I am halfway through reading a document put together jointly by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church. It is called ‘The Lies we Tell Ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty‘. The full document can be found here.
Like I said, I’m only halfway through. So far it’s brilliant, and I’m sure I will be posting some thoughts and reflections after completing it (update: I now have, and they are here!). But even the fact it has been written is worthy of comment!
A bold move
Four large UK denominations have grouped together to write a report on poverty in our nation. But not just about poverty in general – rather they discuss the ways in which poverty is spoken of in our public and private discourse, targeting that as one of the biggest barriers towards alleviating poverty. This is an important move, but also a bold one.
They are challenging not policies, institutions, or individuals. Rather they are challenging our culture, our entire society to commit to truth, not just our own (pre)conceptions of what poverty is and what causes it. This is good – we should be about the truth.
An unusual move
It might just be me, but I was slightly surprised by this report (deeply encouraged and excited, but surprised nonetheless). I feel as though the issues the church tends to mobilise over fall into two broad categories:
- Explicitly ‘Christian’ issues, affecting churches, individual Christians or things like religious education.
- Issues traditionally seen as ‘ethical’, whether this is to do with sexuality, issues of life (e.g. abortion) or anything else.
The issue of this report (poverty, welfare systems, benefits, etc.) does not seem to fit easily into either category, because it affects everyone, not just Christians, and is a political issue rather than an ethical issue.
Or so we sometimes kid ourselves. But it doesn’t require much thought to realise it is a deeply ethical issue, cutting to the heart of issues of human dignity in the midst of horrible situations and great pain. And it must certainly be seen as a Christian issue, one which Christians have a duty to care about. God consistently tells Israel that the way they treat those in most need is a matter of huge importance. Jesus certainly doesn’t do away with that, and gives very strong words about what God will think about those who do not serve those in poverty (see Matthew 25). And it is a given in the New Testament that the church will look after those in need.
We must care about how those in poverty in our country (and elsewhere) are looked after. We must stand up for them when their reputation and character is being maligned in order to score political points or perpetuate systems of attitudes of injustice.
We need more moves like this
Christians are known for certain things. The non-Christian world has heard Christians time and time again make clear their views on some things. This is not wrong. It can hurt our reputation, but in itself it is not wrong. If we have views, we should express them. I do not believe we should expect to be listened to anymore than anyone else based on this endlessly perpetuated idea of Britain being a ‘Christian Nation’, but we should express these views.
But we have done ourselves – and Jesus – a disservice in the narrow range of issues we have chosen to care about. We have given the message that they are all Jesus cares about.
But they are not. When legislation comes up in Parliament about discrimination based on mental health issues, Jesus cares. When Housing Benefits are discussed, Jesus cares. When education reform is proposed, Jesus cares. And if He cares, we must care also.
I believe we need to be more politically engaged as Christians. Not in a party-political way – our allegiance is not to any political leader or group, but to Jesus. Not in an angry and aggressive way – in His dealings with political leaders, Jesus was far quicker to lay down His rights than demand they be recognised.
Perhaps the nature of our political engagement should be the topic of another post (comments deeply welcome though!). For now, I’m very pleased about the subject matter that four major denominational leaders have chosen to address, and pray that more Christians will make more moves like this more of the time.