What is the future direction for Christian social action?

Jon Kuhrt writes: This is a longer article written to provoke discussion about the key challenges and future direction for Christian social action in the UK.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16


On a cold night in late November, I was running my church’s drop-in evening meal called The Vine. Each week, we have between 20 to 30 local people coming along. It is a very simple format: we chat, play games, have a quiz and eat a meal together. It’s a modest but positive contribution to our community’s well-being.

Our guests always have a wide range of needs—but what struck me forcefully this week was the desperation of many of our guests and the increasing ratio who are rough sleeping in the freezing conditions. One of our guests who is street homeless was struggling with a severely infected leg wound. We phoned a doctor who is part of the church congregation to ask for advice, renewed his disintegrating dressing and sent him off to A&E.

I have been working with people affected by homelessness for a long time but I found myself deeply affected on Wednesday night by the scale of the issues we are witnessing. I am not naïve enough to think we can meet all the needs presented, but the guests’ injury seemed to be a tragic metaphor: so many churches and charities are trying their best to apply first aid to the terrible wounds inflicted by poverty and homelessness.

The first-aid is an illustration of much needed compassion and kindness. But we also need to think more strategically and intentionally about what is happening in our communities and what will address the core underlying issues.

As the coordinator of The Vine I can be tempted to see ‘success’ as lots of guests coming along and a full rota of volunteers enjoying their service to the community. And both these factors are good things. But we need to look deeper at what these forms of project reveal about the state of our country and how our response should be best channelled.

We must avoid what the prophet Jeremiah accused the religious of his day:

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. (Jer 8:11)

The rise of social action

Despite the on-going decline in church-going, the last 20 years has seen a significant rise in church-based social action initiatives. Food banks, pantries, community supermarkets, larders, debt centres, Street Pastors, night shelters, warm hubs and community meals have all expanded at significant rates. The number of new homeless charities has rapidly expanded with the growth of church-based night shelters and more generally, there has been a boom in Christian-led initiatives engaging in poverty.

I have been involved in this growth through my professional roles. I worked for 8 years for the Shaftesbury Society and led their Community Mission team whose aim was to help urban churches set up community projects. When I was CEO of the West London Mission (part of the Methodist Church) I helped set up the Westminster Churches Night Shelter. And now my work for Hope into Action is to house people affected by homelessness in partnership with local churches.

In many ways, I applaud this growth of initiatives because its evidence of a growing social conscience, especially within the evangelical tradition of the church. Thirty years ago, I used to attend events such as Spring Harvest and hear very little relating to poverty or community engagement. But times have changed with a significant shift in a theological commitment to addressing poverty and a host of practical models which churches can replicate.

Just over twenty years ago, Faithworks, fuelled by the energy and vision of Steve Chalke galvanised and popularised the social action movement. It was a high profile addition to the networks of agencies such as Shaftesbury, Church Urban Fund, Church Action on Poverty and the Churches Community Work Alliance. It coincided with the New Labour years when a significant amount of money was invested in communities.

Since 2010, in the wake of austerity and David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, there has been the rise of franchises and replicable models such Street Pastors and Christians Against Poverty’s debt centres. The Cinnamon Network have championed these and a host of other models for community engagement. The largest and most politically significant of these franchises has been the the Trussell Trust’s food bank network. I first heard about food banks when I met Chris Mould at a conference back in 2004, but I never imagined the scale and significance they would achieve.

But the growth of such initiatives and schemes must pose questions. I believe that those involved in Christian social action need to be self-critical and honest and grapple with questions such as:

  • Have these forms of social action been effective in reducing poverty?
  • Have they equipped Christians with a greater sense of justice?
  • Have they been an effective way of witnessing to the Christian faith?

I believe that the growing poverty, homelessness and destitution in the UK means we are standing at the crossroads that Jeremiah speaks of. What is the ‘ancient way’ that God calls us to seek and walk in? What should be the future direction for Christian social action?

After discussing the nature of UK poverty, I will highlight three ‘sins’ of social action and then propose three ways forward.

1. Defining the problem: the nature of UK poverty

Firstly, I believe we need a holistic view of poverty which understands the particular texture of the needs our communities face.

Since 2008, I have used this 3-way analysis of poverty as I reflected on the nature of the poverty I have witnessed and worked to address. Whilst these three factors are seen in extremis within rough sleeping they are also evident in less stark ways in the local communities in which I have lived, volunteered and gone to church.

Material poverty, a fundamental lack of resources in terms of low income, zero-hour contracts and insecure employment, unaffordable accommodation, debt and the rising cost of living is the most fundamental and obvious factor. These are the factors where the concept of justice is most relevant because they can be affected by the decisions of local and national government. Structural and systemic change always involves the reallocation of resources.

But poverty is deeper than inequity of resources. Relationships are increasingly fragile and vulnerable as the ties and commitments that bond families have been weakened. And isolation and loneliness within communities has reached epidemic proportions. These are issues which government action is far less able to directly influence.

Of course, these forms of poverty are all in dynamic relationship to each other because they overlap and inter-relate. If you are materially poor then it places pressure on your relationships. And relationship breakdown deeply affects the resources you have access to.

As people will spot in my choice of font colour, the emphasis and priority given to each is connected to our politics. Those on the left tend to emphasise poverty as chiefly a matter of how resources are distributed, whereas those on the right tend to emphasise the role of relationships and families.

But most deeply of all, people are increasingly affected by a poverty of identity, a crisis in terms of how they see themselves and value their own worth. This is evidenced in the growth of illnesses related to people’s mental health and struggles for emotional well-being. Perhaps more than ever, many lack a sense of hope, purpose, and meaning in their lives.

If we are committed to addressing poverty in the UK today then we must be attentive to the particular dynamics and texture of this fusion of poverties. To do so requires us to be brave and to break out of the silos of conservative and liberal acceptability.

I believe the willingness to break these false dichotomies and challenge tribalism should be a key hallmark of Christian discussions on poverty. After all, the Bible has much to say about both economic justice and the vital importance of relationships and family life.

2. The ‘sins’ of social action

Social action and community engagement is generally viewed positively by others as charitable and kind. But a hallmark of Christian discipleship should be a willingness to examine the weaknesses of our approaches and be self-critical about the effectiveness of what we are involved in. Sin plagues all human endeavour and our social action efforts are not exempt.

We particularly need to watch out for the self-satisfied glow which easily clusters around efforts to help others. The ‘mainstreaming’ of social action has led to the popularisation of simplistic sound-bites such as ‘the least, the last and the lost’ and the temptation of superficial approaches to social action. I have also seen ‘successful’ community projects become a source of unhelpful pride for some churches.

More deeply, we also need to question the underlying assumption that generosity and good intentions inevitably lead to positive outcomes. The reality is that helping resolve complex social problems is complex. All forms of interventions create ‘moral hazards’ which can displace problems rather than actually deal with them. We need to be honest that authentic transformation, whether for individuals or communities, is hard. In order for our efforts to be effective and sustainable, our practical displays of grace must be accompanied by a commitment to truth.

a. The disconnection between charity and justice

The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara famously said:

When I give bread to the poor they call me a saint. But when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.

It’s a quotation which captures the inescapable tension between charity and justice.

As Christian forms of community action have grown it is common to hear people describe it in terms of ‘social justice.’ But most of the growth has been within the charitable framework: people giving their time and money to benefit those in need on a voluntary basis.

These charitable forms of generosity are often applauded by those with social and economic influence. And this is often because the charitable emphasis does not call for a fundamental shift in power. Power remains in the same hands and can actually be enhanced by the dynamic of charity. Jesus spoke of this dynamic in Luke 22:25:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that.

We need to ask how the growth of social action connects to the underlying issues which create the needs in the first place? How much does it challenge the social and economic policies which increase poverty?

In the Old Testament, it is laws relating to harvesting, selling land and debt which limited economic inequity and enshrined justice for widows, orphans and aliens. It is a matter of mandated justice and not just optional charity. And the Biblical prophets, such as Amos, Isaiah and Micah castigate Israel’s social conditions in these terms:

They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed (Amos 2:7).

The underlying Christian commitment should be a commitment to greater justice. Even if their main focus is practical and charitable, social action initiatives should contribute to the public debate about the underlying issues which are exposed through their work. Inevitably, this involves engagement in politics.

