Yesterday at our staff prayer meeting at church, we had a bunch of different newspapers out and we prayed for the world and all that’s going on in it. I saw a story about Francis Maude, UK Cabinet Office minister, and it made me sad.
He was speaking about making government services more readily available online, and he said:
everything that can be delivered online, should be delivered online
So far so good. Whether it be paying tax, dealing with driving licenses or accessing benefits, using the internet to access services is at once both far easier for most and much cheaper for the government (and the tax-payer). Government services should be delivered online. But then he carried on:
… and only online.
It was those three words that have troubled me, and many others.
Pushing the marginalised to the margins
The problem is quite simple: not everyone can access these services online. For many – particularly the elderly – the digital world is so foreign and scary that the ‘one-off lesson to help them get onto the internet’ is just not sufficient. Making services available online is tantamount to refusing services to some people. Others – particularly those who are poorer – simply cannot afford internet access.
It is those who are already among the most vulnerable in our society who will be affected most harshly if this happens.
What is perhaps even more troubling is the arrogance not just of assuming everyone can get to grips with the digital age, but that everyone should. Maude justified his aims to force digital involvement on people by stating that “we think that is a better thing for people’s lives.” Inevitably, to maintain this position, you have to deride those who do not want it, and Maude happily writes this group off as what he calls online ‘refuseniks’. Because name-calling always helps.
Essentially, this is the marginalisation of the already-marginalised. I believe it is wrong.
A call to inclusion
Jesus included people. People others had given up on. People others told Him not to include. People who had never been included in their whole lives. And He calls us to do the same.
It isn’t the job of the government in this country to do something just because Jesus would (though it is the job of this government to serve the needs of all citizens, not just those who are easiest).
Who are our churches excluding? Who is it we would really rather weren’t part of our communities? What do we do without realising that turns people away? Are we afraid of the messiness of doing life with certain types of people? How do we inadvertently tell people they’re not welcome? What names do we create for those people?
I am beginning to lead on our church’s use of the internet, digital and social media. I believe this is an important thing for the church to take hold of. But I would be horrified if I discovered that promoting Jesus-centred use of social media led others to believe that because they don’t have a Facebook account they are no longer welcome. I need to be careful about that.
We must include everyone, and nothing should be a barrier to that.
So I pray the government would rethink. I pray the government would reach out to the marginalised with inclusion. And I pray I would too.