Social justice will always be something which is hotly discussed in government, charities and churches. The Government’s policy document ‘Social Justice’ is subtitled ‘Transforming lives’ and says its vision is based on two fundamental principles: ‘First, prevention throughout a person’s life, with carefully designed interventions to stop people falling off track and into difficult circumstances. This starts with support for the most important building block in a child’s life – the family – but also covers reform of the school and youth justice systems, the welfare system, and beyond to look at how we can prevent damaging behaviours like substance abuse and offending. Second, the strategy sets out our vision for a ‘second chance society’. Anybody who needs a second chance in society should be able to access the support and tools they need to transform their lives.’ (‘Social Justice: Transforming Lives’ document)

Throughout history, God’s people have been at the forefront of social justice, working to relieve poverty and ensure justice is done. John and Benjamin Cadbury were Quakers whose beliefs shaped their business ventures. Manufacturers of tea, coffee, cocoa and ultimately confectionery, they developed their factory in a new suburb south of Birmingham and loyal and hard-working workers were treated with great respect and relatively high wages and good working conditions; Cadbury also pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service. ‘Bournville’, the town that they pioneered, reflected their beliefs: they were particularly concerned with the health and fitness of their workforce, incorporating park and recreation areas into the Bournville village plans and encouraging swimming, walking and indeed all forms of outdoor sports. Even today, the company’s vision is of a ‘peaceful and equitable society, free from discrimination and based on the principle of social justice for all.’

The mills at Cromford with their powered machinery, large workforce and factory village became models for others throughout Britain and abroad. For the Victorians, who learnt so much from his example, Arkwright earned the accolade ‘Father of the factory system’, but he also did much to help his workforce, building many houses for workers and developing the village of Cromford to give them a place of security to live. Conditions may seem positively barbaric to us today (whole families were employed, including children as young as ten and workers received one week’s holiday a year), but at the time, this was almost a luxury! Arkwright may have been aggressive and self-sufficient and was obviously concerned with his own personal wealth to a large degree, but he was also fuelled by a vision to help others and the strong Methodist influence of the time can be seen in the number of Methodist churches built in the village of Cromford:

Vision will always determine action. What we believe will always fuel what we do. I am not qualified to comment on the Government’s policy documents, nor do I believe that ‘transforming lives’ is something which can be done by politics alone. I do believe, however, in the power of each individual to shape and change the culture around us. Individual Christians, fired by the power of the Holy Spirit, envisioned by the Father-heart of God, modelled on the servant King and motivated by love, will always have an impact on relieving poverty and working towards social justice, for these are issues on God’s heart. The prophet Amos railed against religious hypocrisy and urged people to have right priorities: ‘let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (Amos 5:24 TNIV) Similarly, Isaiah spoke against fasting which did not include right living and justice: ‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?’ (Is 58:6-7 TNIV) As God’s people, we need to be convinced of God’s stance in these issues and be open to His leading and directing. We may feel overwhelmed at times by the statistics, unsure as to what we should do or could do, uncertain as to how best we should direct our energies. We cannot do everything, but we can do something, as we agreed last week at the meeting with the Salvation Army. May God lead us and direct us so that we can help our communities and can show others that lives truly can be transformed by the regeneration and power of God with us, Emmanuel. After all, we firmly believe that God is the God of ‘second chances’ and long to see others knowing the power of forgiveness and the freedom life in Christ can bring.