In his address to the opening of the Presbyterian Assembly last night, the new Irish moderator talked about global problems of poverty and oppression.
The Rev Dr Frank Sellar spoke not just about human suffering, but about the mis-use of the world’s precious resources.
This is a timely message from a leading churchman about matters of pressing importance, that are, as he says, rooted in selfish and short-termist human activity.
Environmental depredation is a worsening problem that affects all continents and seas.
And it is becoming increasingly hard to close our eyes to the trauma on the fringes of our societies, including war and drownings of desperate people in the Mediterranean. Largely closing our borders and sending crossing migrants back to the shore from which they departed is not an unreasonable position – the alternative, of welcoming all-comers, will only encourage millions of destitute to risk their own lives crossing great seas and make an already huge problem an ungovernable one. But sending people back is only one part of the jigsaw. How to help poor societies while prioritising our duties to our own disadvantaged citizens, and without enriching corrupt regimes, is one of the great challenges of our age.
Dr Sellar, who is already familiar to many people as a voice on BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought For The Day, seems to be making clear that he too places a high emphasis on such issues. His moderatorial theme is ‘A Community of Global Concern’.
Dr Sellar’s recounting last night of the story of Jonah being sent by God to what is modern-day Iraq is a reminder that some of the faultlines in the world have changed little over centuries – the very first surviving Belfast News Letter reports in 1738 on war and tensions involving Russia, Muslims and other groups who feature prominently in the news today.
A report last week showed further proof of declining religious allegiance in the UK, yet much of the concern shown in the gospels for the dispossessed has never seemed more pertinent.