I am sometimes asked whether I, or the organisation I work for, have a theory of change. I usually answer that I do not know what one is.
I am more attracted by the language of morality, of right and wrong, of values and duties, than by the language of theory. However, there may be a convergence between the two.
This is an attempt to articulate my understanding of why I do what I do, which involves solidarity with communities around the world who are badly affected by mining companies with links to London. It’s not really a theory of change. It’s more a statement of values.
Every human being has an inalienable dignity which must be respected at all times.
The duty of every human being is to act in a way which guarantees the dignity of other human beings as well as their own dignity, and which contributes to true human flourishing. ‘True human flourishing’ includes the complete well-being not only of human beings alive at the time, but of the generations yet to come.
All human beings have an equal right to the goods of the Earth: any way of arranging human affairs in which some people enjoy a superabundance of goods while others do not have sufficient for the maintenance of a dignified existence is unjust.
Every human being also has a duty to consider the well-being of non-human beings, gathered together in mutually supportive ecosystems, and of the entire planetary biosphere. Healthy ecosystems are essential for the maintenance of human life; but our consideration of the needs of other life-forms is not to be a matter of self-interest but of profound respect for their own dignity.
Anything which wounds this dignity, this flourishing, this well-being, is to be resolutely resisted. Where this wounding is of our own dignity, our duty is to offer dignified direct resistance; where the wounding is to the dignity of others, our duty is to offer solidarity, as brothers and sisters of those whose dignity is being wounded.
Solidarity is the offering, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, of whatever assistance may practically be offered. This may involve physical accompaniment to protect people from violent attack; funding for the achievement of particular goals; publicity about the injustices in question and the struggle against them; enabling people to speak more widely about their experiences and demands, by publishing their words or enabling them to travel to speak to others; finding ways to hold to account the perpetrators of injustice, through litigation, legislation or simply by public shaming; or other things.
Solidarity must be rooted in respect for those to whom the solidarity is offered. This involves listening to what they have to say about their experiences, their hopes and their preferences. It is not for outsiders to impose their own views on them. If advice is asked for, it may be offered in humility, on the understanding that it may be rejected. Solidarity is not to be withdrawn on the basis of differences of opinion. That is not to say that solidarity involves doing everything that is asked of us: we too have limitations of capacity, energy, money and time, and it is possible that we may be asked to do something that our conscience will not allow us to do, in which case we may have to decline, and explain. But we decline and explain as equals, as brothers and sisters – not as patrons or lords.
In offering our solidarity, it is important to understand the nature and structural context of the violations of dignity that are occurring. But it is not essential to be an expert. What is essential is the respect with which the solidarity is offered. Knowledge is important, but love is essential.
It is the oppressed themselves who are the authors of their own liberation. But through the sharing of solidarity their power is increased, struggles are linked, seemingly isolated cases are seen to be connected, a movement is begun. People are encouraged to continue their struggle. Pressure for change is created from the base but with the assistance of solidarity from other parts of the world and other parts of society. Everyone offers what they can, and victories can be won as a result. But the process is usually slow and cumulative rather than sudden and dramatic. Sometimes nothing seems to be happening, because the forces ranged against us are so enormously powerful. At such times we need to function like drips of water causing erosion over long periods.
During the process of working for just change, the maximum unity is to be built and maintained. It is a serious error to alienate potential allies. It is to be expected that we will be working with people whose views we do not share on everything. As long as we share a commitment to human dignity and flourishing and can agree on aims and methods in a particular struggle, we can work together.
Perhaps, thus far, many of my colleagues in the secular organisation in which I work may feel able to identify to some extent with my words. Fewer will feel able to identify with the words to come, and yet for me they are the reason for everything else.
The reason that the dignity of all beings is so important is that the entire universe springs forth from the infinite love of God, who is Love, and who suffuses the entire universe, or the entire constellation of multiverses, with love, as the ocean suffuses a sponge. Every being is willed, loved, necessary. Human life has meaning and purpose, and that meaning is love and that purpose is love. Love cannot sit idly by while human beings are treated with disrespect, while injustices are multiplied, while ecosystems are destroyed. Love demands that we take action. And the infinite Love which is God assists us in taking action. So part of my own theory of change is that God helps us identify, understand and create the necessary changes, and that this process works through intercession, meditation, thanksgiving and inspiration.
Because I believe in a God who became human in Jesus of Nazareth, I believe that we too can incarnate the love of God through our loving action. And our action, a manifestation of love, must be loving in all its parts. We must not hate the enemy, even though we recognise that we do have enemies. We must pray for the enemy’s conversion to justice and love. When we win, we must behave with magnanimity. We must never take vengeance – just overcome injustices. Among ourselves, our fellowship must be distinguished by continual mutual forgiveness. We must forge a community of kindness because we wish to create a world of kindness.
Because I believe that this human God was crucified as an inevitable result of his solidarity with the oppressed, the poor, the outcast, I believe that we too have to be ready to make sacrifices in pursuit of justice. Many of our friends around the world suffer privation, threats and even death for their involvement in the struggle. Our sacrifices are slight compared with theirs. But we do need to be willing to make sacrifices for the liberation of the oppressed, including the liberation of our oppressed and suffering Mother Earth.
Because I believe that this crucified human God rose from the dead, I believe that our sacrifices will not be wasted and that our struggle will not be in vain. Every act of solidarity, however small, will bear some fruit for the life of the world. This belief gives me hope, and hope gives me strength to continue, until our victory and until my death!