Food banks and night shelters are two forms of largely church-based emergency provision which have grown rapidly in the last 15 years. And both are largely run by people who acknowledge that it’s a tragedy that such services need to exist at all.

And the Trussell Trust have politicised the voluntary efforts of their food bank network by publishing their statistics around food bank usage and their research about what has driven the rise of food bank usage. And the reason these statistics are powerful is because the numbers connect to raw experience. These are not desk-top reports written by think tanks but conclusions drawn from front line engagement.

In homelessness, the fundamental injustice and inequity of the UK housing market lies at the heart of our housing crisis. Charitable action is needed but these local efforts need to combine to speak collectively about the need for more affordable accommodation in the UK. It is encouraging to see the growth of Citizen’s UK, which has engaged a huge number of people in community organising where collective influence is brought to bear on issues concerning local people.

We need to accept the premise that our practical work has political implications. We should be prepared to speak out or contribute to voices which are focussed on how systems and policies need to change. As Desmond Tutu put it:

Christians should not just be pulling people out the river. We should be going upstream and seeing who is pushing them in.

b. Dependency: the disconnection with empowerment

The growth in poverty leads to a growth in responses to these needs. And the hard truth is that not all these responses are helpful or effective in addressing the problems. This is a sensitive subject because often there are very good motives and strong faith which lie behind people’s generosity and kindness but there is also a naivety about what actually helps.

A huge amount has been learnt in the last few decades about what helps majority world countries overcome the poverty and challenges they face. The book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo (2009) argued powerfully that ‘aid’ given from richer countries actually served to disempower poorer countries and make their economies and poverty worse.

And there is something similar that we have to grapple with in our response to UK poverty. In homelessness, the emphasis on going onto the streets to give out food and practical resources often falls into this problem. There is an immediacy to giving out food and resources in this way—but is it effective in helping people resolve the issues they face?

Robert Lupton is a Christian who has worked for 4 decades in urban America and his book Toxic Charity: how churches and charities hurt those they help hones in on this problem. He defines the problem with too much social action as disempowerment:

Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.

In his follow-up book, Charity Detox, he further analyses the problem as being when agencies use crisis-type responses to chronic, long term problems:

Much of the giving in America is misplaced. We respond generously to stories of people in crisis, but in fact most our charity goes to people who face predictable, solvable problems of chronic poverty. An emergency response to chronic need is at best counterproductive and, over time, is actually harmful.

This is a problem in Christian responses to poverty. The ‘crisis’ approach is easy to fall into because these approaches are straight-forward, easier to set up and popular with volunteers. And the growth in UK social action over the last 15 years has not been in projects focusing on empowerment but mainly those services which distribute freely in the way Lupton critiques:

And yet, charities and churches continue to use crisis-intervention strategies that foster dependence…they continue to feed a man a fish, when they really need to teach him how to fish.

Empowering people to overcome their chronic issues is far harder but far more important. Running a group for 10 people which helps them cook for themselves might be more beneficial than giving out free food to 100 people if it empowers these people to take sustainable steps out of poverty. The UK has a huge amount to learn from the US if we are to avoid the extreme and entrenched forms of inequality which blights their nation.

We urgently need a conversation about how social action initiatives make a shift towards a more empowering way of working.

There are shifts towards empowering models, such as the growth in the Food Pantries and Community Groceries where people become members and pay for food. And church-based social businesses, like Grace Enterprises in Nottingham, empower people affected by homelessness and poverty by supporting them into work. These are some of the most exciting initiatives in Christian social action.

c. Secularising: the disconnection from faith

Despite the on-going rise of Christian social activism, one of the constant challenges is how Christian organisations and projects (large or small) maintain an active connection with the faith that birthed them. The homeless sector is full of agencies which used to be Christian.

Sometimes faith becomes faded due to a lack of passion or commitment or departure of a key person. Sometimes it is lost due to fear of what funders or other stakeholders would think. And sometimes faith just become fossilised with the token involvement of the founding church. Rather than something dynamic and creative at its heart of the organisation, often faith becomes little more than a slightly embarrassing footnote in its history.

There are many reasons why this happens. Some are to do with a more questioning post-Christendom context where faith needs to be justified and defended rather than just accepted. Some are do with the practical challengesof conforming to employment law, equal opportunities and a wide range of regulation. And some are do with underlying lack of theological confidence which drives a wedge between churches and the social action they develop.

We desperately need more people who are comfortable expressing their faith openly and confidently within secular contexts and not allow faith to be air-brushed out. We need people who are able to ‘bridge’ between the ‘religious’ worlds of church, theology and spirituality, and the ‘professional’ worlds of strategic partnerships and statutory funding.

One of the most exciting realities is the ‘post-secular’ space that is emerging. In the 10 years since, I have seen a significant re-emergence in discussions in homelessness conferences and seminar around issues of love, purpose and ultimate meaning. There is a growing confidence in the relevance of faith.

In 2013, the secular research agency, Lemos & Crane did a survey of homeless people which gave powerful evidence of how important they saw faith and spirituality. The report sharply criticised the ‘secular orthodoxy’ of the homeless sector which more reflected the liberal perspectives of staff more than the homeless people themselves.

Five years ago I was seconded into central government as an adviser to the Rough Sleeping Initiative with a specific focus on the role of churches and faith groups. And the reason was that in every town and city across the country, the role of these groups are so significant in addressing homelessness. As I found in the four years in the role, there is a growing openness in both national and local government to recognize and appreciate the role the Christian play plays in making a difference.

And this is just an example of wider shifts in appreciating Christian spirituality. The impact of influential thinkers such as psychologist Jordan Peterson and historian Tom Holland are illustrations of this development. As Justin Brierley’s 2023 book and podcast is titled, there really is a Surprising Rebirth Of Belief in God which should bolster the confidence of Christian activists.

The faith element does not need to be diluted or ‘skimmed’ through social action. In fact, some of the most exciting work is happening where there is a commitment to a ‘full-fat’ approach. Agencies such as Christians Against Poverty and Hope into Action have integrated professional excellence and spiritual passion in ways which enhance and mutually reinforce each other. They have won many professional awards whilst maintaining a strong commitment to their Christian distinctiveness.

Loving God and loving your neighbour are the core demands of Christianity. And whilst many social action projects have been excellent at developing people’s love for their neighbour, we need to keep faith in God at the heart of our work. What God has put together, let no one separate.

3. The road ahead: a future direction for Christian social action

Anyone involved in Christian social action will be familiar with Micah 6:8:

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

Probably more pithily than any other verse, it summarises a great strategy for faith-based social action. But we need to go deeper into the 3-fold challenge that this verse brings. One of the most insightful expositions of this verse is in Robert Lupton’s book Toxic Charity:

Justice and mercy twinned together, these commands lead us to holistic involvement. Divorced, they become deformed. Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned with rights than relationship.

The Micah verse offers us a three-fold response to the sins of social action I outlined above.

a. Acting justly: connecting action to advocacy

We need to look outward to government and the structures of power.

We need to speak up about the underlying issues of injustice which perpetuate poverty. And we need to use the examples from the front line of our work so that we connect actual, real-life action to the job of advocacy. When advocacy becomes detached from real action it becomes warped by the ideology and the politics of the culture wars. We need to speak up about the underlying causes of the poverty we witness and argue for structural justice in areas such as affordable housing, taxation and fair wages.

b. Loving mercy: connecting compassion to empowerment

We also need to look inward to our own practices.

We need to repent of those actions which disempower and create dependency, where we have got stuck in a perpetual cycle of delivering crisis responses to problems which are chronic in nature. We need to strive for relationships which are genuinely more merciful. This will mean being brave enough to radically re-shape projects and initiatives to create more empowerment and greater mutuality.

c. Walking humbly with God: connecting activism to faith

Lastly, we need to look upward to God.

We need to be honest about the widespread dilution and erosion of faith in Jesus within the social action organisations and projects that faith has originally birthed. We need to commit to improving how faith is expressed and integrated in social action in non-coercive, creative and confident ways. We need to embrace the opportunities that our cultural moment affords. Our social action should be a great illustration of our faith in Jesus, not something which masks it.

Conclusion: bold and brave faith

Our country is in desperate need for voices which will speak up about the problems we face in ways which are both radical and authentically rooted in local communities. The majority of what is termed ‘the voluntary sector’ cannot play this role because it has become a ‘commissioned arm’ of local and national government. Despite the radical roots of many of its organisations, it has largely become a ‘service provider’ paid to deliver what governments are willing to pay for.

