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The lecture 'Untangling the legacies of slavery: Deconstructing Mission Christianity for our contemporary Kerygma.’ will be given by Anthony Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture.

May 11, 7:30 pm
‘Untangling the legacies of slavery: Deconstructing Mission Christianity for our contemporary Kerygma.’

The Centre for Theology and Justice is delighted to welcome Anthony Reddie to give the annual David Goodbourn Lecture. This lecture, built upon research undertaken for the Council for World Mission’s ‘Legacies of Slavery’ project, will outline the necessity of deconstructing the problematic history of Christian mission and its relationship to slavery and colonialism.

Anthony Reddie. Director, Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture. Anthony is a leading scholar in the practice of Black Theology within grassroots communities. The significance of his writings and research is recognised internationally.

The Centre for Theology and Justice brings together a number of organisations involved in justice issues, including Luther King House, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), Church Action on Poverty, and Christian Aid.

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Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

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Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, reflects on the story of Holy Week

From celebration to despair, then embarrassment and humiliation. Even though the disciples of Jesus had been told what to expect more than once, the adoration of the crowd , the triumphant faces and them processing through the midst of it, was intoxicating. The guys were lifted high and bathed in the glory of the one they had been following faithfully for 3 years.
 
So to see him hanging on a cross, his bloody hands and feet no longer spelling victory but defeat, caused them to scatter, to deny they ever even knew him. Their Saviour, their King was no longer able to lead them out of captivity. They were lost.
 
That brings us to Good Friday, a bleak day where all over the world churches are stripped of any ornamentation and even pictures are turned to face the walls. Services recalling Jesus’ words on the cross, are sombre and reflective and as each person contemplates their own part in that Holy day, intensely sad. Jesus’ disciples had no idea what would happen 3 days after Jesus died on the cross. But over 2000 years since that first resurrection morning, we do.
 
We know the story of the stone miraculously rolled away from the tomb and the burial cloths where Jesus’ body had lain. We know how their grief turned to joy when they heard the incredible news that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive, walking and talking. He had told them, prepared them for all of this but the reality and the depths of their emotions blurred their grasp on his words and his promises.
 
In order to know the Easter joy, we need to feel the pain of that Good Friday and to know our part in it. In dying, Jesus was being separated from his Father, for the sake of everyone who mocked and jeered him on that day, together with those who couldn’t bear to watch but couldn’t bear to never see him again. Together with us today and all those people in between. Somehow inexplicably, he was taking what should be our comeuppance for lives lived selfishly and outside of God, on his own outstretched arms as he hung there. As his last breath exited his wounded, blameless body, his followers are granted freedom.
 
Living forever in close harmony with God is what is promised and what can be delivered because of Jesus on the cross. His death gives us life. We can choose it or not.
 
We have heard so much bad news this last year. Surely it is time to hear some amazingly good news. Listen, reflect and choose. 

Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg .

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Our partners at the ‘Life on the Breadline: Christianity, Poverty and Politics in the 21st Century City’ project at Coventry University invite you to share their research at their End of Project Conference.

Image produced by Beth Waters for Life on the Breadline

24–25 June 2021 10:00am to 4:15pm UK time

A two-day online conference from the Life on the Breadline project team as the culmination of three years of research into Christian responses to UK poverty in the context of austerity.

The conference will combine sessions with presentations and Q&A, and interactive workshops.  Sessions at the conference will include presentations from the Life on the Breadline project team – Chris Shannahan, Robert Beckford, Peter Scott and Stephanie Denning – on the research findings, plus interactive workshops on researching poverty, asset-based community development, and Black Church responses to austerity, and guest speakers Dr Naomi Maynard (Together Liverpool) and Professor Anthony Reddie (University of Oxford and University of South Africa).  At the conference we will also be launching the Anti-Poverty Charter which is being developed in consultation with research participants in the Life on the Breadline research.

