Recent news reports revealed that Bournemouth Borough Council had chosen to install metal bars on city centre benches to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them. The resulting public uproar, including a 20,000-strong petition opposing the move, called on the council to reverse its “inhumane” decision. Thankfully, within a week, the council had bowed to public pressure and agreed to remove the bars.
Alice Green, one of our Midlands Regional Centre students, reflects upon the decisions initially made by the council. Do their actions reflect those of Christ? And, how does Jesus call us to respond?
Of this, I am convinced. Barriers on benches would be barred in heaven.
Bournemouth Borough Council recently decided to attach barriers onto benches to stop the homeless population sleeping there. The news has been littered with this story and the same council has fallen under speculation twice before this scheme. Firstly, in 2016, when one-way train tickets were bought and given out to rough sleepers, encouraging them to move out of the area. Secondly, in 2015 when the council paid to play the sound of bagpipes from speakers outside Bournemouth coach station between midnight and 6am, preventing homeless people from sleeping nearby.
When reading these news stories, I can’t help but think of how much this opposes Jesus’ exemplification of living. It demonstrates the attitude rife within modern-day society; if you can detach yourself from the problem, then the problem ceases to exist.
The truth is that God is not in the business of shunning people away. He created humankind for communion with him. He is not a vindictive, cruel, hard-hearted law enforcer. He is a perfect father. He is not characterised by segregation, prejudice or indifference. But instead displays restoration, redemption and reconciliation. It’s this that God calls us to be part of; to get caught up in his loving pursuit of humankind.
Jesus taught this whilst in his ministry on earth. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:28–37) highlights what God’s love ought to look like; to love your neighbour as yourself. The ‘expert of the law’ questions Jesus. He wants to know who exactly our neighbour is. His question seems to come from a belief that there are some to whom love doesn’t apply. He implies that God’s love is limited and emphasises the worthiness of the object of love, rather than on the attitude of the one who is to do the loving.
The love God calls his followers to have is not a matter of theoretical discussion but of practical demonstration. In this parable, it is the despised Samaritan, a man of mongrel race and a polluted religion, who is praised for not theorising love, but acting it. The Jews and Samaritans were not groups that would have interacted with each other. But Jesus engaged in the lives of people from this race (John 4:4–42). This reminds us, as followers of God, that prejudice can separate us from helping people in need. Instead, Christ calls us to demonstrate his love; a love that breaks down division and stands in the gap for those unable to stand up for themselves.
I’m so glad the decision has finally been made to remove these barriers in Bournemouth. God is merciful in his nature. Barriers on benches are not a demonstration of mercy. They are ruthless. God is loving in his nature. Barriers on benches are not a demonstration of love, but of exclusion.
The challenge that Christians face today is to love in this bold, counter-cultural way. Love boldly.
Alice Green is a BA placement-based student at our Midlands Regional Centre. Click here for more information about our centre, the placement-based BA programme, and how you can be a part of it.