Our country and local communities needs organisations which are able to speak boldly and bravely about the reality of poverty (in all its forms) that we see in our communities. We need to be unafraid to talk about injustice and advocate for those suffering. We need to be brave about the realities of dependency and be focused on what empowers people to find solutions to their challenges.

And most of all, Christian activism must remain faithful to the God revealed in Jesus who calls us to follow him in word and deed. We must remember that reflecting his grace and truth is the best gift we can give to any community or any individual. In the words of missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin:

The commitment is not to a cause, or a programme but to a person – at the heart of Christian mission must remain a commitment to serving Christ in his community.

Jon Kuhrt has worked with people affected by homelessness for 30 years. He is a former government adviser on how faith groups address rough sleeping and CEO of the West London Mission. He is now CEO of Hope into Action who work with local churches to house homeless people. He lives with his wife in Streatham, south London and they have 3 children. He likes football….but loves cricket. This article was first published on Jon’s blog here.

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81 thoughts on “What is the future direction for Christian social action?”

  1. A very insightful article. Thank you.

    My own reflection on turning action into advocacy is that many local church leaders seem reluctant to engage, perhaps for fear of being seen as party political.

    My other reflection is that most churches are very poor at reflecting on impact and outcomes. They will often describe activity and output (eg number of meals served) rather than outcomes. Church activity can often become habitual. We aren’t great at evaluating and seeking God’s guidance on what’s really working and what we need to stop doing.

    • Yes – I think fear of being ‘party political’ is a concern about the justice element. I think some are also concerned about a ‘rights-based’ approach which externalises and blames systems. As one replied to me about this piece “my denomination lost it when they started going on too much about ‘justice'”. I think this is why rooting our concerns in what we see in through our social action is so vital.

      And I would agree about reflecting on impact and outcomes – rather the countable ‘outputs’. I think all projects should have a timespan and a review period and church leaders should be prepared to ‘call time’ on them.

  2. It should be common ground among evangelicals that the paramount need of all people everywhere is to hear, believe and obey two vital messages:

    The terrible warnings, some from Christ’s own lips, to flee from the wrath to come; and the wonderful and sincere invitations and promises to all, some from Christ’s own lips, to repent and submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, and to obey him for the rest of their lives.

    But are these messages believed and preached by the whole Church with the earnestness and urgency promised by those who have made the Declaration of Assent and their ordination vows?

    The clear answer to that is “No”. This failure is surely more important than the same-sex disagreement, and the need to help the homeless and those in dire need, very important though such things are!

    That being the case the time has come to follow the remarkable example set out in Galatians 2:11-14:

    “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”’
    where one Apostle who met Christ on the Damascus Road openly rebuked another Apostle on whom Christ said he would build his Church.

    What is needed in the desperate situation of the Church of England is an open letter of challenge and rebuke to the whole Church about this failure.

    A serious effort by the CEEC and Church Society to do everything possible to organise this would involve mobilising all the Diocesan Evangelical Groups to support such a letter
    together with an integrated plan to get this issue raised formally at all Synodical levels.

    I have suggested this to CEEC and Church Society more than once without any response. What do you think please?

    Email comments, positive or negative, are welcome, to [email protected].

    Philip Almond
    (former member of Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Network)
    December 29 2023

      • It may be an act of obedience to Christ, if it is offered as an act of faith. But it is possible to offer a response of support which is not an act of faith – plenty of people do.
        The sobering fact is that it is also possible to support in a way which is disobedient to Christ – plenty of the going on too.

    • Hi Philip

      I would say thanks for the comment but it does not seem to have any connection to what I have written about. I would urge you to change your approach if you want engagement in your causes. This response just seems self-serving and off-putting.

  3. Having been out of the mental health charity sector for 15 or so years, there are words and phrases that have a long shelf life.
    I was a Christian working in a secular setting, across Public and charitable sectors.
    *Upstream*, *holistic* (with the contrasting *silo* thinking) *hub and spoke models* were buzz words of that time.
    To come out as a Christian organisation, would be a disadvantage in funding applications and inter -organisation relationships even when the concept of “spirituality” was seen as “added value” and Islam was favoured.
    A small elephant in the room in the article, it seems to me, is that all organisations do not work in collaboration and are indeed competitors whan it comes to funding sources.
    CAP, however, may be mostly funded by Christians.
    Other elephants in the herd, which go unnamed today, are stigma, guilt and shame which are barriers or hurdles in need and provision.
    A wise CEO of a mental health trust said that primary needs can be boiled down to: 1. To love and be loved by someone 2. Somewhere to live 3. Something to do.

    • Hi Geoff – I like the words from the ‘wise CEO’ and I would wholeheartedly agree and I think this is an example of a bridge-head from which the validity of spirituality can be discussed because faith offers 1. and also links to 3. At Hope into Action we are about providing all three.

      We do have to be brave about faith. I don’t agree that Local Authorities ‘favour Islam’ – I think most are very pragmatic and desperate for positive work which can help their agenda. We need to present our faith in a way which is understood and which ameliorates their concerns – but we must not hide it or be scared to be honest. This is the way of death.

      The 2013 report ‘Lost and Found’ – see here for more was vital in homelessness for establishing an independent confirmation of the relevance of faith and spirituality for homeless people themselves: https://gracetruth.blog/2023/12/29/why-new-atheism-grew-old/

  4. I must applaud Jon for his forthright and courageous analysis of how we Christians relate to poverty in all its forms and how what we have done in the past gets swallowed up into the efforts of the unbelieving world and loses its Christian core.
    However, all these problems are caused by our disobedience to God’s commands, which He gave us for our own good and the good of the society in which we live.
    What we are supposed to be doing is building the Kingdom of God, for which we pray every day, and Jesus tells us that His kingdom is not of this world.
    We are actually building an alternative society, where sinners are called to repent, believe and live a new life. If the Church is that alternative society, it will deal with all the problems Jon has analysed and lay the spiritual foundations for dealing with these within its communal life.
    It is worth re-reading Acts 2, vv. 43-47 to see how the Early Church lived and how its communal life proved a great draw to people outside. To live like that is a real challenge, but they did it and so can we – if we have the courage to do it!

    • Yes – we must be courageous – I agree. But we need to engage and serve the world around us because this is a) what loving our neighbours means and b) one of the best ways people can understand what loving God means. Social action is a subset of mission – it emphasises actions and deeds and an implicit form of faith which will require words which make God and Jesus explicit.

      I believe and have seen how faithful social action builds the kind of ‘alternative society’ that you write about – one which challenges the cosy sanctity of many church gatherings – and engages people with the real issues and needs of their communities. It can help us to awaken to what ‘being saved’ really means in the here and now where so many are struggling.

  5. This is one of the best articles I have ever read on this blog and an extremely clear and lucid analysis of the underlying issues. In the small coastal down where I live there is a huge disparity between rich and poor. Second home owners have largely made buying a house out of reach for most people and rents here are astronomical.

    What an individual church can do is limited by is own resources and abilities. We are a small Baptist church but we do punch above our weight. We have a thriving lunch club where for a few pounds people can get a two course meal. This is always preceded by a short talk and thanks to God so that people are aware where we are coming from. We also have a well attended toddlers group for mums many who are single, and often come to us for advice.

    I completely understand Jons’ point about disempowerment. We rarely give money to people directly but try to help them to help themselves by giving them advice on how to obtain help from various agencies, We also offer to pray for them. We had one incident recently where one mum was unexpectedly kicked out of her home with her kids by the landlord and struggling to find a place to live. The church prayed for her and a house suddenly became available from the council that she could move into which was better than the one she had before. The mum involved (who was not a christian) saw the connection and I guess would have told her friends.

    We have also seen a slow but steady increase in the numbers attending on Sunday. Many people who come to our lunch club are elderly, live alone and talk to us about their problems and are worried abut their future. Many have said they want us to do their funeral when their time comes. This give us opportunities to talk about what we believe and offer them a hope for the future and we have seen faith being rekindled in a number of them. Our church is now being seen as a place where people can come for help.