The anticipated audience for the conference is theology and social science academics, church leaders, and practitioners in church and poverty response settings. The majority of sessions are aimed at all three audiences, and the target audience is noted alongside each session in the provisional conference programme.

To find out more including the provisional conference programme, and to book your free place visit the Life on the Breadline website at https://breadlineresearch.coventry.ac.uk/events/end-of-project-conference/

Day 1 - 24th June 2021

Day 2 - 25th June 2021

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Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

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Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

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The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

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Reset The Debt in Parliament

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Self-Reliant Groups facilitator Laura Walton focuses on the importance of mindfulness in the last few weeks of lockdown

Mindfulness is all about appreciating the moment and doing what it takes to stay in the moment. We learn to hold back our thoughts and train them to sit and wait while our minds settle and are still. No more thinking of all the things we need to do by this evening. Taking a break from those anxious what ifs about tomorrow or next week, those worries about our children and their children, relatives, neighbours, situations which we just can’t fix. It is about stopping and looking and listening, even smelling, tasting and touching.
 
Whilst walking in the park this week with a friend, I caused her to stop and instructed her to look and stop talking. She has been shielding and working from home very reluctantly. Instead of being swamped by children with their noise and clamouring for attention, she has gazed through her window, sat at a desk,in front of her computer and often in silence for most of the last year. Every week we would walk and she would talk, downloading the week indoors as we passed impromptu illegal gatherings of drummers, football matches with supposedly no spectators, the guy cutting hair under a tree over near the closed tennis courts. When I realised she was going to talk her way straight past a huge bank of early daffodils and late snowdrops I had to redirect her energy and attention to something beautiful, wild, resilient and resistent to the drammatic changes that we have all had to face this last year.She continued breathing but stopped still.
 
Despite the upheavals and U turns in our lives, all those sleeping bulbs needed was time at a certain temperature to activate growth and produce a fine display to capture and hold the frenetic activity of my friend’s mind mid download. And she was still and quiet and smiling.
 
How much more beautiful do the blossom trees look this year? Can we take time in these last few weeks before Boris sets us free again to walk and stop and look. Can we look up? Instead of leaving our footprints on the white blossom petals spilt on the pavement, let’s lift our eyes to those gloriously decorated branches. Our worlds have become so small over the last few months and our horizons merely as far as the nearest loaf of bread and bottle of milk. It’s definitely time to look up and be reminded of the vastness of the sky, the knowledge of who is in control and the opportunities that still lie out there for us

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Self-Reliant Group facilitator, Laura Walton, prepares for the final stretch of lockdown

As the runners round that final bend, there is always an expectation that one or more of the lean mean machines flashing lycra and sticky plasters strapping their bodies together, will find the throttle. They will move away from the pack with 100 metres to go, muscles straining and eyes fixed like steel on the finish. The others, faces grimacing with desperation and nothing in the tank to respond with, watch as they get left behind. They have nothing more to give. Lying on the track, chests heaving, arms thrown over their faces, they know they gave it their all, but had nothing in reserve.
 
So with two weeks to go until we can meet outside as two households or 6 individuals, are we ready for our final straight? Have we abandoned that race altogether? Or are we dragging our bodies by sheer will power? Did that will power leave us months ago and now we mooch around in the changing room, warm, comfortable and safe?
 
Whàt effect has 3 lockdowns and numerous tight restrictions here in the North West had on us? We’ve almost certainly been contemplating what we will do and where we will go come the end of this month and then later on. The future potentially is bright, depending on Boris’s criterion being met. We could have a haircut, browse the charity shops and meet someone for a sit down coffee…..all in the same day. Or we could receive our shopping delivery, spend an hour on the phone, sort the plastic pots, paint a wall and collapse onto our beds with the cat.
 
For some of us that finishing line just gets nearer and nearer as we think about the sheer joy of lying on the track, chests heaving, no more running. For others, that finishing line is a mirage, a suggestion but nothing definite, nothing tangible. We all started on the same track, but sometime soon some will leave to celebrate, to rest, to tell the story whilst others will still be moving towards that finish line, the one that never seems to get any nearer.
 
