A bias for the poor

John Rawls is a philosopher whose work was discussed at a recent seminar I attended. His Theory of Justice contains the "difference principle" in which he states that "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society." That is, those least well off should be helped the most. Sadly, this is rarely the case, as Tudor-Hart noticed in his "Inverse Care Law" - those who need care the most receive it the least.

As a Psychiatrist working for the NHS, my clients are typically from the lower social classes. This is in part because life is 'tougher' without money and so problems like anxiety and depression are more common. It is also due to the fact that illnesses like schizophrenia [though affecting all classes when people first become ill] has the effect over time of seeing people drift into lower classes due to stigma, unemployment and the benefit trap.

As a Christian, I am also keen on seeing people released from situations that TRAP them. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that the Gospel is more about freedom than it is about forgiveness. God has set us free from sin by forgiveness, but He also wants to set us free from so many other things that bind us. Remember what Jesus say at his commissioning in Luke 4: to set free the poor, and the blind and the oppressed and the prisoner. Yes, He uses different words [like good news, release, recover], but the essence is that people are freed from something.

But does Jesus teach a Bias for the Poor as such?

One of my favourite books is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. In this book, Ronald Sider says that although Jesus talks a lot about the poor, he is more interested in those who are trapped - for example the 1 billion who live on less that $1 per day. He gives an excellent review of the principle of the Year of Jubilee found in the Old Testament.

Applied Theology

If we are not careful, we can make a distinction between Systematic Theology and Applied Theology - in fact many universities set up their Religious Studies Departments along just these lines. But for Jesus, to have a theology WAS to live it out and make it relevant.

My theology is that God wants to set free the prisoner and I am please to work for an organisation that, in part, seeks to buck the trend and work with those who no-one else will work with. Long may free health care be available to all in the UK and long may the NHS direct it preferentially to those who can access it least!

Rob Waller, 25/08/2008