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My first reaction to Laudato Si was one of relief. For decades it has felt as if the world was on a path to destruction, with all the loudest and most powerful voices urging it to go further and faster. A blind faith in market forces has been pressing the world, its environment, and its people into the service of the idol of money, with economic growth and personal consumption being presented as the highest objectives to which we could aspire.
In recent years, our understanding of what is meant by the terms poverty and social justice has been manipulated. In some quarters, poverty has been redefined to encompass all manner of social ills, and social justice appears to be more about managing and correcting the lifestyles of people who are poor, rather than confronting the reasons why they are poor.
Sometimes it seems as though nothing much changes. In 1987, London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends issued a public statement in the month before the General Election of that year. It expressed anger at the polarisation of the country; condemned inequality and expressed Quakers' belief that urgent action was needed to “promote debate and to stimulate action”.
Gross inequality is a “great challenge for our world,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned. On a visit to the USA, he spoke more forcefully on the issue than perhaps he has ever done before.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) usually passes me by. But this year (it runs from 18-25 January 2015) I have paid a little more attention. This is largely due to the present febrile atmosphere around the violence and fear which has been aroused in Europe by religious confrontation and intolerance, partly by the scale of rising inequality and a little by some anxiety as to my responsibilities as the representative of my Quaker Meeting to the local Churches Together group.