So this is where, just as much as before, if not more so, we need to be understanding and encouraging and think less of celebrating our own freedom and more of helping those we know, finish and get off that track.We need to have something in the tank to have a shoulder to lend or re-run that last lap beside someone else. Depending on the encouragement we get, we could all be celebrating together, finishing that race.
 
So are we ready for the final push? Can we get someone else we know over that finish line when all they want to do is stay in the changing room?
One of my favourite bible verses is not about persevering and running the race, although that is a good one. It’s about relying on God when our own resources are depleted and having our strength renewed. Then instead of being able just to drag our bodies over the line and finish the race, we can soar on wings and never grow tired again.
 
This verse is for us all, our families, our friends and especially for those communities all over the world who are still very much in the grip of the pandemic. Let’s put our hope in God.
 
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint.
Isaiah 40:31


Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg 

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Self-Reliant Group Facilitator, Laura Walton, gives thanks for all the women who inspire and support us

We were blessed this week in Brews on Thursday as people shared who were the women in their lives who had inspired them. Women who served the poor in Calcutta and challenged authorities to do the same or who made a stand by sitting in a seat in a bus or who used poetry to talk about injustices women had endured. It was touching how many Mums and Grandmas also made it into the top spot. One shared how inspired she was by her 3 year old granddaughter. Loving, doting grandmothers shared their joy in their grandchildren, sharing their wisdom of lives lived despite set backs and disadvantage.

But not everyone has positive role models in the women in their family and so it’s important to hear about these stories of people we don’t know and see their profiles, read their biographies and watch their stories unfold. Maybe that’s when our own stories become much more powerful when we began them in a void, empty of encouraging and empowering words and actions loaded with love. Sometimes just growing up is tough and even more so these days with the huge pressures of social media. We have learnt that our children do not need to wait until they have grown up to make a mark on the world, they can start now. Whether it’s selling lemonade on the street to support Syrian refugees or having conversations with Donald Trump about the massive devastation already wreaked on the world through carbon emissions. We thank God that our children and teens are noticing what is going on in the world today, perhaps in a way that we didn’t. Not only noticing but recognizing that their own actions can collectively make a huge difference in the world and certainly make changes in their families. At some point we must have encouraged them ( alongside others) to see the bigger picture and given them the courage and confidence to do something for others.
And we can keep on doing that. Encouraging them, affirming them and noticing what they try and do.We can help them through their growing up challenge in this crazy world, to be courageous and confident and bring change. However big or small.

On International Women’s day we can applaud women who have challenged inequality and injustice. We can cheer those who have trailblazed and set their sights on being in positions which affect the greatest changes in nations. We can thumbs up those women who speak out and make themselves unpopular and those who risk their lives protesting in a crowd. And we can contemplate and silently praise those millions of women who struggled to keep their under 5s from dying from disease, or to keep their kids in shoes or enough food on the table to see you them through the day. We nod in agreement to those women who walked miles every day for water to bathe their kids and those who held down 3 jobs so that they could pay the rent. Then there are those big sisters who brushed their siblings’ hair and fetched their mum’s medication. We see you all.

You are our sheroes. We join our women’s voices together to call you out and say thank you for being our quiet inspiration of resilience and persistence. For never giving up when all seemed against you ever being able to put your feet up, we thank you. For putting people first and serving them until the last star had disappeared in the dawn light and it was time to start again. We see you. Thank you.

In the Bible the prophet Micah describes you and his words can help us all live lives our grandmas would be proud of.

 “And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

Find out more about Self-Reliant Groups: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/srg

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Volunteers with art at Migrant Support

Our latest 2021 story takes us to Migrant Support in Manchester.


How do we protect and rebuild dignity and power, with people who feel powerless and small?

How do we nurture personal agency among people who, right now, need help?