    Jesus says the poor will always be with us. There has always been a disparity between rich and poor in the UK but in my experience, I have never lived in a time where that disparity is so great. There is something fundamentally rotten about our economic system that reduces people to ‘human resources’ and depersonalises them with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and takes no account of their worth as individuals.

    How the church combats this wider issue I do not know.

    • God bless you Chris in your faithful work. Your commitment sounds fantastic and I hope you are encouraged in what you are doing. The connection between this kind of practical service and the gospel of Jesus is clear in my mind – you are offering a hope wrapped in action. As John puts it in 1 John 3:18 ‘Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’

      Maybe you can teach and pray about these big issues of wealth inequality and see what happens? Hope into Action where I work have attracted over £27m of investment in 13 years for housing largely from Christians to house people who are homeless.

    • Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” It seems that in missing the original context of Jesus’ words it is possible to extract a meaning contrary to His. There is much more in Deuteronomy to inform us about the care of the poor as a sacred act, an act of worship, by which those who give do not bless the poor, it is the other way round: the poor bless them.

    • Hi Chris,
      I was interested to read your comment, “We rarely give money to people directly but try to help them to help themselves by giving them advice on how to obtain help from various agencies.”
      As someone living on a low income and dependent upon charity and family to get by, what I need is enough money to live. Being given unconditional money directly is empowering, because it means I can meet my needs and make my own choices in doing it. Of course I prefer to receive such money by acts of justice (government-funded social security), but there are times when unfortunately I need charity. That’s not very dignified and I don’t like it; but it’s not inherently disempowering.
      If my need is immediate, then what I am less likely to want in that situation is a series of people pointing me to some other group who will be the ones to actually help me. Too often that means at best lengthy delays, and at worst a never-ending series of ‘sign-posting’. At some point, I just need someone – preferably the first person – to actually do something practical rather than me just constantly being talked at.
      If my need is less immediate and more long-term, then I wouldn’t be coming for help, because I’ve already exhausted all the avenues for routine long-term support like social security.
      Sometimes people in my situation do need practical help on specific issues. But sometimes we’re far more knowledgeable, through our ongoing lived experience, than the person we were signposted to for help. Sometimes the fact is that we’re getting all the goverment support we’re entitled to, and we’ve done everything we can do, and we need someone – perhaps the church!? – to come alongside us; commit to long-term relationship with us; and bail us out when yet again the inadequacy of social security doesn’t meet the vicissitudes of life.
      Sometimes giving money is the empowering thing to do.

      • Hello Stef,
        Thank you for your comments which are valid ones. We do not rule out giving money directly if the need is a pressing one and our treasurer together with the rest of the leadership (of which I am one), evaluates each need carefully.

        A few points however:

        1: We don’t have a large amount of money ourselves to give. Our regular congregation is about 20 and most of these are elderly folk on small incomes.

        2. Bailing out someone continuously is not a long -term solution to their problems. Making then dependent on us is neither good for them or for us.

        3. We try to support then practically wherever possible. Because we have limited resources ourselves, we try to point then to agencies that can assist such as CAP, foodbanks and other organisations that are better able to help them. We also help them with necessary benefit administration which many find daunting and confusing.

        4. Many who come to us end up the way they are for a variety of different reasons. Some have relationship breakdowns, alcoholism and drug issues. For others its job loss and mental health problems. A great many have made poor life choices and live very complicated lives with negative consequences for them financially. There are some who see us a potential target for being conned (this has happened to us on a number of occasions).

        I am sure that Jon Kuhrt who has a much wider experience of homelessness and poverty may wish to comment on your assertions, but welfare dependency is never a good thing and does fundamentally disempower people. While you state that giving money gives people more choice to meet their own needs, our experience has been that they often make very poor choices with the money they are given or do not know how to make the right ones ( I do not imply that this is true in your case BTW).

        As I stated earlier, what an individual church can do depends on its own resources and abilities. If we were a much larger church then we might attempt more initiatives, but this is about as far as we can go at the moment. However, we have seen people come to faith, their lives changed and got back on their feet and that is a blessing to us and for them.

  6. As a country we are a charitable people with long history of mostly Christian initiatives of social action, a legacy mainly of Victorian times and people. Such has raised our national welfare to enviable heights with the result that people will risk life and limb to live amongst us.
    Jon Kuhrt writes: ..to provoke discussion about the key challenges and future direction for Christian social action in the UK.
    He quotes, partially and somewhat devoid of context Jer. 6:16 Thus saith the LORD,” Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls [ and also, But they said, We will not walk therein.”] This passage of Ch.6 does give some clues to “future direction” and an answer to who or what is “pushing them into the river upstream?”
    Well, the answer seems to be politics and better-informed leadership of social action as much of such action seems only a sticking plaster and not a cure. We need better initiatives[?]
    Perhaps seeking some of the old paths, how did they transform our society radically?
    Perhaps a study of the founding of the Salvation Army [Methodist] and Mildmay Hospital [Anglican] in the 1870’s worst areas of poverty [recorded] in the country might help? * SOAP, SOUP AND SALVATION was their gospel mantra.
    To change only too better circumstance Might be helpful but without a change of heart there is no cure. The churches mission is and should be *the cure of souls* not confirming or supporting them in their condition.
    And preaching *Upstream” before they are pushed in. We all need Godly preaching not sound bites from social action warriors when all is lost.

    • I agree I quote Jeremiah out of context but I find your response pretty glib and dismissive. I guess you half write me off as a ‘social action warrior’? It reminds me of some of the rich conservative evangelicals who I grew around with who spoke about the ‘social gospel’ like it was some kind of disease you could catch from hanging around with the wrong Christians who cared about issues like homelessness. I found out when I read my Bible better that they were the ones with the dodgy ‘liberal’ theology.

      Do you think the church should just focus on preaching and the ‘cure of souls’ in some detached, purely spiritual way? What do you personally learn from your understanding of the Booths and their Salvation Army?

      • Jon
        If we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards (see Anglican Article 9) surely the paramount need of all people is to be delivered from that wrath and condemnation by repenting and trusting in Christ for salvation and that must mean preaching the terrible warnings and the wonderful promises and invitations is the Church’s top priority. Of course I agree that the Church also has other priorities.
        Phil Almond

    • Perhaps you need to go back rather further that the Victorian era.

      Prior to the dissolusion of the monasteries, these institutions did much to alleviate poverty. Henry VIII brought this to an end. This was at a time when the population was growing faster than employment opportunities, which gave rise to an increasing problem of poverty and so people being beggars and vagabonds. The result was a series of Acts which led to the Poor Relief Act of 1601, which remained until 1834. This centered the relief of the poor in the Parish, and the Church Wardens, being elected by the local parishioners, set the local Parish Rate.

      [There are two remnants of this. The electorate for Church Wardens remains those on the electoral role of the parish plus those residents of the parish eligible to vote in local elections. In some places, the lowest tier of local government remains the (Civil) Parish Council, where the parish boundary is that of the parish as in 1834, I guess.]

      So, for many centuries the Church had a responsibility to the poor. This predated the voluntary charitable activity.

      • I should have added to this that this responsibility seems to me to reflect the Biblical position of the people of God towards the poor.

  7. The institutional church believes it can work with the civil authorities on social projects promoting justice and mercy because that is in line with Micah 6:8. But the authorities’ understanding of “justice” and “mercy” makes no reference to God. In practice, most action for “social justice” is conducted on terms defined by the civil authorities and in line with the secular worldview of those authorities. And what is always lacking in the unredeemed world is any concept of “walking humbly with your God” which is the most important element of God’s requirement in Micah’s prophetic warning. This links to Matt 5:16 and the expectation that people will glorify the Father when they see the good works of his faithful people. This is the acid test: how is God glorified? Not the church, not the hardworking individual social justice activist, but how is God glorified?

