The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, has told the congregation at an interdenominational service in Armagh that it’s the responsibility of Christians around the world to speak up for justice. His remarks, in St Patrick’s Cathedral on Wednesday evening, mirrored those he made 24 hours earlier in St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast. The bishop had been invited to speak in both cathedrals as part of the local churches’ contributions to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
At the service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Bishop Good was flanked by the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates, Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke and Most Rev Eamon Martin, as he told the congregation that justice must be the concern of Christians all around the globe. “We can’t avoid or evade it being a central feature of discipleship,” he said.
The service in Armagh included prayers said by members of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland churches. Bishop Good asked the congregation – including children from Saints & Scholars Integrated Primary School in Armagh – which character trait or attribute they thought was the most important in a young person growing up in today’s world? “I ask the question because I saw last week, when preparing for this sermon, how a man I respect, Gary Haugen, was asking that very question about his own four young children. I’ll tell you his answer in a moment, after I tell you who he is.
“Gary Haugen worked in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice in America; he was director of the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda. He founded – and is now head of – International Justice Mission, a human rights organisation. My wife, Mary, is a passionate supporter of this organisation. She has been to see projects of theirs in Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Uganda.
“What they do in IJM is they help to rescue women and young people who are trapped in the sex trade or in slavery,” Bishop Good said, “and they challenge corrupt policing and double-dealing legal systems around the world.
“So, Gary Haugen is aware of how tough the world is and so he’s asking himself. ‘What do I want my four children to be like as they head out into the world?’ This was his answer: ‘More and more I am praying that my children might leave home as men and women of courage.’
Courage. That’s the characteristic he wants his children to have as they leave home.
“Now, Gary Haugen has discovered, from personal experience, that when you start advocating for justice, the going will get tough – people will object and will resist your efforts, and may make your life very uncomfortable, and courage will be needed. So, if we as churches together are going to talk about justice, we will need to be courageous.”
Bishop Good said the theme of this year’s Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, ‘Only Justice’, had been chosen by Christians from Indonesia, where 86% of the population are Muslim and less than 10% are Christians. “So, as a relatively small percentage of the population, the Christians of Indonesia want us to think about justice. Now, I haven’t been there but I’m imagining that for the Christians in Indonesia, justice may be an issue that requires courage. They don’t always have an easy time. It’s probably much tougher than we face here.”
Bishop Good said there were a number of reasons why Christians here should be concerned about justice in Ireland and elsewhere. The first, he said, was because of who God is. The God revealed in the Scriptures was concerned about justice and fairness and human flourishing. God loves justice and hates injustice. He has compassion for those who suffer injustice. He judges and condemns those who perpetrate injustice.
The second reason was because of who he had created us human beings to be. Every person in the world is created in God’s image and possesses unique value and human dignity. When that dignity and value are treated unjustly, whether by abuse, or torture, or poverty, that is an insult to the God who made us.
The third reason is because he wants the Church to be involved in Kingdom-building that includes justice. In other words, the Church must never, ever get used to injustice. God says, I am calling you in the world to be like salt and light, and to stop it decaying and getting dark.
“So, our role as Christians, together and separately, is to face up to the unpleasant reality of injustice and to do something about it: to pray against it, to work, to speak, to get involved.”
“One of the areas of injustice that I want to say a word about tonight is one that has been bothering me for some time. It’s the question of the world coming to our country here. There are a lot of people who’ve come from the world to live here in Northern Ireland. Some of them are migrants, some are asylum seekers and some are refugees, and there can be justice issues surrounding that.
“The last census said that 81,000 people in NI were born outside Britain or Ireland – that’s a big number. Of those, 800 were asylum seekers; almost 1,300 were resettled Syrian refugees who moved here in the last couple of years. These are our neighbours. These are our neighbours who we love and for whom we seek justice – people who were created in the image of God, people whom God wants to see treated fairly.
“And our role as the Church of Jesus Christ in all its forms is to get involved in seeing that justice is done. We may need to speak up – which we do, I hope; we may need to meet these people, which we do. I’ve been really excited to see English language classes organised by churches for Syrian refugees; I’ve been really pleased to see heating oil being provided to Syrian families by Embrace Northern Ireland, which is a Christian charity; I’ve been pleased to see toys and knitted clothing being made by churches and church people to give to children of refugees; I’ve been pleased to see Christians giving a personal welcome and hospitality to refugees.
“Now, that’s just one area we need to be involved in in justice and even that can require courage because people can object. I have met with objections for speaking up for refugees. Not everybody sees it the way we do. And there may be other issues that we need to get involved in.
“And so, I am saying to you, Saints and Scholars, we want you to be people of courage (I think you already area), so that when we go out into the world – all of us – if we get a bit of opposition, if people aren’t pleased when we speak up about justice, let’s remember the Indonesian Christians who are willing to do it in a country that’s much more difficult than ours.”