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Delivering A Fairer Society

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Monday 24th December 2012

The Archbishop of York's Christmas message for the Yorkshire Post, focussing on fairness and helping those in need follows...

John Donne once said “No man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.  What he was saying is that whilst we may like to live as individuals, actually we are living in community and our actions have a knock-on effect on those around us.  Being part of a community, be it a local or a global one, requires serving others, recognising their needs.

 

At Christmas we have a fantastic opportunity to gather together with loved ones – our families, friends and neighbours – and make new beginnings. The birth of Christ reminds us of the most fantastic new beginning, one that transformed and reshaped the world we live in.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to put others first.  In times of plenty, sharing food and resources can seem a much easier task.  But unless you practise looking after your neighbours in the good times, how can you do it when the going gets tough? When we lose sight of the unique human dignity of others, our whole community becomes poorer as a result.

 

Just a few weeks ago I visited South Africa, not to head to the top of Table Mountain or to see the ‘Big Five’, but instead to visit Pretoria and to preach at Rustenberg, a mining city.  In this city, thousands of workers are living in absolute poverty, and the inequality of earnings and living conditions for the mining workforce are causes great strain. 

 

Closer to home, in York, we are also facing inequality and hardship. The York Fairness Commission has worked long and hard to help deliver a more caring, more cohesive society and a fairer city in difficult economic times. It’s important we protect the poor and vulnerable at a time where national cuts and job uncertainty hinders our community from flourishing and growing together.

 

The question we must ask, therefore, is this: do we want to live in a society where inequality and suffering is ingrained, or would we rather send out the message that everyone is valued and has an important part to play?  It is my hope that Yorkshire will take the lead on tackling inequality and that others across the country will follow our example. A commitment to a Living Wage – paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work – is an important step in making such an aspiration a reality.

 

Both the Old and New Testaments recognize the need for society to do something about the inequality of economic outcome. There is an emphasis on global responsibility to give to others. We are stewards for all that God has given us, and will be held responsible for what we have done with what we were given.

 

But Christmas should be a time for sharing, for feasting and celebration with those around us. What we need to do is evoke the spirit of Christmas – that willingness to put the needs of others first and see the need for shared humanity – 365 days a year. We need to realise that in our hearts we can hold the generosity of Christmas all year round, if we want to, we just have to wake up the urgency of the need – like Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly curmudgeon, did in Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

 

We need the pursuit not of profit for profit’s sake, but of economic justice for all and I believe that this is the key to solving so many of our political and social problems. Our own local business ethics, as with our individual personal ethics, are a vital contributory aspect of this whole picture. All will benefit from a truly ethical approach to every aspect of our life. All will give us all the opportunity to flourish.

 

For me, those wonderful Quaker industrialists, George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree and Joseph Storrs Fry, whom I would call the trinity of Chocolate, are examples of how businesses can act ethically and responsibly in the creation of work and wealth. For their faith was their primary motivation, and the fulfilment of its commandments, their overriding objective.

 

Cadbury improved the living conditions of thousands, influenced legislation, created models for future industry and became a catalyst for social change. His efforts also saw many come to faith, perhaps his most valuable legacy.

 

Joseph Rowntree's most important influence is that of a faith-inspired entrepreneur, a progressive industrial employer with a deep social conscience, who had a far reaching, positive influence upon Victorian England. Today, the values and motivations of Rowntree live on; in York they are embodied in the Trusts he established, influencing the world beyond the limits of his lifetime.

Joseph Storrs Fry II, the third of the Chocolate trinity, developed a family concern with a reputation for innovation, quality and honesty, all hallmarks of Quaker industrial practice which was distinctive during this era.

 

In their own ways, and with varying success, each of the Chocolate trinity sought to enable those who worked for them by giving them dignity and meaning to their work and life and leisure. Their desire to serve God as their motivation was unapologetic and unashamed. Their devotion and duty to others unparalleled. They lived out the spirit of Christmas.

 

I am reminded of Winston Churchill's words:

 

"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give".

 

As central and local governments and businesses pursue economic recovery, it is our job to keep reminding them that the purpose of that recovery is to establish new and fresh conditions for human flourishing.

 

And what better way to embody God’s love than by reaching out to those in need in your community and putting them first. This Christmas let us really value our neighbour and seek out justice for those whose needs are greater than our own.

 

May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

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