    Since WW2, most of the British church has wholeheartedly invested in the concept of the welfare state, endorsing the Beveridge vision of a “cradle to grave” social support that covers health, housing, education, employment and poverty. On the face of it, this could be seen as a christian triumph: the British state is making its most serious and comprehensive effort ever to discharge its God-given responsibilities to care for the poor and the marginalised. Surely, this is the epitome of what it means to be a “christian country”?
    Maybe not! Follow the glory, pose the question: in the British welfare state, who ascribes glory to whom and how is God glorified? Now you quickly see two massive problems:
    a. The technocrats who originally imagined the welfare state and those who now run it have no regard for God, they do not give glory to God. To them it is absurd to reference God so they would not countenance giving God the glory. They see “faith groups” (of which the church is one of many) providing support to communities – but not more than that. The British church has ceded authority to these state technocrats. Activities within church are subject to regulation and standard operating procedures. The church seems to have accepted that any manifestation of God’s power must be done according to rules imposed by the state.
    b. With a focus limited to the visible “cradle-to-grave”, the British state implements social policies which lack any spiritual insight: what matters above all is to minimise (the perception of) suffering and to delay (or even control) death. This naivety leads the British state to some of the most ethically perverse policy decisions and, insofar as it acquiesces to the naivety, the British church is dragged back into the mindset that is dominated by the fear of death. Once the institutional church accepts the state’s conventional “cradle-to-grave” policy solutions, it struggles to faithfully testify of “beyond-the-grave” realities. On most key social and political issues, the institutional church, because it is so deeply enthralled with the philosophy of this age and so heavily invested in the state, is no more alive to spiritual realities than the secular nation.

    Eighty years on from Beveridge and British state overreach has become normalised. British people look to the state to be their provider, their protector, their educator, their healer. This expectation largely extends to British church people too. It is a grotesque assumption because it denies God anything other than a secondary role in these functions. On the back of that assumption, the relationship between British church and British state has been fundamentally recalibrated. The British church has found itself co-opted into serving the Beveridge vision and, as that vision has shapeshifted to become more and more godless, the British church has drifted deeper into forms of operating within worldly power structures and assenting to worldly wisdom. Following the policy determined by British authorities has resulted in a church of ungodly impotence, ensnared on impossible social conundrums that are all too often the unintended consequences of Beveridge’s flawed and godless vision. The church in the UK has lost almost any focus it may once have had on being God’s kingdom community. Reverse syncretism has led to the institutional church becoming co-opted as a delivery agency of the state.

    The British church gives insufficient consideration to the glory of God; it has failed to appreciate how the cosmic conflict between God and Satan has unfolded over the centuries and as a consequence it is taken by surprise at how dramatically the spiritual battle lines have shifted since WW1/WW2 and how that shift continues to pick up pace.

      • And Big Brother is increasingly Big Bot(her), gathering information about your speech, ideas, shopping, carbon consumption and movements – all in the interest of public safety, diversity, equity, inclusion and carbon control of course – and deciding your social credit score.
        Communist China shows the way, and the Church of England will play the role of the little peasant woman adding her faggot to the stake of Jan Hus – ‘Sancta Simplicitas!’

        • This is how reverse syncretism works. It starts with the secular powers appropriating a christian concept and stripping it of any reference to God. The christians, believing this to be a step in the right direction, support the development and find themselves co-opted into serving the godless version of somthing they recognise as precious. The final stage in reverse syncretism is the persecution of those who hold on to the glory of God. This is where the institutional church finds itself now. The Church of England will be found true to form – it started with a culture of persecution and it naturally tends towards persecution.

          There is in all this a need to establish what it means to be found faithful. This is not a time to lament the church’s descent into irrelevance. This is not a time to rebuild the institutional church and attempt to re-establish the status of the church in the nation. We need to see the UK church’s current descent into irrelevance in the light of God’s plan to crush Satan under our feet. The conditions for irrelevance of the church in Britain today were set by the patristic church during the first four centuries AD. What we witness today are the latest manoeuvres in a spiritual conflict that has been developing over centuries. We need to recognise that this present generation faces a testing moment of decision as the strategic errors of the patristic church are being exposed and unravelled. How will we respond to the challenge? Will we continue with ever greater syncretism? Will we accept the reverse syncretism? Will we seek to rebuild broken cisterns? Once we see what God is up to, we will be equipped to pray faithfully and to act faithfully. If we neglect to seek to discern the times and understand the plan of God in this generation, then we will be ignorant foot soldiers in this crucial battle, seeking to restore a status quo ante that God does not want. Unless we are alive to the Spirit’s prompting, we will flounder around on the spectrum of powerless pseudo-godliness, stumbling about the spiritual battlefield perplexed, worse than useless in spiritual combat, getting in the way of God’s plan and vulnerable to the enemy’s schemes.

          Announcing the birth of Jesus, the angel host sang a declaration of war against the powers of darkness: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests!” Jesus is the Lord of Glory who was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. It has always been about the glory of God. Jesus the Christ brings God’s peace, God’s light and God’s joy to disrupt the false versions of peace, light and joy that have been imposed on humanity by hostile spiritual powers as a result of human refusal to acknowledge God as God and give him the glory. The lens of glory is crucial for discerning the times and knowing what to do. The lens of glory is essential for making sense of God’s eternal purpose in the present. The institutional church in Britain has very little awareness of this lens of glory and so it has correspondingly little concept of God’s peace, God’s light and God’s joy. It is all too often complicit in the false versions of peace, light and joy propagated by the powers of darkness that work through the British state. But now God is calling time. Wake up and smell the glory! We have to be those who have seen for ourselves the glory of God and, like Moses, radiate it.

          • Persecution is coming and it will not be Jesus sleeping on the job but Jesus purifying his bride, who sorely needs it. Let us have the faith to embrace persecution.

    • Hello Tim,
      I’ll make one comment, on the secular ethics at play in determining policy.
      As well as working for a charity, as a Christian, I’ve also worked in management in the NHS.
      A number of years ago now there were senior management discussions around a adopting a policy of *having a good death*, a policy which played out in the scandalous, “Liverpool Care Pathway” and use of DNR’s.
      I recall piping up at one meeting that Christianity does not see death as an end point, with a life after death, which may or may not be “good”. An embarrassed silent ensued bringing the meeting to a close as to continue would extend the meeting into a questions of ethics and metaphysics which were far beyond the scope of the meeting – they were doctors and scientists after all, weren’t they? (and there was a separate Medical ethics group for that, a group which would probably ignore humanity being created in God’s image.)
      And at heart as also a former lawyer, I saw justice as being somewhat central to Public health care . The question then would be whose justice, and which parameters and precepts would apply?

      • I spent 10 years working with the NHS and I could write a book! The NHS is one of the principal vehicles of reverse syncretism in Britain. Mental Health Trusts are the worst. Public Health is a close second. They operate with a godless theory of mind and a godless model of society. God is not mocked. Romans 1 is clear about how those who exchange the truth of God for a lie are given over to unsound thinking. It is no surprise that for every success they parade, there is a litany of failure that is sometimes well hidden.

    • Hi Tim,
      if it helps, I don’t think “British people look to the state to be their provider, their protector, their educator, their healer.”
      I think this for two reasons:
      1) amongst the middle class people whom I know, it is not uncommon to hear this fear voiced. If a person is worried that such an attitude exists, then they are not the ones who actually hold to it. I am more likely to hear people worry that others hold this view than hear anyone actually hold this view. In general, it seems to be about richer people worrying that they think poor people hold this view.
      2) people who depend on the government for social security, healthcare, education, social care etc rapidly realise just how inadequate the government is on all of these, especially in the last 13 years. We don’t look to the government to be a sole, main, or complete provider, protector, or healer because we know the government fails on these. As a Christian, I thank God for what the government does provide, but I and my people (low income, chronically sick, disabled, unemployed) are acutely aware of how frangible the current inadequate system is. I absolutely look to God for my provision, protection, and ultimate healing because I certainly can’t trust this goverment or, sadly, many members of this country to believe that I should be supported.
      So don’t worry. Even if the government did meet what I consider to be its God-given duties to its citizens, the ultimate provider would still be God; and anyone in major receipt of government support would remain very aware of just how easily and quickly a government can strip it all away.

      • Hello Stef

        Thank you for reading and taking time to consider and respond. This is a really important topic because we are in a time of testing for God’s people and it will become increasingly difficult to discern and maintain a faithful testimony. You raise some important points of clarification.

        When you write: “I and my people (low income, chronically sick, disabled, unemployed) are acutely aware of how frangible the current inadequate system is…” I wonder how you square that with the joyful obligation to “receive one another as Christ has received you”?
        At the most basic level, “my people” are identified by their common allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. It has nothing to do with merit or with poverty or with power or with oppression or with suffering. It is not about middle-class or working-class, or ruling-class or benefits-class – “you are all one in Christ Jesus.” One of the things that the institutional church has misunderstood over centuries is what it means to be the people of God living as the expression of God’s kingdom confronted by hostile Principalities and Powers that operate through political rulers. The institutional church has become culpable for all sorts of horrors and injustices as a result of its choice to ally itself with the political authorities (and by extension to ally with the Principalities and Powers). The current vogue of worldly thinking views everything through the lens of power and categorises every situation in terms of oppressors and oppressed based on intersectional phenotype. The institutional church largely caves into this style of thinking because it has largely lost access to the wisdom from above.

