Justice for the poor and great
The past couple of weeks have not been a good time for Sir Philip Green, the retail tycoon and owner of Top Shop. In the House of Lords, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip as the businessman who had won a court injunction to prevent publication of an investigation into racism and sexual harassment.
This gave the media licence to refer to Sir Philip in conjunction to the story, and he has received saturation coverage since. Sir Philip broke his silence when he told the Mail on Sunday on 28 October that he had suffered the “worst week of his life” and that there was “zero evidence” to support the complaints against him.
There have been calls for Sir Philip to be stripped of his knighthood and reminders of his decision to sell British Home Stores for £1 and concerns regarding the viability of employee’s pension fund. Melanie McDonagh, also writing in the Mail on Sunday, described Sir Philip as “a creep and a bully”, but stressed “that isn’t a crime…yet”. She noted that none of the allegations against him have been proved and he has not been found guilty of any criminal offence.
These issues may be debated for some time to come, and commentators are already questioning whether Lord Hain abused Parliamentary privilege by naming Sir Philip. Others have insisted that we remember the complainants in this case as it is reported that at least two of whom agreed with the injunction in the hopes of maintaining their privacy.
Whatever we may think of Sir Philip, Christians will want to insist on justice for alleged perpetrator and victim alike, including the fundamental principle of our legal system that persons are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The importance of justice is stressed throughout the scriptures. A relevant passage may be Leviticus 19:15, where the Israelites are told: “Don’t pervert justice. Don’t show favouritism to either the poor or the great. Judge on the basis of what is right.”
“Do you know what I want?” God asked the children of Israel through the prophet Amos: “I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:21 – 24). And in a passage from Micah, we are told that God has “already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love” (Micah 6:8).
The wording in these passages may be unfamiliar to some readers, as they are taken from The Message translation of the Bible which was created and translated by Eugene Peterson, who recently died at the age of 85. Commenting on Peterson’s death in the Washington Post for 29 October, obituary writer Matt Schudel described the author and Presbyterian pastor as “one of the most influential religious thinkers of his time”, noting that his translation of the Bible had sold millions of copies and that he had written other books “that are considered classics of the pastoral canon”.
There is no doubt that Peterson lived an exemplary life of Christian service and will be remembered for giving the sacred texts a clarity and contemporary vibrancy that are not always present in traditional translations. Peterson has been justly praised by church leaders and the religious and secular media since his passing.
Sir Philip may not receive such accolades when his time on earth comes to an end, but in the meantime, he deserves to be treated with fairness and justice until any charges against him are substantiated. Much has been said in recent years about the importance of justice for the poor and underprivileged, but it is worth reminding ourselves that the rich and powerful are entitled to be treated justly and impartially as well.
Graham Hedges is secretary of Christians in Library and Information Services and a trustee of the Christian Book Promotion Trust.