Over the last few days, a rare thing has been happening- leading voices in the Church have started to speak out, and the media has been taking an interest. More remarkably, the issues that they have spoken on are not the usual internal contortions around homosexuality and the role of women in Church hierarchy; instead the Church is engaging in a debate about things that really matter.
First the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, challenged the British Government over planned welfare reforms, saying that the poorest children in the country were most at risk.
Next the new Pope started to challenge the culture of elitism in the Catholic church, and refocus his mission on the poor- first washing the feet of female inmates at a detention centre (including a Moslem woman) then calling for “peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this 21st century. Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources”.
Now, step forward the Evangelicals and non-conformists…
On the eve of the most sweeping and devastating raft of welfare cuts and reforms since the beginning of the Welfare State in the UK, a coalition of churches, including Methodists, United Reformed, Baptist and Church of Scotland raised their voices;
Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser at the Methodist Church, said the churches were concerned that the benefit cuts were “a symptom of an understanding of people in poverty in the United Kingdom that is just wrong”. Speaking to the BBC, Morrison said: “It is an understanding of people that they somehow deserve their poverty, that they are somehow ‘lesser’, that they are not valued. The churches believe that they are valued and we believe that they should be treated much more fairly than they are being.”
Morrison and other church figures were promoting a report published recently by the four churches accusing politicians and the media of promoting six myths about the poor: that they are lazy; are addicted to drink or drugs; are not really poor; cheat the system; have an easy life; and that they caused the deficit.
“The systematic misrepresentation of the poorest in society is a matter of injustice which all Christians have a responsibility to challenge,” the report says.
Morrison said: “We saw that people who we value, who we believe God values and God loves, we saw them being insulted day in and day out in the media, and that needed to stop. The consequence of the attitudes towards the poor is that welfare cuts like this become more acceptable, so it’s right that we criticise that too.”
The church- on the side of the Angels- who knew?
The Government here seem rattled. Grant Shapps, Chairman of the Conservatives has been pushing back– suggesting that there is a moral case for rewarding those in work. Good old Victorian values those- make the workhouses so bad that it is better to shove our kids up chimneys.
Let us remember that at the same time as all these cuts, the government has reduced the top rate of income tax paid over a certain level of income by the very highest earners) from 50% down to 45%.
It all fits the rhetoric- reward the strivers, punish the skivers. Justify this by vilifying those who receive benefits. It matters not that the rhetoric does not fit reality, or what casualties line the roadside.
And those of us who are comfortable, well provided for- we are being told that we dangle over a precipice, and that all this is necessary. It is not.
The Church should be at the loving heart of this matter- our conscience- a mirror to hold up before those in power. Whilst I feel a shame at what our government is doing, I find hope in the voices coming from Christians.