        When you describe government-funded social security as an “act of justice” then it seems to me that a whole load of confusion arises, especially when you contrast social security unfavourably with acts of charity – “That’s not very dignified and I don’t like it.” Without wishing to personalise this any more than you have already, this is an example of what I’m seeking to describe when I write about the state being my “provider, protector, educator and healer”. This is not mere middle-class luxury opinion – the middle-classes are as ensnared as any within a British state that extends an influence into every aspect of British life. Anyone who works in the NHS is entangled in it; anyone who works in education is entangled; anyone in any public service; anyone involved in any regulated service. It takes great spiritual awareness and wisdom to operate in a faithful way that recognises the entanglement and works through it – but the institutional church has no advice to offer on the entanglement because it is in alliance with the state and the Principalities and Powers behind the state.

        This matters enormously because it is a test of faith. Jon Kurht’s article lacks any reference to the British Principalities and Powers so it lacks this critical dimension in its analysis and conclusions.

        • Tim

          If you got rid of the NHS then the wealthiest 5-10% of people would be just fine. Everyone else would not be able to afford health care. It may well drive many to their knees, but are you seriously advocating destroying vital public services to make people desperate enough to turn to faith?!

          And do you not think this is exactly the sort of cynical machinations that turn people off organized religion?

          • Hello Peter

            Getting rid of the NHS is not the only counterfactual.

            Before I suggest an alternative counterfactual, I just want to re-emphasise the context of God’s glory in all this discussion. Ultmately, it is all about him. In the current way of operating, how is God glorified in the NHS? It seems such a jarring question, but when you think about it, it is the most helpful question to frame your thoughts.

            I would like to consider a counerfactual where your christian doctor regularly fasts as part of his personal preparation to offer wise counsel and insight for people seeking his help. He begins every consultation with a prayer to seek the Lord’s insight for that particular person’s need. He has medical expertise, but he is not limited by the medical model – in fact he has the wisdom from above to work with the person and address the spiritual issue as well as any medical issue. If the person is healed then they give glory to God.

            The counterfactual I offer is preposterous – but it really shouldn’t be!

          • Hello Peter

            Just to build on the preposterous counterfactual, it would be better to say that once patient and doctor are aligned in faith on the outcome, then they give glory to God. The whole interaction between patient and doctor is an opportunity for God to be glorified.

          • The NHS heals the sick, what could be more glorious than that?

            I’d imagine the vast majority of Christians in the NHS do indeed already pray about their work.

            I’d personally oppose an NHS work requirement to be Christian. I think freedom of religion is superior to state.or employer imposed religion. The state or employer is unlikely to agree with me on all points of theology and it would mean fewer “Christians” were genuine in their faith. It would create an even greater encouragement to lie about faith than we already have in our society

    • But the state became educator, and welfare provider because the patchwork of charities (including churches) wasn’t fulfilling the need. If the goal is to give church leaders more power then dismantle the welfare state. If the goal is to feed the hungry, heal the sick etc then Christians must commit to advocate for restoring public services and raising standards of living, rather than dismantling public services and lowering standards of living in order to create a dependency on the church.

          • ?

            Hello Peter

            I think you have missed the point! I could perhaps attempt to be clearer, but I doubt that would help.

            Jon Kurht’s article is most interesting and has helped me to understand more clearly where various people are coming from.
            + some people are on the wrong side in the ideological culture wars and they defer to the state; they tend to close down debate
            + some are not even awake to the culture wars and they think the state is their friend; they tend to ignore the debate
            + some are awake to the culture wars but they think the state can become a force for good; they are most active in the debate
            + a few are aware that the culture wars are raging and that the state is not the focus of redemption. This group probably also tends to think more eschatologically and has moved beyond the debate.
            + a smaller number still are making the connection between the culture wars and the cosmic conflict that started before Eden and is moving towards its denouement.

  8. When I give bread to the poor they call me a saint. But when I ask why the poor are hungry — backed up by my detailed economic analysis of how well-meant government intervention in the housing market has hugely pushed up rents and property prices, in the labour market has led to real wage stagnation for decades, and in the food and energy markets has pushed up food prices — they call me a “free-market Thatcherite” and a “right-winger”. I wouldn’t mind that except that I gather these are intended as insults, calculated to put people off from considering what I am saying, which is really very straightforward Economics 101 level.

    Anyone arguing for or against particular interventions presupposes a broader theory of how society operates. The point is whether this understanding is well-grounded, systemic and (a different thing) systematic, and made explicit. The Christian starting point must be that society is not a mechanism to be occupied by prosperous and selfish lost souls and demons.

    As I’ve commented before, if the Church of England equivocates about or is silent on a particular teaching, I now reserve the right to “fill in the blank” using the John-Paul II Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here I am referring to “Economic Activity and Social Justice” (2426 ff.) which itself depends on theological anthropology. It’s very clearly written so if you disagree with it, you know what you’re disagreeing with !

    • HI William – I recommend the BBC documentary on iplayer ‘Britain’s Housing Crisis’ as it sets out what you write about here. It is a great example of how our economic decisions and well-intentioned policies has create the housing nightmare which ruins so many lives and destroys community. The C of E’s report ‘Coming Home’ was a good start but it requires dioceses to actually run with it. Some want to but others are not interested.

      • Thanks for a really interesting and timely analysis. It was Karl Barth who said if communism is Godless then capitalism is demonic. Sin is structural as well as personal and that requires Christians to confront the powers and principalities of darkness at every level, personal and institutional and spiritual. Christianity was, at its start, counter-cultural and it needs to retain its prophetic voice. Unfortunately it is the prophetic voice that causes most anxiety to Church and much of the congregation.
        I have been involved in Christian outreach to homeless and food/clothes banks for quite a few years now and certain things become more apparent with the passing of time. Churches have to go upstream to stop the vulnerable being pushed into what is now a raging torrent instead of simply fishing them out. This isn’t social justice. It is Biblical justice.
        And yes, we need to review our ministries to see how we can empower rather than disempower. But I would like to qualify that by saying that personal kindness has its own power. Healing should be at the core of every outreach ministry and this is done best in the context of relationship. There are guys who will never get it together no matter how many training courses you put them on; who keep messing up; who haven’t got anything to sell; who always come last. What does empowerment mean for them? The Church’s place is with them because they are the ones whom the world truly despises and discards. We stay where the world walks away. It shouldn’t always be about getting a result.

        • Barth took a lot of words to get not everything right. ‘Capitalism’ is an ill-defined word, moreover. By and large I believe in free markets in goods but not in money, and I suggest that fiat currency which is not explicitly backed is wrongful.

          But I notice that ancient Israel had regulated markets in property and labour.

      • Thanks for that info, Jon, much appreciated. It occurs to me that, if it were say 100 yrs ago, a report from the C of E would be heard, reported in the press, debated in the Lords, and treated very respectfully. The C of E would have had a distinctive voice. Nowadays it no longer has the innate authority to be heard amongst the clamour of politicians, activists, property developers, Green Belt protectors, NIMBYs and so on. To have a distinctive voice and carry innate authority, the voice of the Church cannot be, a perfunctory reference to Christian teaching followed up by the real meat of the views expressed in secular welfare terms and recommending welfare-state-oriented interventionist tinkering. I’m now re-reading Harry Blamires’ “The Christian Mind”, to help in sharpening my opinion on how the Church could better express a distinctive view.

        • With some notable exceptions, the church in Britain today has very little wisdom to offer beyond what you can find in other religions or from highly qualified secular experts or even in self-help philosophy. It is not uncommon for the British church to “sign-post” people to these other sources of wisdom or support. The average British person recognises that unremarkable level of helpfulness and so one feature of today (in the UK at least) is the increasing irrelevance of the church. What the British church appears to offer can generally be found elsewhere.

