I have noticed in recent months a number of groups that promote active citizenship. Some do so by lobbying for change, typically through the democratic process, and others focus on doing stuff that helps fellow citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable. Some purport to be non religious, political, ideological etc. and others make no such pretense. I try to maintain the balance between keeping a watching brief and being actively involved, in keeping with my community activist mantra. I have been mindful, in this age when everyone feels they have a right to an opinion, that holding and expressing unpopular views can be a barrier to citizens holding different views working together for a common cause.
Over the weekend, I had a positive meeting with some folk who were discussing how we can improve the homeless situation in my town (which if you read my Homeless Reflection e-book, you will know is dire). The idea was mooted, as it often is, that we make more progress when we can bury our differences and work together for the common good. Having been significantly involved in the homeless arena for the past ten years and more, I know this is easier said than done, human nature being as it is. Interestingly, this has had more to do with personality conflicts and systemic restraints than ideological differences. Notwithstanding, progress can be made, as a group I chair, SHAN (see here), has demonstrated and recently in the cold and snowy weather spell when those from the left and right put aside differences and worked together to serve the homeless. While less involved these days, I hold similar concerns regarding asylum (sanctuary) seekers.
Tonight, I will be attending a meeting of local group linked to CitizensUK, whose strap line is “Communities organising for Power, Social Justice and the Common Good” and whose website states: “We are the home of community organising in the UK, with diverse civil society alliances in London, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Birmingham, Wales, Manchester, Tyne & Wear and Leeds. We develop the leadership capacity of our members so they can hold politicians and other decision-makers to account on the issues that matter to them. Community organising is democracy in action: winning victories that change lives and transform communities”. I did think not to attend on the basis one cannot do everything, and I did not want to get into arguments with those with agendas based on dubious ideology. But I go with an open mind and hoping to positively contribute on these important matters.
While I have strong views on a range of issues, I do not give any person or organization a free pass, and praise and support any when they do the right thing. Two organizations that attract some active citizenship types bother me. The first is Antifa, known for their supposed opposition to Fascism through direct action. Sadly, this includes violence as has occurred in the past week (not that many will realize this through a lack of mainstream media reporting). Another is Hope Not Hate, the darling of some of my liberal leftie friends. The idea of hope not hate is highly commendable but what concerns me, having just checked out their Facebook page, is their attacks on far right groups (some of which might be justified) and ignoring the likes of Antifa, although what really put me off is their calling for abortion to be allowed right up to full term.
I have friends on the left and right; and of a wide range of religious and ideological view points. I take the view that everyone is entitled to an opinion and when there is an opportunity to join forces we should do so and as far as possible without imposing one’s agenda. While I endeavour to pay due respect to those who disagree with me, my own motivation (as well as my vision to how I would like society to be) is as a consequence of my strongly held Christian beliefs. I say that because people who think as I do are often dismissed because they fail to go along with ideas those with power want to impose. And to make it crystal clear, there are a number of principles I hold dear and fear could be a barrier toward closer cooperation:
- In almost every case, abortion is an avoidable evil.
- Marriage should be between one man and one woman.
- There are just two genders: male and female.
- Freedom of speech is under threat and should be protected.
- Religious freedom is under threat and should be protected.
- I like Donald Trump.
- I think Brexit is a jolly good idea.
- Many politicians mean well (at least to start with) but most fail to deliver as they ought and as we should rightly expect.
- While globalization is a fact of life, globalism is an ideology we ought to steer clear of.
- The world probably is controlled by a hidden hand that wants to subjugate the masses.
- We should protect the environment but resist bowing to the god that would have us stop climate change at any cost.
- Most mainstream media is to be treated at the very least – with skepticism.
- Caring for the poor and vulnerable is very important.
- Homelessness is a national scandal that is unacceptable.
- We are called to love our neighbour, whoever he/she is.
- We should control our borders and restrict immigration, and vet those who we do let in to our country.
- We should look after foreigners in our midst, while insisting they obey the law etc., and provide help further afield when we can.
- We should respect those who are different to us and do one’s best to engage with them for the greater good.
- If they are different through choice we are not obliged to agree with them or endorse their way of living.
- Political correctness is only ok if it is about doing the right thing.
- While I tend to focus on things I can change in the here and now, there is a place for campaigning and political activism where a wider view needs to be taken in order to get things done.
- We are called to love God ahead of all other loves.
- Active Citizenship is in principle a good idea and one to be encouraged and ideally it should involve disparate groups.
- True Christians should be involved in their communities but also should proclaim gospel truth as being of paramount importance.