In the choir with Peter Singer

David Mansfield

Bible-lovers have very little in common with Australian ethicist Peter Singer.

But there may be one leaf out of his songbook that we are glad to sing from. Or is it just one song from our songbook that he would be happy to harmonise with?

Because we believe that people are created in the image of God, created for relationship with God and created to be his image bearers and servant/leaders of his world, will we not share Singer’s moral outrage for the indifference of the world’s richest billion to the plight of its poorest billion?

24,000 children under five die every day from starvation related illnesses or preventable diseases - 8.8 million small children every year.

In his book The Life You Can Save Singer argues that not one of us would walk past a pond where a child is drowning and hesitate to plunge in and save that child’s life.

We may be dressed in our latest designer label business suit. We may be wearing our favourite Italian leather shoes. We may be off to a meeting with the Prime Minister or morning tea with the Governor General. But not one of us would hesitate to ruin the suit, soil the shoes and arrive at the meeting late and soggy if it meant saving a single life.

How, then, argues Singer, could we sit on our hands or turn a blind eye to 24,000 children dying daily?

Singer argues that, with moderate expressions of generosity, the wealthiest billion can lift the poorest billion out of extreme poverty.

While we believe there is nothing more important than the rescuing of people from the horror of hell to the safe haven of heaven, social, emotional and physical needs still matter.

The Southern American Evangelical Baptist culture of Philip Yancey’s childhood and teenage years was white supremacist, segregationist and racist. They reviled and vilified civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and John Perkins who pastored black Baptist congregations. They nicknamed Martin Luther King, ‘Martin Lucifer Coon’.

Yancey now says, “The thing that haunts me more than the sins of my past are the sins I might be blind to today.”

I often ask myself and I often ask others, “What sins might we be blind to today?” What might our grandchildren look back at our generation and say, “Why didn’t they get it?” Or, more frighteningly, what might our grandchildren be even blinder to because we turned a blind eye today?

In his 2008 Synod Presidential Address Archbishop Peter Jensen spoke of a Sydney clergyman, R B Hammond, who exercised a remarkable ministry during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

The Archbishop said, “He modelled for us that typical evangelical alliance between preaching the Gospel and care for the community, an alliance that so wonderfully reflects and adorns the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Archbishop went on to speak about the Global Financial Crisis of our own day and said, “I hope we have not forgotten (the biblical virtues of faith, hope and love) for we are going to need them. Faith that God is in control; confidence in his future as being that which fulfils human existence; love from him that makes us generous to others . . . .  these are the qualities we are going to need more than ever as a community, as a nation . . . . if Australia does better than others in the crisis, we will bear an even greater responsibility to the poor of the earth.”

Bob Dylan asked in Blowin’ In The Wind, “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

Philip Yancey asks, “What sins am I blind to today?”

For very different reasons, from a very different songbook, we may find ourselves cobbled in the same choir as Peter Singer for just one song as we bellow out that 24,000 children dying from preventable causes is a global social evil we just cannot turn a blind eye to anymore.