          The church in Britain today is indeed increasingly irrelevant. The strong influence on government and society it once enjoyed over several hundred years has largely eroded. In response to this waning influence, the British church exhibits a spectrum of responses. On one end of the spectrum, some church leaders seek to retain relevance by syncretising post-christian outlooks and attitudes into a version of christianity for the post-christian nation. On the more evangelical end of the spectrum, some christian leaders seek to call the nation back to the christianity it once knew, often through fervent social action to demonstrate the church’s loving care combined with an appeal to a moral Judaeo-Christian standard that emphasises God’s forgiveness of sins. If we are searingly honest, there is no part of this spectrum that is especially faithful: this is a spectrum of pseudo-godliness that lacks divine power.

          Nowhere on this spectrum is there a sufficiently serious recognition of the nature of the spiritual crisis unfolding in this generation. Discerning the times in this nation and in this generation is quite neglected. The UK church assumes too much and presumes too much. Unpacking this set of assumptions and presumptions is painful because it has accumulated over centuries. The frog has fallen asleep in the warm water, but the water is now getting uncomfortably hot on the way to boiling point. The short (and unsatisfactory) summary is this: the British church gives insufficient consideration to the glory of God; it has failed to appreciate how the cosmic conflict between God and Satan has unfolded over the centuries and as a consequence it is taken by surprise at how dramatically the spiritual battle lines have shifted since WW1/WW2 and how that shift continues to pick up pace

      • We need to consider how it was that the typical home has moved from being about 4 times a multiple of the average annual income to about 8-9 times.
        How far have environmentalist policies and unprecedented immigration helped to create these pressures?
        Anglophone countries like Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which have no shortage of land, are experiencing the same problems of housing shortages and absurd prices.
        We *could greatly ameliorate the housing crisis, but that would mean slaughtering some of the sacred cows of the secular and Christian left (their love for environmental restrictions and for unrestrained immigration).

        • There are fewer houses/dwellings to go round because we are a privileged rich country where occupancy levels per house/dwelling have gone down on average. This is because of the malign anti family move in our culture. So if it is bad, it is a no brainer to reverse it. In so doing we will do nothing more spectacular than simply restoring the status quo. And then we can see whether or not there is a housing shortage. Those cultures with close families are, further, doing just fine. What else did anyone expect?

        • Low interest rates, family breakdown, high net immigration rates and the gearing of property prices to two incomes, not one, are the causes of the rocket in property prices. It would be very hard to put figures to the effects of each factor, but I’d guess that the last of these is the worst.

          Also, because property is the collateral for everything else, government does not want property to get cheaper.

    • Surely one major government intervention in the housing market was that of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher selling off council houses at a discount and then not using the money raised to build more social housing.

      I would also suggest that another government intervention which has had the effect of increasing house prices, particularly in London, was the deregulation of the banks. This resulted in bankers being paid large bonuses which enabled them to buy a whole house in one go, and a second one in the country.

      • Council houses were a strange idea to begin with, and coucil estates were social disaster areas which began to be mitigated when enough of their inhabitants took pride of ownership.

        But I agree that The City is a major source of moral devastation.

      • David

        Yes and I think also the response to the 2008 credit crisis – a decade of lower wages (and not really any new restrictions on the banks)! It certainly exacerbated a generational divide on home ownership

  9. One of the key ways in keeping sharing of faith central in community projects is to be really clear about what you measure. Ultimately the things that are measured and recorded tend to be the things that are valued and emphasised.

    Most Christian projects don’t do this enough around sharing faith. In part this is because it can be difficult to quantify but also because most funders don’t ask for this info so it is not seen as important.
    When we set up the Tower Hamlets Night Shelter we wanted to hardwire Gospel sharing into it. Some things that we did to try to do this included:
    – our opening line in our founding document began with mission. We stated that we were ‘an Evangelical and Evangelistic response to homelessness.’
    – We banned calling it a social action project, we explicitly and repeatedly called it Mission not social action or a community project.
    – We tried to track and record how many of our guests asked for prayer, engaged in Gospel conversations, attended church or became Christians. Doing this as trustees set an expectation for staff and volunteers.
    – Each night had an evangelism co-ordinator whose job it was to think about how the gospel would be shared that evening, how volunteers would be encouraged to personally share faith.
    – We integrated showing Alpha and Christianity Explored ( guests could of course opt out) as part of the nightshelter.
    – The annual report which was very publicly promoted emphasised the Gospel and contained stories of guests asking for prayer and coming to faith so potential funders see how explicitly Christian the project was. Interestingly this didn’t prevent a chunk of the funding coming from non Christian organisations.

    We asked churches not to be a part of it if they couldn’t or wouldn’t sign up to to be explicitly evangelistic. ( I think we may well be the only church run night shelter to do this, but I’m not sure)

    13 or so years later the project remains explicitly Christian, evangelistic and is loved by our guests and in particular Muslim guests have felt safe, respected and wanted there.

    • Hello Tony,
      Thank you for a seemingly far too rare contribution, grounded as it is in the Gospel, in evangelism.
      It is encouraging as an example of what can be done with, no doubt, the very hard, exhausting, work and input and commitment of all involved , to have the vision for the mission and dedication to keep it going for so many years.
      You righly emphasise the capture, record-keeping, of gospel sharing “outcomes.” It is an emphasis that is missed in many funding applications.

      Once again, thank you. May you sew and reap ever more fruitfully, in tears and joy of the Lord, our Strength and our Rest.
      Yours in Christ,

  10. Good morning, Kurt. Apologies if I touched a nerve. Believe me I do not dismiss or label people, I don’t even know you. “No one doing a good work in my name can be evil spoken of”. said Jesus.
    I comment on ideas as presented.
    As you freely admit you did rather start on the wrong foot; which for me sounds a bell.
    Having a “lived experience” of poverty amongst “the poorest” I do not dismiss
    works to relieve the experience of poverty, we had no such support, no sick pay except a few Union coins. The Church limited to Jumble sales for new clothes. Beer and fags were the source of comfort.
    As I said we are a very charitable Nation, known throughout the world. As you point out charity can often me misplaced i.e. and does not solve the problem in
    many cases.
    I have quoted previously a chap who said “Jesus turned water into wine! Why in our ‘ouse he turned beer into furniture!”
    For the Salvation Army and Mildmay they understood that they were engaged in Warfare, fought on many fronts. The great evangelist D L Moody was asked in Glasgow,” what can we do”? He said “do something for the poor,” which led in part to the founding of Unions.
    Whilst working at Mildmay Hospital my wife, who trained there, took me down a long road nearby and said that” in Booths time every other building on that road was a gin palace”.
    Some, a very few, are engaged with the “spiritual forces in high places” to pull down strongholds, break iron yokes, and set captives free, to amazing effect, not just giving support to external difficulties. You are correct in that we should be seeking some of the “old paths” for the future, however I think that many will say as in
    JER.6 But they said, We will not walk therein.
    6:17 Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet.[i.e. gather yourselves to stand before God to hear Him] But they said, We will not hearken. Please, all, read the context.

    • thanks Alan – that is helpful and sorry if I sounded defensive. I think the idea of being engaged in ‘spiritual warfare’ against poverty in all its forms and the forces which hold it in place is worth re-considering as it reminds us of the powerful and deadly forces which stalk humanity. There is much learning to be had from the origins of groups like the Sally Army. For example, William Booth believed unalloyed charity was a real danger – this is why he believed in social enterprises and people working hard. The original soup runs the SA ran were money-making schemes to help support their ministry.

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts – and I agree with your concern to use scripture in context.

  11. I would add a fourth to your list (Venn diagram): “poverty of opportunity”Opportunity — and the person’s ability to make or take opportunities (their own failure of ambition/aspiration which is the low self-esteem and lack of worth you mentioned in your “poverty of identity” category). Personally I’d have a moratorium on anyone who attended a private / fee-paying school from holding any public or elected office. I’m not being entirely serious but I hope you see my point.

    • I think that proposal around private education could be worth exploring! I think private education is one of the most significant factors in perpetuating injustice and inequality. There are fewer more effective ‘engines of privilege’ than these institutions – many of which started as Christian foundations to help the poor!

