What would the good Samaritan have done?
Guest post by Anthony Rimell -New Zealand Labour Party candidate for Christchurch Ilam electorate for the September 2017 General Election.
Last week I attended a public meeting at the Transition Cathedral to discuss and oppose the sale of 2,500 Christchurch State Houses. I was primarily there to support Naenae Higgs and Gail Scott, two current State Housing tenants, assisting them to speak to the meeting about their daily challenges, and how the proposed sale was adding needless stress for them and their State housing community.
As happens so often, I was asked why I, a Baptist Pastor, was getting involved in such a political topic. It’s a good question. Should we mix religion in politics? So I’m always happy to answer it.
I know many who say religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed. Religion is a private affair, they say. It shouldn’t impact on public settings, especially such polarising ones such as the politics of housing. Stick to acts of charity, they say: focus on being a good Samaritan, and leave politics to others.
To which I always respond: but the Good Samaritan is a story of charity that impacts us politically. It’s a story about challenging power imbalances by loving even our enemies. A Samaritan — a race despised by first century Jews — chose to care for a badly injured Jew: one who might have even rejected the help if he had known it came from a Samaritan. In first century Judea a ‘Good Samaritan’ was a contradiction in terms.
In the story, Jesus is telling us that the universal rule is that of love: loving one’s neighbour, no matter who they are. A person isn’t to be loved because they have earned it: they are loved because they are a person.
That’s radical. And it’s political because it opposes any system that undervalues others. The Biblical prophets weren’t afraid to challenge their own political leaders whenever those leaders oppressed the vulnerable. For example, Zechariah said: “Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor.”
That’s a strong call: don’t oppress the vulnerable. Nor are we to decide who is ‘worth’ being helped. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to help anyone who needs help.
My church in Riccarton is surrounded by State homes. There are about 1,000 within a one kilometre radius. That’s a lot of families. These 1,000 families are an essential part of our community. They are often in State homes because life has been tough on them. Sometimes circumstances have gone against them. Sometimes they’ve made poor choices. But always they’ve ended up needing the support of the State to get a roof over their head, where they and their kids could be warm, safe, dry, secure.
Not all of them get back on their feet. But many do, and start to get involved in our community. They help in the community garden. They join the Friday afternoon café we run at the church. The older ones come along to our Older Person’s gatherings, or get their feet cared for at our foot clinic. And each time one of them does, I’m reminded of that Good Samaritan, who shows us what being a neighbour really means.
Now the Government is proposing to sell those homes. Their arguments are: that others can do a better job than Housing New Zealand; and that the money can help build more homes. But these don’t stack up.
I agree that Housing New Zealand is only doing an average job. But that’s because over the last eight years the Government has stripped about $1.8 billion out of HNZ in ‘dividends’, ‘interest payments’ and ‘taxes’. No organisation could do what is needed while losing so much funding. HNZ could and would do better if it was again considered a core public service, and so didn’t lose those funds. This is the State housing policy which the Labour Party are advocating for in this years general election.
As to the money to build more homes: evidence shows that when we house our vulnerable families they get sick less often, their kids go to school more, and they find it easier to get jobs. Building homes for vulnerable families is not a cost: it’s an investment.
It’s an investment into those families, and into our communities. Selling the homes will break our community up. Where now those 1,000 families deal with the State, and have one set of obligations and rights, soon they could have two, three or more different landlord companies: some who will be more interested in profit-making from property development, not investing in families and communities. I think this is a situation where scripture is true -you cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24
In other words, the Government is selling my community. It’s not hearing the voice of the community — especially those in the HNZ homes. They aren’t people any more: they are chattels, to be passed on as part of a massive sale program.
And my community of widows, orphans, poor and foreigners isn’t for sale. Not for any price. I’ll stand with them, and oppose this sale. Yes, that’s political. But it’s also the right thing to do. And I think it’s what the Good Samaritan would have done.
A lightly edited version of of this article was published in Christchurch’s major newspaper -The Press -17.03.2017