On one occasion a member of the mainstream media stood up at a press conference to test Archbishop Justin Welby. “Your Grace,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Welby asked. The media correspondent answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Welby replied. “Do this and you will live.” But the media correspondent wanted to justify himself, asked Welby, “And who is my neighbour?”
And Welby told the press conference this parable. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”
The plight of the robbers tells us that we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need.
“But an Anglican, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, felt sorry for him, and pondered aloud by the side of road: ‘Robbery is a deeply personal and painful subject. It is part of the broken world in which we live. It is certainly less than God’s ideal. And this has been the traditional teaching of the Church of England.’
‘But we need to combine this particular incident with a deep appreciation of the complexity of the wider situation. There is a whole host of reasons why someone might find themselves in a situation where they feel like the only option they have left is to rob someone. Our economy is plainly no longer working for everyone. And for some groups of people like these robbers and some parts of the country, it does not seem to be working at all.’
‘Our economic model is broken. The plight of the robbers tells us that we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those like the robbers who will grow up into a world where the gap between the rich and poor is significant and destabilising. What we are seeing is a profound state of economic injustice and unequal distribution of wealth.’
‘Life is hard, and we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed and desperate. Robbers are people, they need to be loved. We must never judge robbers, because we are called to love, not judge. And it is very important that whilst we might believe and even say that robbery is not the ideal, we must not under any circumstances allow robbers to think that we are condemning them.’
‘And there is, of course, a danger that if we seek to prevent robbery – or help those who have been robbed – robbers will feel judged for what they’ve done. And who are we to judge?’
‘Even more importantly, the robbers stripped the man naked and left him half dead. This makes him a vulnerable person and Anglicans would first require the permission of the Archdeacon and the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer before they approach a vulnerable person. Moreover, Anglicans pay taxes and taxes support the welfare state. It is meet and right for social services to come and help the wounded man following proper procedures and best practice and take him to the Accident and Emergency unit of an NHS hospital.’”
If we seek to prevent robbery – robbers will feel judged for what they’ve done.
And so, when he had finished speaking, the Anglican, calling to mind the safeguarding training he had undertaken under the auspices of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team, passed by on the other side.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Welby asked the mainstream media. “Without doubt, it was the Anglican,” the media correspondent answered.
“You have answered correctly,” said Welby, “because the Anglican had rightly identified that the problem is with unjust structures and not with personal sin. The Anglican had also understood the importance of safeguarding regulations. Above all, the Anglican had learned to celebrate the mutual flourishing and good disagreement between robbers, robbed, those who support robbery and those who oppose robbery. Go and do likewise.”