Groups such as Migrant Support actively respond to those questions day in day out, as they work not merely to walk alongside people marginalised by society, but to end that marginalisation.

Migrant Support is the March feature in the 2021 Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. The organisation, based in Manchester, is a lifeline and first port of call for many, providing practical support and social encouragement.

People arriving in the UK are often denied access to employment or support, but if our national systems don’t always reflect the compassion of our society, groups such as Migrant Support do.

Sally from Migrant Support in decorative dress
Sally Hilton, Migrant Support volunteer and the star of the March page of the Dignity, Agency, Power calendar. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

Starting a second life

Sally Hilton, the Migrant Support volunteer pictured on this month’s calendar, says Migrant Support helped her immensely. In a video for the organisation, she said: “The first time when I came here I was very scared about my life, so when I came into Migrant Support I told them my problems. I didn’t understand English so Sandra taught me I needed to learn English. She said ‘You have a second life in this country, so don’t be scared – I’ll help you for everything’.”

We asked co-founder Sandra Rice: what do the values of dignity, agency and power mean to your work?

Volunteers with art at Migrant Support
Sandra Rice, centre, with members of Migrant Support. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

Sandra on dignity: being part of something

“For Migrant Support, dignity has a very strong meaning. People who come to Migrant Support feel they have no value or they have not been heard. Things that are a worry to them seem not to matter to the whole society. They feel they are tiny in size when they come to us.

“At Migrant Support we encourage people to come together, to feel that this is a family for them. We create a safe place where friendly staff help them to move forward a little bit closer to employment, to formal education as well.

“Getting involved with projects that actually help you to feel a bit better might sound very easy or simple, but to feel better about themselves is a big thing on the road to getting that dignity back, to a feeling of fulfilment or feeling of identity, and being part of something.

“That’s a process that doesn’t come in one meeting or by meeting only one person or solving a problem. It’s a long journey and having people around them or in a group during this journey means a lot, because you not only gain the dignity of one person, but the whole group gains.”

Volunteers in the Migrant Support garden, showing some of their art
Migrant Support members, with their works of art. Photo by Madeleine Penfold.

Sandra on agency: reducing dependency

“One of the key projects we do is the befriending, and peer support. People who come to Migrant Support are mainly looking for very specific needs or problems they want to solve, like calling the doctor or struggling for housing, or maybe they’ve been fired or they haven’t been paid.

“Once the main problem is solved, the next thing is to reduce levels of dependency. They feel that because they can’t do things for themselves they need somebody else and in most cases that is because of the language, or because they do not know how to do things or are scared to have a phone call with somebody.

“We have some students who speak English but when you give them the phone to speak with somebody, they just freeze; they can’t move forward.

“They say it’s a matter of being able to rely on their own skills and feel confident, and therefore they increase their levels of English and communication skills. By being able to know how to do things, practical stuff, then they become themselves – they don’t need to ask anybody else; they feel confident enough themselves to call the city council to solve a problem, or call the school and solve a problem.

“We know this is happening when with their list of asks and they’re not calling us anymore, because they are getting more confident.”

Volunteers discuss a project at Migrant Support
Migrant Support members in Manchester. Photo by Madeleine Penfold, before the most recent lockdown.

Sandra on power: building stronger, louder voices

“It’s slow steps. First, people have to feel the power to make change for themselves in a very small scale. Then it’s obviously being part of a community or volunteering or feeling they’re powerful, then it’s having their own community.

“An idea of Migrant Support is to help people be aware that with any decisions that could be taken in the community, they have the power actually to raise their voice and the power to join other groups – not only or always with Migrant Support; they could join their own communities. If there’s an issue that matters to them, they could be able to talk about it.

“Again, we go back to confidence… if they feel able to talk about issues that matter to them and they have the power to do it, they will. For instance, Self-Reliant Groups help them save money and then they think they could cook, or sell the products and get a little more income for themselves. The idea is that small changes can make a big change. That could be individually but also collectively, when voices are heard stronger and louder.”

