Why I’m Standing: Zach Smith

My story starts, as any good personal statement does, with a passion I’ve had since childhood. My mum never cosseted me from the hard truths about the systemic inequalities of the world, and has always inspired me with her efforts for social justice; I first found out that Father Christmas didn’t exist when, aged five and packing up one of those shoeboxes you used to get in school to send to children in developing countries, I asked her why Father Christmas would visit me in Britain but didn’t go to Zambia. In all fairness, there was only really one answer my mum could give. My younger self was greatly impacted by the thought of children around the world, just like me but for a fluke of the country they were born in, not having a present to open on Christmas Day. (Though just for the record, I should clarify that I now recognise that posting bits of plastic around the world isn’t the model of good development.)

Growing up in a Christian home, I remember transitioning from vague awareness of the injustices of global poverty to a focus on the horrendous injustice of slavery and human trafficking. I was always inspired by William Wilberforce, who was moved by the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade to campaign for parliamentary action against it in the abolition movement. It really struck me that Christians like Wilberforce didn’t allow themselves to get subsumed by prevailing culture, and were prepared to stick up for what they believed in and fight for what they knew to be right despite the huge economic and political powerhouse backing slavery that they were faced with combatting.

It makes me so proud of my faith when I look back on the history of Christians fighting against systemic injustice and speaking up for the oppressed, yet also ashamed when remembering all the ways that the Church has been an integral part of that oppression. While so many of the abolitionists who fought to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century were Christians, the Church as a whole also justified slavery for hundreds of years and cloaked disgusting disdain for human life with the language of theology. Religion is without doubt a double edged sword for the marginalised; sometimes used as a powerful weapon to fight on their behalf but so often also employed to strike them down and maintain the injustices of the status quo and to me, this speaks to how careful Christians must be when approaching issues of justice; fighting as passionately as the cause deserves but doing so in humility, always recognising that religion can and too often has been employed for the ends of human greed and lust for power.

I also think it’s so important to recognise that passion isn’t everything when it comes to fighting for good causes, and even a good heart can put its energy in the wrong place. It’s vital to give to effective charities that work with, not just for, the communities they try to support, and who listen to those they try to speak out for. We are not the hero in any of these stories, and we’re in such a huge position of responsibility thanks to the luck of being born into the time and place we are; giving isn’t an optional extra act done from the kindness of our hearts, but an obligation to redress the global balance. I try and remember all this when choosing which causes to support and how to support them, but also freely admit that I get it wrong all the time. As Jesus (and someone in Spiderman) said, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, and I try my best to remember the huge blessings so many of us have in this country. 

This may all sound a bit heavy, but I don’t believe that doing our bit requires retreat to a hermitage. Just Love is all about finding ways we can live in a way that minimises the cost of our lives on the lives of others, and in this year’s Stand For Freedom we’ve researched closely the supply chains of our electronics. No phone, no matter how many ’S’s it has at the end, is worth the cost of its producers living in slavery, and I think the globalised world we live in where it’s so hard to see the consequences of the decisions we make as consumers masks the true cost of our convenience. Sky News (in a rare turn of moral revelation) reported recently on how the minerals used in our phones are mine by children in forced labour, and undercover reporting in a Chinese factory that supplies Apple found nets there on the stairwells to prevent suicide. It is hard to hear this, but also hard to hear it and not do anything about it. Just Love’s aim, in Stand For Freedom and our other projects, is to enable us to act. The great news about the huge influence we have with our consumer decisions and comparative wealth is that we have a massive ability to act for the good; this doesn’t have to be seen as an oppressive pressure, but can be recognised for the amazing opportunity to fight against global injustice that it is.

I came to university thinking I was going to study politics and economics and in three years learn how to solve all the world’s problems. I like to hope I now have significantly less of a hero complex; more aware of how huge these issues are but also more equipped to actually come to terms with them in practical, tangible ways. James 2:14 asks ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?’ Our faith alone certainly cannot save the 46 million people still in slavery around the world today, but in making the choice to live that faith out by giving, raising awareness, and praying, we can make a difference. Maybe not to all, but to the one, and the one matters.