THE ROBINSON AFFAIR AND GRACE... with lessons from U2 and The West Wing


I was asked on a panel, about The Church, at this year’s Summer Madness Festival what the Church had achieved in the last ten years and what I thought it should be concentrating on in the next ten years. The mood of the panel had been quite negative. The tone of the question suggested that we, the four Church leaders at the front, would struggle to come up with something. I had no problems. Fair Trade! I can remember, and yes perhaps it was a little over 10 years ago, when a few Christian students went into the nearest Tescos (It was called Stewarts in N. Ireland then) and on the back of our receipts for coffee signed our names and requested they stock Fair Trade coffee. I thought it was a pretty futile effort. How wrong was I!?

I can still remember the first time I saw the coffee on the shelves. I bought four jars to try and convince the manager, all the while thinking that if I was the only one buying them what good was it to buy four at once! Indeed, as I write this I wonder if it was this campaign that made me a coffee drinker; I had to do something with all that coffee! A little over a decade later and Fair Trade is everywhere and I am on at least four cups a day! Most of our Christmas presents this year, given and received, had the Fair Trade logo in the corner. It is a rare travesty to be in a cafe that isn’t Fair Trade. My children see it is as a given. The joy, just this year, of seeing that symbol on Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was such a rush!

I still hear conversations where people question the usefulness. Why we are so quick to knock the movements that change the world has to be something deep within our fallen nature or simply the forces of evil kicking back. I have been to Fair Trade projects and can declare how I have seen over the years the social and psychological changes, never mind the economic ones, of those who benefit from this strategy for justice; it is a spiritual thing! The Church has been at the forefront of this movement and I am proud to say that it is a social action that we have made great impact with. I think it is time to ask how we can develop it more. I pray the next decade will not see a Fair Trade tiredness but innovative ways to make it deeper and wider than the success it has been.

The next decade? There are many challenges for the Church. A real dilemma within is that most people are now seekers but not belongers. Younger people, and I am speaking under 50s not under 15s, are less committed to Church for many social, cultural and spiritual reasons. How does the Church, and myself as a pastor in that Church, care, disciple and evangelize in such a soulscape?

Outside the Church and maybe crucial to turning around the number of joiners will be how we as a Church take the Fair Trade model and begin to address all kinds of other social issues. After the debacle that was the environmental summit at Copenhagen this year when instant gratification and selfishness won over long term sense, we need Christians to stand forward in the care of the planet. We need to up the theology of how green issues are Biblical issues. Christians need to, whether they believe the prophecies of thinning ozone layers or not, start looking after their Father’s artistic masterpiece.

There are a plethora of injustices and human crisis for the Christian to start taking a lead. I believe that evangelism in the next decade will be all about our impact on society. About a year ago The Guardian, renowned for its anti-God stance, defended the Christian God against the Richard Dawkins onslaught because of the work that Christian Churches were doing in England’s inner cities. When we rekindle our vision for the marginalised, that Jesus called us to follow him amongst, and seek justice and shalom for those disenfranchised we will “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his glorious light.” In ten years we will stand or fall on our obedience to “let justice roll down like rivers and righteousness like an never-failing stream.”



Miz Melly

THIS is why I love you Stocki! This puts into words all my heart is in at the moment. Fair trade, justice for the poor, equality. My world is being up ended by how much change I must undergo in order to live justly in the world, to live in a way that does not negatively impact my brothers and sisters around the planet. I am only at the beginning of my journey and have a LONG way to go. Have you read Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson - it's great to introduce Christians to justice issues. Thank you for encouraging me. And hey, we're up north till the 11th of Jan - would love to see you!

Paul Hutchinson

>Why we are so quick to knock the movements that change the >world has to be something deep within our fallen nature or >simply the forces of evil kicking back

Oh Steve, you're missing the point. We're Northern Irish Christians - our calling is to be really bad at most things, and spend our time moaning about it, about ourselves and about each other. You're undermining our national pastime - surely you realise this?! ;-)

Actually, sure enough, it is really inspiring to think how far the Fair Trade movement has come in the last 10 years. It would be amazing to think what would happen if the churches at large did start paying attention to Environmental Stewardship.

Blessings :-)

Gary Bradley

"What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul" Matthew 16:26

Environmental problems have largely arisen through cost-benefit trade-off thinking, which is a materialistic formula concerning profit and loss i.e. "what do I stand to gain from this investment". The potential risks to others is usually not considered here.

Risk-benefit trade-off thinking (which includes personal feelings such as dread, power to effect change, financial costs and knowledge of the issue) suggests, "if I do this, I might profit, but what will the impact be on the world, of which I am an organic part?" This reflects the success of Fair Trade.

Both these are secular ideas, but the second speaks to values, business ethics and the moral basis, if not the sanctity, of life itself, human and otherwise. And Jesus takes it that one step further - the risk-soul trade-off, and what a trade-off it is!

So, yes, just as people were drawn to and provoked by Jesus, the activist, so it is our responsibility to take our inheritance and use it likewise, to risk motivating and winning others to respond to Christ and actively broach injustices that are offensive to Him. And maybe not even just for the sake of our souls, but just because God made creation for us and it's beautiful. Right on, Steve.

Paul Hutchinson

Hiya Gary - long time no see, sir :-)
One thing occurs to me reading your post, that might be worth pointing out - that there's no such thing as a "secular idea"!
Take care brother.

Gary Bradley

Hi Paul,

"there's no such thing as a "secular idea"!" Care to elaborate?

If you mean not secular in so much as they are 'ideas' deliberately devoid of religious or spiritual meaning, then I agree those ideas are not secular but scientific (psycho-social, to be exact). However, the word is used essentially to illustrate that while the gospel can have it's parallels in the material world, they lack centrality i.e. Jesus. They are, in effect ideas or constructs or a framework with no attached agenda or inherent virtue, but have the capacity to invite moral/ethical discussion.

Sorry Steve - we'll not use the blog for a roustabout. Maybe I should start my own...

Help me out here Paul, I need your clarity brother.


Paul Hutchinson

Sorry to confuse you Gary!

(Actually, to be honest, given the discussions we've had in the past, I feel reasonably proud to have thrown you a curveball!!)

I'm simply picking up the theme that many other people have written about, that "All Truth is God's Truth". (Except that which is not True, of course).

The "secular" and "sacred" do not inhabit separate independent worlds - they are all part of the one world, which (from the believer's perspective) is God's. Therefore there is no "material world" for the gospel to find parallels in. There is only God's world - and that's the context that Christians do business, creative art, science, sociology etc in.

I know that detaching ideas from whatever spiritual framework we see them in may have the capacity to get more people talking about them - but you can't really detach what isn't detachable. Playing down the religious background of our beliefs is one thing, but pretending that such a religious background does not exist is another. A married man can't meaningfully pretend that he's never met his wife before for the purposes of 'objective' discussion. If I am talking with a Muslim about politics, I might not share his religious beliefs, but I'm quite happy for him to say "I believe this because I am a Muslim" - I would prefer it actually. (Same goes for Buddhists, Jews, Secular Humanists, Agnostics, Pagans...)

Saying "look, this makes good sense no matter who you are or how you look at it" is of course a very good thing to do. (And to be fair, that's probably what you meant in the first place!...)

Sorry if we are clogging up Steve's blog with this! Happy to move the discussion to another forum if you think it's worth continuing.

Peace :-)

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