An open door and strong relationships

Migrant Support helps people in many ways. Beyond the language, it helps people address past traumas, works with children who have arrived in the country, and helps people rediscover themselves, resurrecting hobbies, for example.

The pandemic has been a lonely and difficult time for many, but the language barrier can make it even harder for people new to the UK, when it comes to introducing oneself to neighbours or getting involved in neighbourhoods. What’s more, many of the people Migrant Support helps were working in zero-hours contracts and in hospitality work, so felt the economic impact especially severely.

Samira Chaudry is lead teacher at Migrant.Support, and she too was interviewed for the charity’s recent video.

She said:There’s something very special about Migrant Support. The door is open for everyone regardless of their background and we accept people exactly for who they are.

“As a migrant myself who came here without the language and was able to go through the British education system and acquire the qualifications I needed to become a teacher, I so want to give something back. The gift that I can give to the migrants and asylum seekers is the gift of education.

“At Migrant Support, what we do is we value every single learner as an individual. We care about their past, their present, as well as their future. We build strong lasting relationships. The first most important thing is to build that friendship and trust, so they know we accept them for who they are, whatever their difficulties may be.

“We support them in terms of offering guidance and advice; we obviously direct them to services like housing and welfare, and we have someone who can offer legal support and we offer them friendship so they can relax.

“It’s so fantastic to see them having come with nothing and then, after a few weeks, able to say who they are, where they came from and learning the very basics of what they need. I’ve not met a learner yet who hasn’t wanted to succeed and get somewhere and we are they people that are actually giving them that avenue so they can make a success and integrate with the community.”

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

Lent course for 2022: Life on the Breadline

Our Cookery Book

Keep the Lifeline – sign our open letter to the Prime Minister

Seeking food justice in York

Jayne and Shaun’s story: creativity, self-reliance and truth

Sign the Anti-Poverty Charter!

Long read: How do we build dignity, agency & power together?

The story of a Cornish food and community revolution

“You are worthy. Don’t ever give up.”

How can policy-makers and churches work together to tackle UK poverty?

How have Christians responded to poverty during austerity?

Reset The Debt in Parliament

Watch the Food Power story

How we can use poetry to accelerate social change

Activism, struggle and superpowers

Why does digital exclusion matter?

62% want action on income inequality. So, what do we do?

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

Nick Jowett, a member of Church on Action on Poverty in Sheffield, writes on differing Christian approaches to tackling poverty.

It would be right to assume that all Christians are equally concerned about issues of poverty and inequality in society.

The Bible is full of such concerns. The law of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 is intended to prevent anyone accumulating more and more wealth and property. The prophets inveigh against greed and luxury and the unfair treatment of the poor. Proverbs 14:31 says: ‘Whoever oppresses the poor insults his maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him.’ In the New Testament Gospels one can quote very many passages in which Jesus shows his preferential concern for the poor and warnings against those who amass wealth. ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,’ says the writer of 1 Timothy (6:10). The church of Acts 4 held all things in common, so that there was no inequality.

So the Bible is very clear that injustice and poverty are a scandal and an offence to God. Those who promote inequality, those who pile up wealth for themselves, those who live in luxury while others suffer and fail to do anything, those who actively cheat the poor – these will have to face the harsh judgement of God. Those who help the poor and suffering people, those who give up their wealth and follow in Jesus’ way, those who sell their property and share it with the community – these will be blessed, because they have sought to bring God’s kingdom into reality

Throughout Christian history, the church has been involved in the promotion of charity towards the poor and vulnerable, following Jesus’ commands, e.g. in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) or that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). This has involved both the recommendation of a life of generosity and/or chosen poverty for individual Christians and the organisation of communal charitable activity to help the less fortunate. But the arrival of the modern state, with its economic power and its assumed responsibility for the well-being of its citizens, has opened up new questions which the Bible and Christian traditions may or may not be well equipped to answer.

