of mission to take in such ministry as well?
There is much to criticize in the “Big Society” idea, but there is much to praise as well.
We ought to be wise enough to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, and – as citizens of heaven – make our citizenship of this country count for something.
Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and managing editor for ChristianToday.com. He served previously as the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain.