Some of the views expressed in this post are the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Perichoresis Australia as a whole.
The Trinitarian gospel and human rights go hand in hand. The cry for justice is not just between human beings, which is certainly very important, but it also includes a whole spectrum of issues confronted by humanity. Not caring for the environment affects human beings. Interfering with fragile ecosystems for the sake of progress has reverberating effects and in the end are unjust acts against ourselves. Questionable legal decisions can affect human beings. Underpaying wages to people is also an injustice and it appears to be happening all too frequently in this country.
Injustices usually occur when there is inequality of some kind between two or more people or groups of people. This can happen within the borders of a country or it can happen from one country over another. What might be unacceptable and sometimes down right illegal in our own country might be justified in another country. It is a damning indictment when our own governments will not allow abuses against our own population but allow other governments to abuse the rights of their own people to serve Western ends. This is particularly rampant in the manufacturing sector where industry have awarded contracts to other countries that have cheap labour and softer laws on the rights of workers. The enormous drive to survive will lead some people to go to extraordinary lengths just so they can feed their loved ones. For many, this means they become vulnerable to unscrupulous practices and be lured and conned into undertaking unspeakable things.
In other countries, the unfair distribution of wealth can lead to illegal activities such as the drug trade, sex trade, child exploitation and slavery, slave soldiers, slave workers and can be the impetus for terrorism. It is okay for many of us Westerners to sit back in our comfy ergonomic chairs and argue whatever we want to argue while people are suffering injustices everywhere. Yet, theology should have far reaching implications which simply should not be ignored: but we all do. Let’s use Newstart as a case study of the kind of injustice we experience in this country.
In this country we have a Prime Minister who is a professed Christian and believes miracles happen. Many Christians are excited to have a Christian Prime Minister. I am far from impressed. There are many people who are trapped on Government benefits for long periods of time and have a variety of legitimate reasons for not being able to obtain employment. There has been no real increase since 1994. This means the rate of 278/wk in 1994 has not changed and is the same rate today. The equivalent buying power of $278 in 1994 would require $523 today to buy the very same items. The cost of living has increased significantly over the last 26 years but the rate of payment has barely increased at all. The average wage today sits at around $1700/wk which means the welfare benefit is around 16% of the average wage.
Because our rental market is so unstable, it is this kind of injustice that has driven many people onto the streets with no way of entering into the rental market. Under these kind of circumstances people become desperate where young girls exchange sex for a safe place to sleep. There are numerous people who suffer from mental health issues that cannot navigate their way through day-to-day life issues. In addition their mental illness may not be adequately treated where substance abuse is the common form of self-treatment. Through these insidious diseases and the fact they may have lost grip on reality they suffer isolation, homelessness and are vulnerable to violence. In the meantime there are other people in such dire situations often lose all hope and turn to drugs. This can lead to addictions and some turn to crime to support their habit. Some have to go without food and others live on the bare minimum just to have a roof over their heads. Even when they have a roof over their heads, they may not be able to afford utilities. On $278/wk, how could they?
There are others who are escaping sexual abuse or domestic violence and have no choice but to go on welfare. Where they once had a home with a steady job and emotional security they are now forced onto welfare and sometimes onto the streets. Not only do they have to endure the traumatic experiences of domestic or sexual abuse, they are now stuck in a system that carries a stigma with it. This government have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from domestic abuse services closing down hundreds of women’s shelters and services. Most centres are pushed to the limit where there is a waiting list to access their services. Many women and their children are left homeless waiting for help. This has resulted in a situation so bad with one woman dying a week from domestic violence. Instead they are quite happy to hand out billions to sporting centres all over Australia, especially in areas that are held by the current government. Where is the justice in that?
Many people on welfare should be on Disability Support Pension but the government have tightened the rules so much, constantly moving the goalposts wherever they like and made the process so legally complex that many cannot even comprehend how on earth they can ever qualify. Even doctors are exasperated as to the complexity of the process. It is such that doctors have to lengthen their appointments so that they can get through the application process. As one who is on the inside of the welfare system, all I can say is it is grossly unfair in how it treats the most vulnerable people at the lower end of the socio-economic end of society.
Living on the inside of welfare carries with it a stigma that somehow one must be doing everything they can to avoid employment. This is far from the truth. In most cases, people who are on welfare are trying everything they can to get out of this very unfair system. People receive threatening letters from this department thrown out by robots assuming they had done the worst when in actual fact they have done nothing wrong. There is the element of, “You are on welfare therefore you must be doing something wrong.” There are younger people who try for years to gain employment. Most jobs require experience and those with no experience cannot get a job. There are older people who have lost their jobs through failed businesses and because of their age they find it near impossible to gain further employment. There are other people who lose their jobs through injury or illness only to find they cannot gain further employment because of a health risk. They, in fact, become “unemployable” and in a sense are punished by the system through welfare. There are others who have high qualifications and years of experience but because of their age, they cannot find work. They, too, can be punished by the welfare system. There is a story behind each welfare recipient. Many have had a change of circumstances that have brought about drastic and devastating circumstances.
What does are Christian Prime Minister say in response? “The best kind of welfare is a job!” This immediately feeds into the stereotype of a welfare recipient: “They are on welfare because they do not want a job.” Or, “they are on welfare so they must be ripping the system off.” Or, “they are on welfare so they must be a bludger.” How can anyone wish to live under such circumstances by only receiving $278/wk in an unstable housing market where the very basics that one could purchase in 1994 now costs $523/wk. Most would rather things be very different. The many that try to do the right thing should not be punished by the few that abuse this privilege. What does this Christian Prime Minister do to win support for this policy? He demonises welfare recipients in such a misleading way which only brings more suffering to a group who have now had their voice taken away.
I am only using our Prime Minister to illustrate a point. He has proclaimed he is a Christian. We have seen him on our TV’s with his happy clappers in his church singing his praises to God and waving his hands in the air. In the meantime our Prime Minister should be reminded of a passage in Matthew 25. It is really a message to leaders all over the world who claim to have a Christian ethos:
“I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was homeless and you would not take me in. I was homeless and I had to prostitute myself to have somewhere to sleep. My children were sick and I had no money to buy medicine and could not afford heating or suitable clothing to keep them warm. I begged in the streets and you gave me a citation. I tried to bed down on the footpaths and you told me to leave. I could not afford decent clothes for an interview so I could not go for an interview. You give me an allowance that is worth half today compared to what it was 26 years ago. While you sit at your table at home or at a fine restaurant trying to decide what food to eat, I look at my table and there is nothing to put on it for me and my family. While you sleep in the air-conditioned comfort of your own home, my family suffers in the heat waves of summer and the cool snaps of winter with no means of affording heating or cooling. While you have a home to return to, we only have a car to live out of. While you have a home to return to, we live in a tent wherever we can. Our lives are constantly in danger while we are homeless. I have been taken in by a man only to find he is a predator and molests my children.” The list goes on and on and on.
Why should any of this matter to us? To be a Christian is to believe the “Word was made flesh.” It is to believe the Incarnation was the union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ was born God joined Himself to the whole human race. The humanity of every single human being is interwoven into the humanity of Jesus Christ. When we believe in the humanity of God, it concerns every single human being. We cannot look at this in any other way. To say, “I am a Christian,” means we are concerned for the welfare of every single human being, in particular, those who are vulnerable. We should not turn a blind eye and allow people on welfare to suffer under such extremes of hardship. Every Christian should shout such injustices in our society from the rooftops.
We cannot look at anyone and disregard the eternal decision that has already been made in Jesus Christ. If we say Jesus Christ is our brother and God is our Father, then the suffering of those on welfare affects the whole body. To accept Jesus Christ is our brother is to accept everyone as a brother and sister of Christ and a son and daughter of the Father. This is where human rights and human dignity begin. Human rights and human dignity should be afforded to everyone. It is showing no partiality between anyone at any level of society from the very rich, to the rich, to the middle class, to the working class and to the very poor. As soon as we show partiality then we deny Jesus Christ is our brother and God is our Father. All I can ask our Prime Minister is: “what in heaven’s name are you doing to our brothers and sisters on welfare? Where on earth is your Christ given humanity?”
Mr Prime Minister, as you go to church and stand up waving your hands in the air singing and clapping your praises to God just think of those who suffer in our society on the meagerly sum of $278/wk. Now before you accuse me of being a “leftie,” this is a policy that is held by both sides of politics, the left and the right. It is a policy that causes a tremendous amount of pain. While the Prime Minister in 1996 was receiving around $300,000/yr, the Prime Minister today earns just under $550,000, which, if my maths is right, is a whopping 83% increase in 24 years! There has been no significant increase in this benefit in the same time period. Placing such pressure on the vulnerable in this way causes enormous social problems such as homelessness, drugs, all manner of sexual and physical abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, hopelessness etc. placing an even greater burden on the economy. There are cases where single mothers are groomed by sexual predators to gain access to get to their children. The subsequent trauma can lead to problems like drugs, depression, suicide, homelessness etc all of which create an enormous burden on the economy. In many cases, the only safety net they have is welfare. In the meantime, our Christian Prime Minister goes to church on Sunday waving his hands in the air singing and clapping his praises to God.
The Prime Minister’s policy of, “the best welfare is a job,” is a solution that is way out of reach for many who are stuck on government benefits. Politicians have certainly made sure their salary is increased to keep pace with the cost of living. All Australians frown at such practices, especially when those who work have experienced little growth in their salaries. 75% of workers today earn an average of $1700/wk and many struggle on this kind of wage to make ends meet. The real struggle are for those who, in most cases through no fault of their own, have found themselves one month receiving $1700/wk and the very next month find themselves on welfare and receiving $278/wk. It can be the most demoralising, embarrassing, heart-aching experience anyone can go through. The best thing we can do is to remind ourselves of Jesus Christ and what the Incarnation of God truly means to us. Our vulnerable brothers and sisters are hurting. Just remember Christ in you and then Christ in them.
Proverbs 19.17 “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed.”
Proverbs 22.9 “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”
Proverbs 29:7 “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern.”
Proverbs 28:27 “He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.”
Psalm 41:1-3 “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; The Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.”
Psalm 112:9 “He has given freely to the poor, His righteousness endures forever; His horn will be exalted in honor.”
Acts 2:44-26 “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”
Galatians 2:10 “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”