In the United Kingdom and following upon the consequences of the industrial revolution, it was at the beginning of the 20th century that the state caught up with its responsibility for the nutrition, health, education, employment and housing of its citizens. This gradually removed from the church much of its charitable provision of the same things, pushing church and other charitable activities to a voluntary and more marginal sector. It is clear that charitable provision on its own had been unable to meet the needs of the population.

Following the economic crisis of 2008, Conservative governments have reduced tax-funded community facilities and individual welfare support to a considerable degree, with a renewed hope, not always fulfilled, that private and voluntary provision might fill the gaps.

Christians on the Left are very likely, in addition to Scripture and Christian tradition, to take their point of departure from William Temple’s ‘Christianity and Social Order’ and the creation of the welfare state in the post-war Labour government. By contrast, Conservative Christians may well consider themselves ‘less political’, relying on Bible and Christian tradition alone, but still accepting the necessity of the welfare state, while also being ‘children of Thatcher’ in preferring the freedoms and possibilities of personal/economic initiative in today’s society.

Left-wing Christians will speak a good deal about the kingdom of God, which has both come into being in the ministry of Christ and yet is still to be fulfilled by the end of the age, and they see an important role for humans, and especially Christians, in collaboration with God’s Spirit, in bringing to fruition a just and peaceful earth. But socialist Christians have to face a major challenge: the modern state, with its democratic accountability and economic strength – with power to affect the whole life of its citizens – is very different from the societies in which Christianity appeared and grew: how then can a set of ethical injunctions which grew up in a world where inequality and injustice were either unquestioned or matters for individual responsibility or, at most, for those with power over smaller social groupings, be applied to the modern corporate state?

Their answer would be twofold. Firstly, they would point to the effects of ‘structural sin’, that is the accumulated effect in society of millions of selfish decisions and actions which entrenches huge disparities of wealth and power, rewarding those who come out on top with ever more privileges and insulation from the less fortunate, and at the same time pushing down those whose forebears came from below or lost out in an earlier rat-race, so that they exist in a ghettoised underclass with low paid, boring jobs, poor quality housing and food, education which often does not encourage aspiration, and physical and mental health substantially worse (as measured, for example, by life expectancy) than for better-off echelons of society.

The accumulated genetic outcome of this process is little commented on, but, for those who have been poor for generations, and probably getting poorer, the quality of minds and bodies will almost certainly decline, often to the point at which all efforts to encourage educational progress and feelings of self-worth and initiative may be very difficult or even feel impossible. (I don’t believe they are impossible, but the resources required are well beyond what any political party has shown itself to have the will to provide.)

Our left-leaning Christians will point to the structural sin which has embedded deep chasms of inequality in our society and left a whole section of it almost cut adrift from the rest, people for whose multi-deprivations there are no quick-fix solutions. They will, however, point to the fact that Liberal and Labour governments in the 20th and 21st centuries did make deep inroads into this great divide, with major provisions, through tax and national insurance, of housing, education, the NHS etc, and that Conservative governments have actually accepted the necessity of these provisions. The Left will point out also that Conservative governments have tended to fall back into a ‘freer’ version of society, with many profit-seeking private firms now occupied in social provision, and have allowed processes of division and inequality to become re-embedded.

So state provision is seen by left-leaning Christians as simply a modern method, appropriate to the modern state, of fulfilling God’s command to care for the poor. It’s quite clear that personal or communal charity, valuable though it is, still leaves much of the inequalities and deep unfairness of society untouched, and so, if this is to change, it is only the state that can achieve the heavy lifting that is required. (Many would argue that charity actually confirms and deepens the ‘us and them’ of divided societies: the rich get a nice feeling for handing down just a little of their wealth, but still hold on to most of it; the poor feel humiliated but don’t ever get enough to change their position. Result: nothing changes.)

Secondly, even though modern society is so different from earlier societies, left-wing Christians can point to Biblical justification for state provision. When Jesus was challenged about the payment of tax, he is reported as saying, ‘Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar’. In Romans 13 Paul also recommends that Christians should willingly pay their taxes. The reason Paul gives for this is that the Roman state provided a system of order and justice and security, and that overarching provision was what one’s taxes were helping to fund. The modern state, of course, provides much more than basic law and order, but the principle of taxation to provide a public good is the same, and therefore tax-funded state provision for the poor can be seen as in line with Christian values.

It might even be possible to argue that Jesus feeding five thousand people at one go is an argument for the state providing a Universal Basic Income for its people.

So what will right-wing Christians say in answer to this?

Of course they will accept the Biblical and later Christian teaching about the evils of mere wealth accumulation and the requirement of charity towards the poor and vulnerable. They will, however, place greater emphasis on personal, individual responsibility: those who are at the bottom of the pile need to be encouraged and stimulated to find a way of bettering themselves, without being featherbedded by state hand-outs which may destroy the motivation to improve their lives; those who are better off should be willing to help the less fortunate, both by generosity and by community and charitable involvement.

There are some issues the right-wing Christians need to face. It is possible that their nerve of effort may be somewhat weakened by making too much of Jesus’ dictum that ‘you will always have the poor among you’ (Matthew 26.11; Mark 14.7; John 12.8; and see Deuteronomy 15.11), even if that particular text is less a universal announcement, and more a defence of a woman’s extravagant generosity towards him (‘You complainers will have plenty more opportunities to help the poor, if that’s what you’re so bothered about!’). Another factor for evangelical Christians which may detract from energy directed towards the ending of poverty is their focus on individual salvation and on a final cosmic consummation, which will be entirely in the hands of God and allow much to fall to perdition; so their efforts are on conversion of individuals, rather than on an incremental collaboration with God to bring in the kingdom on earth. (Having said that, I must add that in the UK in the last twenty or thirty years evangelical Christians have often been in the forefront of imaginative projects with and for the poorer parts of society.)

But in relation to the poor, Conservative Christians are very likely to believe that decades of welfare provision by successive governments have created a culture of dependency, in which too many of the recipients, whether simply receiving what was due to them or positively gaming the system, have got stuck in a poor quality lifestyle, in which it isn’t really worth taking a job, and so you get generation after generation of people with low aspirations and a failure to contribute positively to society. Conservative Christians may well believe that welfare systems have weakened families by encouraging sexual activity and births outside secure relationships and allowing men to escape the responsibilities of fatherhood. So recent Conservative government approaches to poverty have used the need for national austerity as a reason for making welfare benefits and other social provision less generous (which might be caricatured as a ‘stick rather than carrot’ policy to get people out of poverty!), bringing in a Universal Credit system which theoretically makes it easier to move smoothly into work from benefits, trying to create more private sector/self-employed jobs as the route out of poverty, and encouraging ‘Big Society’ voluntary and charitable initiatives to transform deprived communities.

What would justify this approach for a Conservative Christian? It is, for many people, no longer politically correct to say that the poor have somehow deserved their situation, that they have failed to make the right choices and not shown the kind of motivation and energy which could have enabled them to aspire to something better, but I think there is little doubt that a good number of those on the Right believe this. As Christians, they might support this by saying that each of us has personal responsibility before God and that those who fail to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12) will inevitably fall by the wayside. Texts such as 1 Timothy 5.8 (‘And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’) or 2 Thessalonians 3.10-11 (‘Even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work’) may well be quoted at this point.

The belief that God will bring punishment and woe on those who do not live according to his laws can be justified from many Biblical examples, and the rationale for the Prosperity Gospel movement in the United States comes from the obverse of this. Nevertheless, Jesus, when challenged about the man born blind (John 10) or the victims of Herod and the fallen tower at Siloam (Luke 13) specifically denies that their suffering was a direct result of their sin.

The doctrine of personal responsibility is applied by the Right also to those who could potentially help the poor. Jesus challenges the rich man (Mark 10.21) to give up all his wealth and inveighs against those who hang on to their accumulated riches and then die before they can make use of them (Luke 12:16–21). Margaret Thatcher on one occasion, probably prompted by a clever speechwriter, reminded her audience that the Good Samaritan would not have been able to help the poor man who had been mugged on the road without the money that he had previously made. For both rich and poor, the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) or Pounds (Luke 19) could, for right-wing Christians, provide a justification to encourage rich or poor to make something more from whatever they have been given.

In the end, it’s likely that there will always need to be a balance held between the Left’s desire for universal state provision and the Right’s recognition of personal responsibility in using the world’s resources.

John Milbank has written: ‘It is sometimes said that we can’t stop at charity, and that all Christian reformers have wanted to proceed to enshrining principles and practices in law. One can see the serious point of this and in certain respects such an advance is crucial, and yet there is a profound question mark over that whole tradition which William Temple exemplified. It is a … tradition that tends ultimately to surrender things to the state and risks eroding both the interpersonal and the sense that people are mutually responsible for each other at the immediate social level. Anglican social thought at least has always been divided between this approach and one which stresses less state intervention, and rather more a mixture of the political and the social in the role of intermediate associations where the citizenry act more spontaneously and more for themselves in a genuinely participatory fashion.’

I wonder if it would be fair to say that two CAPs represent the Left and the Right in Christian approaches to poverty. Church Action on Poverty places an emphasis on campaigns to press the government to create the conditions to end poverty. Christians Against Poverty use church members and debt advisers to help people find their way out of debt and start a better life, often as part of the church whose members supported them. It’s clear to me that both approaches – and much more of both approaches – are needed.

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13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

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Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

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The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Olivier De Schutter's video outlines his new mandate on ways of tackling poverty.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate argues that poverty has often been pictured as attributable to the individual, but we should see it instead as a failure of society. To combat poverty, we should not shame or penalise people in poverty.

We should instead create a truly inclusive economy, in which each person is not considered a passive recipient of support, but an actor, co-constructing solutions. They emphasise that “building back better” does not mean returning to the status quo, but instead taking public action toward the sustainable eradication of poverty. 

This vision is in line with our own, putting people with lived experience of poverty at the forefront to create sustainable solutions to poverty. Our strategy focuses on how we can build a movement that ensures everyone can access dignity, agency, and power. 

Watch the video below and read more about the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Transcript:

Poverty has often been pictured as attributable to the individual.

Who made the wrong choices in life, who is not fit for the world of work, who failed to see the opportunities, who does not deserve help.

As if society were a fact of nature, a given that we cannot change. this has a number of perverse consequences.

It leads to individuals in poverty feeling shame and becoming invisible in society. It legitimises discrimination and institutional abuse against those who experience poverty.

It gives the wrong impression that only a tiny share of the population is at risk of poverty and it reserves support to the deserving poor while others are denied help.

But poverty is really not a failure of the individual we should see it instead as a failure of society.

A society that fails to recognise the competence of people in poverty a society that relies on a fetishised conception of merit.

A society that does not ensure inclusion but instead creates exclusion.

A society in short that imposes uniformity rather than recognising the value of diversity to combat poverty.

We should not shame or penalise people in poverty.

We should instead create an economy that is truly inclusive: recognising the potential of each individual, building on the inventiveness of people in poverty and their multiple skills on the social innovations that they imagine on the solidarity networks they develop.

This is an economy in which each person is not considered a passive recipient of support but an actor co-constructing solutions.

If I can imagine this society so can you.

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic

“All it needs is people willing to listen”

1,000+ church leaders say: Don’t cut Universal Credit

SPARK newsletter autumn 2021

13th Sheffield Pilgrimage, 2021

stock cartoon image of two people sitting in adjacent chairs, talking

Listen up to level up: why we must rebuild together

Growing crops & community amid the pandemic