      • Quite so – an acquaintance in Canterbury, for example, tells me of private schools there which are church foundations (Anglican and Methodist) and have ‘charitable status’ under English law which now cost £37k+ p.a. and are now doing all they can to minimise and ignore their Christian character. Their websites ignore Christianity. These schools are basically feeder schools for rich Chinese and East Europeans (the Russians are gone now) to get their kids into British universities.
        A common story, I think, and also driven by the LGBT agenda, among other things. As Britain has secularised, agencies that were once clearly Christian (Barnardo’s, Children’s Society etc) have shed their Christianity in favour of a secular vision.

        • Perhaps the problem is hope over experience. I think Christians should stop badging their enterprises as ‘Christian’ and simply work withing existing structures, otherwise the outcome is always the same. 1) Bold Christian initiative followed in time by 2) Christian charity with a Christian ethos, 3) charity with an ethos…eventually an arm of the state with 4) no clear purpose or funding. Then the cycle begins again: Christians take up the floundering mechanisms and reinvigorate them as independant charities.
          Was it ever Jesus’ intention that we should build Jerusalem in brick?

      • Jon

        I think the open door between Eton (etc) and the corridors of power means we end up with senior decision makers in both government and the church whose majority life experience is amongst the ultra wealthy and they don’t always understand the problems “real” people face.

        I remember hearing an interview with a former work and pensions secretary saying that they wish they had known when they were in office that “some” people didn’t have the resources to wait six weeks for a welfare cheque(!) This would not be “news” to anyone who attended state schools etc

      • Far from it, while commending your article and the work Christian charities do for the homeless and encouraging them to remain true to their Christian foundations, most UK private schools also do excellent work. They are not only amongst the top schools academically globally as well as the UK, they also offer scholarships and bursaries to those who cannot afford the fees but are bright and share their extensive sporting and cultural facilities with the local community in holiday periods and most also have chapels and chaplains holding daily Christian services

        • T1

          But the point is surely then people are making decisions for the country and the church who only have experience of wealth and plenty

          • So what, many members of the Church of England are wealthy, indeed probably more so than are poor. There is nothing wrong with Bishops and senior politicians having a good private education and coming from prosperous middle class homes, that doesn’t mean they won’t make decisions in the interests of the poor as well as the rich

  12. Ian Paul
    December 30, 2023 at 12:06 pm
    Did you mean ‘Jon’? Yes sorry Jon for my oversight, believ me I am not a pompose old proffesor of a privelidged school.

  13. Draconian solutions to eliminate injustice sounds to me like the “polatics of envy.” Alas mere humanisms’ and Utopian idealisms have thus far failed in their aspirations,evil man waxes worse and worse.
    That the manifold Charities flourish is perhaps due to the generosity of privelidged people who also pay the wages of many if not most social action employees.Be careful not to kill the golden goose!
    Thanks to all the commentators who have spread a little happiness in expressing positive Christian, forward looking, ideas.

    • “Draconian solutions to eliminate injustice…”

      The Bible has rather a lot to say about justice and injustice, particularly in relation to how a people treat the poor and powerless among them. The same prophets who shone a light on the injustice among even the people of God also pronounced a judgement on the people which seems pretty draconian to me.

      Justice is the outworking of righteousness. Both of these are important parts of God’s character and so should be important parts of the Christian’s character. Justice operates in the area of relationships between people. It is fundamentally about how a society operates. It is the infection of the Enlightenment which sees things only in terms of individuals. The judgements in the OT are on societies as a whole.

      Perhaps draconian changes are needed to avoid draconian judgement.

  14. “Perhaps draconian changes are needed to avoid draconian judgement”.
    Draconian or drastic changes ?
    The Heart of the problem is the problem of the Heart.
    JER. 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
    17:10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
    Ezek 18:31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
    Ezek 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
    ……36:37 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them;
    Perhaps in this time the Church should be enquiring of God to do this in these days?
    Of the making of many laws to eliminate poverty or injustice there may be no end.
    Alas, that the Law[s] makes nothing perfect was a foundational tenet of the Gospel.
    No, Politics, Humanism, Utopianism will not cure anything. The cure of souls will.
    Mark 14:7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always” said Jesus.

  15. This seems a good summary of the current state of “Christian social action”. Thank you.

    What I say may seem critical, but a lot of what is being done seems to me to be indistinguishable from what is done by well-intentioned people who are not Christian, and even what is sometimes done by the state. Others have pointed out how work of this sort that starts from some Christian motive often loses that focus and becomes secularised. Some of this is doubtless due to the perception of the *necessity* to do the work in ways the state (and Charity Commission) approves.

    Food banks are relatively easy to do, but are not distinctively Christian and may be poorly targeted out of fears about unlawful discrimination.

    One thing that seems given insufficient attention in the otherwise useful three circles model is the fact that much poverty stems from poor moral and lifestyle choices, and mistaken priorities when spending. The prodigal son only came to repentance because he had nothing to eat. Surely repentance about morals and lifestyle should be central to a distinctively christian approach? A fourth circle?

    A repentance about lifestyle and morals approach is more demanding to deliver, but far better links to the main priority of the church – to extend the kingdom of God through personal salvation. Such an approach could be targetted without raising the same issues over unlawful discrimination, as all help becomes conditional on the willingjness of people to put themselves into the place to be helped.

    The early church was a group outcast from main society, and so could never have done anything to “change or improve society’s general social condition”, which currently seems to be at the centre of “Christian social action”. They had limited resources – their testimony with outsiders was that they loved *one another* – they were to do good to all men, but especially to those in the household of faith. Support was therefore restricted and conditional. “Whoever will not work, let him not eat”. Rather the lazy were to work productively with their hands. Likewise, younger widows were to remarry – the support for widows was for those who were true widows (elderly and of good character, ad waiting on God).

    Society generally is in a mess of its own making, and many christians want to love their neighbours and do something about it. But activities like food banks are like sticking plaster that cannot fix it, nor does it in any realistic sense extend the kingdom of God. It makes some christians feel better.

    People first and foremost need delivering from the oppression of the devil, and the healing that goes with that. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Acts 10:38

      • The early church had the power of the Holy Spirit. The institutional church prefers the power to effect things through the democratic process. That is the mess of pottage.

        • Hi Tim, I agree. We are ambassadors. This fact should give us a freedom not to feel responsible or burdened to change society but to simply be salt on it. I feel equal to any would be mover or shaker. We are not called to create a Christian nation of non Christians imbued with Christian morals/ behaviours.

      • Yes it is currently possible to affect the wider society in ways the early church could not, but I am not convinced that is desirable or God’s intention for us.

        Tim Gardener above has already usefully expanded on this point at length.

        I don’t think we should be serving the state or seeking to change society as a whole. I think the church’s job is to call is to repentance and separation from the world and its values.

        Christians seem to want to show the world their church is socially “relevant”. I think the church is being distracted by this away from its primary mission, to become a servant of the state by providing general unconditional social provision.

        If “faith groups” are getting praise from the secular authorities for their social work, and they are, that means the state approves of it and of the way it is done. That means it serves the the state’s agendas, and (especially given the current hostility to the christian message) the “christian” component is perceived to be tiny enough to ignore.

        “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

  16. Tony Udin,
    Thank you for your comment at Dec 30th, 11:06 am.
    It stands as a chastening corrective against much of the comments. You demonstrate how it can be done, with the Gospel at the centre.
    It indeed reveals the hardness of our hearts in our relative, but Godless, prosperous ease that predominates in the West.
    In that sense, there is no such thing as “upstream”; we are all flowing “downstream” without Jesus. Pulling us up out of poverty, of itself, does not save us.

  17. oh the worldly men, their worldly thoughts, and their worldly ways,.

    How lost they all are, just moving on to the next worldly thing, just as the world commands them to do, within the stumbling darkness thereof. That dog of satan, running about nipping at their heels, keeping them all huddled up, and moving ever forward, moving ever forward. Those huddled sheep, neither knowing nor perceiving that the moving ever forward path they’re on, it leads to the slaughterhouse.

    return to the comments at the end:


    … back to the path less taken, farewell to thee.

  18. From popes, millionaires, and kings, down to prisoners, the homeless, and impoverished, each of us is an individual creation made and loved by God.

    We are all unique. We will all be judged individually. And, as Christians, we will be held to a higher standard as we proclaim that we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ.

    No matter how we lived our lives, the common denominator for all of us will be: How much we loved each other. As we go into 2024, never fail to help a neighbour, whoever it may be, even a stranger.

    A Happy New Year to Ian and all his readers and commentators.


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