One of the defining characteristics of Tearfund is our commitment to engaging Christians in Australia with God’s work towards a more just and compassionate world. Being a Christian community that embodies justice is as important to Tearfund as our support for Christians working in hard places bringing justice to the impoverished. As Tony McCarthy, former Chair of the Board for Tearfund Australia, so accurately described:
"Tearfund is, and has always been, a people’s organisation. It is a community of disciples committed to being practical in expressing their faith; passionate about their discipleship in seeking to express God’s love and concern for the poor; and rigorous in exploring the scriptures to learn and to inform both belief and practice."
Tearfund is, and has always been, a people’s organisation.
In Australia, our work of community organising is deeply grounded in local faith communities: churches and Christian communities from a wide range of denominations. Our team of community organisers, both staff and volunteers, connect and equip Christians across the country to form the national movement which, for almost 40 years, has been transforming lives in such a way that benefits our global neighbours.
Even as we engage Christians through five different responses (prayer, advocacy, giving, lifestyle and learning), we envision these not in an individual vacuum, but moving together within community. That is where they are at their most effective, and their most creative. Indeed, Tearfund’s community organising is filled with fun, hopeful and life-giving for all involved. From Tearfund support groups, to Ambassadors, UG Shop operators, and those who gather a group to meet with their MP to campaign for policy changes, we appreciate that social justice is not a solo action.
We’ve seen the effectiveness of collective action time and time again. In the 90s, the Jubilee 2000 petition led to the cancellation of the debt owed Australia by some of the world’s poorest nations. TEAR worked to lift the stigma towards people living with HIV through personal conversations and education campaigns. Our lobbying around creation care and climate change has been ongoing since the 80s through churches, and connecting concerned Christians for international change.
We know that when we gather as a people of faith, our communities have sacred potential. This potential inspires us to seek holiness collectively. At times, this may feel a little cobbled together, nevertheless we realise the transformative potential of our churches, each and every one. These are the sacred spaces in which we find our relationship with God.
Doing justice together can be challenging, particularly considering the thread of individualistic spirituality that often runs through our worship services and practices. This individualism shapes our views of Scripture as well as our responses to inequality and injustice. Many churches engage wholeheartedly in activities which benefit needy individuals, yet hesitate to question the structural causes of poverty.
Individualistic spiritual culture means that those of us who are passionate about social justice can end up feeling isolated within our churches. We could look for ways to pursue the common good outside our faith communities, but this need not be the case. Tearfund Australia trains and supports Christians who are willing to begin the conversation around social and structural justice in their own churches, mobilising their beloved sacred communities for collective action. In particular, we focus around the three primary justice challenges of today’s world:
Of course, God is already at work in our traditional institutions, as well as in newer, or more informal communities of faith. The Spirit is tilling the soil, expanding our communal capacity for empathy, connectivity, awareness, and action. Faith communities already serve as a forum for communal reflection, for forming values, and vision-casting. As the church grows in its capacity to perform these roles with a collective consciousness, faith communities can be a prophetic exemplar of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. This is our calling. It would be an affront to the character of God to use our collective social power merely for the survival of our own institutions.
Our faith communities can be the places where those who are facing extreme poverty overseas are seen as “neighbours.”
We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.
If, grounded within our local communities of faith, we expand our sense of ‘place’ to include those affected by poverty and marginalisation, larger stories of love and redemption open up.
This work requires a commitment to deep listening and deep investment in relationship. When we listen intentionally to each other’s stories, we start to see threads of gold: common calling, passions, and values. We trust that through openness to each other and to the Spirit, God will guide us towards creative, prophetic actions of solidarity. As we link up with other faith communities, our actions gain energy and momentum. Dynamic relationships, open to the movement of God, become the
gears which power this movement for societal redemption. When we act together to address injustice, our actions resonate.
Working together in sustained and systematic ways, we call our faith communities to their true purpose: to be the light of the world, creators of a just and loving society, where all have the opportunity to thrive. The church has historically served as the incubator for movements including civil rights, the abolition of slavery, political democracy and the development of social services. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
As we move from “I” to “we”, we usher forth God’s healing. As we commit to work deeply within our faith communities, God opens up new connections within old paradigms. The creation of these spaces within our faith communities is Holy Work.
If you are only just now ready to be an influencer in your faith community, join the TEAR movement and let’s begin to do justice together.