Bishop Paul Speech to Community Money Advice Envision Conference
 Bishop Paul Speech to Community Money Advice Envision Conference

Bishop Paul Speech to Community Money Advice Envision Conference

The Right Revd, Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham spoke on Poverty and the Church’s Response on Saturday 7th November in Belmont, Durham.

During his keynote speech he said: “This meeting need is not confined to simply our own immediate family or community. The Christian response has always been to all in need regardless of who they are, or indeed where. Hence the way that the church has often led the way in responding to major need around the world; particularly since communications have both meant the flow of information is much quicker and the capacity to get necessary goods to the place of need has increased.”

He went on to say: “Refugee crisis – Bishops’ letter and responses ‘not our problem’ or ‘look after our ow first’. The Christian response cannot be to agree with either view. […]

“Many see their role as simply to respond to need as it is presented. But there have always been those who have wanted to go further and ask questions about why the need is there in the first place. I would say this is what more Christians should be doing; asking the question ‘Why?’

“Why are people poor? Why is it that when we lay a map of poverty in the late 19th century in a city over a map of poverty in the same city today often there appears to be little change in where poverty lies? So why entrenched poverty in some communities and not others? Why entrenched wealth in some?

“Then also to ask, in the light especially of those saying ‘look after own first’, is responding to poverty a zero sum game? Are there limits to the response that means it has to be restricted?

“It is asking these difficulty questions that has led an organisation like the Trussell Trust to research carefully who is using food banks; what are their circumstances, why are they in these? Is this the best way out? What else might help eg debt and budgeting advice?” […]

“Now I believe that the church has a real role to play in the debate about defining poverty. We have never believed that poverty is simply a matter of economics and the possession of material goods. We have always believed that poverty includes matters that relate to social wellbeing, cultural opportunities, mental wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing. Poverty is a multidimensional matter. However to completely remove economic factors fails to recognise that there is a basic poverty which is to do with income etc. This is so clear in the poorest parts of the world. So we need to agree with Ian Duncan Smith that the raw 60% figure is too simplistic and omits other key factors that contribute to poverty. But disagree with him by asserting that the bald fact of what a person or households income is does contribute significantly into whether or not a person is poor.

“We also need to raise the seriousness of spiritual poverty in all thinking about poverty. Human beings are spiritual beings so that spiritual welfare does matter. […]

Bishop Paul summing up his speech said: “So I am convinced that we are never going to see the poorest nations of this earth transformed until we are prepared to live with less. We cannot go on becoming ever richer thinking that the poor will catch us up. There has to be a radical shift in our lifestyles to enable the poorest to have more of the earth’s resources.

“Love is not a zero sum game; it grows. But it also takes us into exploring living differently.”

Full Transcript of the Bishop’s Speech.

COMMUNITY MONEY ADVICE ENVISION CONFERENCE

Saturday 7th November 2017

POVERTY AND THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE

INTRODUCTION

I have just returned from a visit to Lesotho with the Durham-Lesotho link. This charity will celebrate 30 years of partnership next year. It was my first visit to Lesotho and second to Southern Africa. East Africa has been much more my area having been to Rwanda virtually every year since 1997, Uganda several times since 1998 and Burundi half a dozen times since 2000. Lesotho is not as poor as these 3 nations; Burundi with its current crisis is now officially the world’s poorest nation. But poverty is very real in Lesotho; both urban poverty in its capital Maseru, and it’s other smaller towns and rural poverty in its many mountain villages.

Two incidents at the end of our trip reminded me of the generosity of the poor. Last Sunday Rosemary and I were with Bishop Adam Taaso and his wife confirming 31 people in a remote mountain village. At the end we were presented with the inevitable gifts; a traditional Lesotho hat and an enormous package that turned out to contain a duvet cover and pillowcases. This replacing the traditional blanket worn by the shepherds and herdsmen. It was hugely generous from a poor community. But for them they wanted to express their thanks and their love. Bishop Adam was given a live ram. It was the first visit of a bishop to this community for over 20 years so the desire to express thanks that 2 had come was very high. They were largely poor but generous thanks flowed from their hearts.

On our return to Bothe Bothe, a border town, to join the other team members we were told that at one church they had visited at the close of the service an extra collection had been taken. To their embarrassment this was then presented to them as a gift for the return journey to be spent on refreshments. There was enough for all 13 of us to have a coffee on that journey. Another poor congregation wanting to express thanks and love through generous giving.

I begin with these two stories because they express what I also discovered in East Africa, and what I have also experienced in poor communities in our own nation; the poor are often proportianately the most generous. The incident in the gospels with the widow and her two small copper coins (Mark 12.41-44) is repeated time and again through history and across cultures, the poor are often more willing to give ‘out of their poverty’ than the rich out of their wealth.

We have to remember this when considering how the church has responded to poverty, and continues to do so.

MEETING NEED

The most obvious response to poverty throughout Christian history has been meeting the need.

The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25.31-46) has always been amongst the most inspirational for the church considering its response to human need. Feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty drink, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoner. Naturally this has taken a wide variety of forms down through the centuries and across the nation’s but at root these remain at the heart of so much of what the church does.

In Johannesburg I heard about a small family food initiative making sure poor children get fed; in Lesotho likewise a school food programme. Here in our county food banks, night shelters, prison visitors and prison family support, trips to Calais to aid refugees trapped there are amongst the initiatives about which we all know. From local churches the isolated and lonely are visited in their homes; care homes are visited; the sick are visited and supported and so on.

On one of my earlier visits to Byumba in northern Rwanda I was taken into the Congolese refugee camp on the edge of the town that had just emerged. Every fourth Sunday the local congregation took up a collection and used it to feed the refugees. Here were the poor identifying the even poorer and serving them in the name of Christ.

This response to need is partly because in the poor we recognise the presence of Jesus Christ, ‘for as much as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.’ There is a recognition that this is more than simple human philanthropy; it is service in the name of Christ for Christ himself. The person, or people matter, because they are human beings made in God’s image, caught up in the whole of human lost nests and rebellion against God, and people for whom Jesus Christ came and gave his life on the Cross. Each one therefore is precious and special whoever they are, whatever they have done and whatever their need.

Obviously this Christian response to the poor builds on all the roots in Judaism with care for the orphan and widow at the top of true living God’s way.

This meeting need is not confined to simply our own immediate family or community. The Christian response has always been to all in need regardless of who they are, or indeed where. Hence the way that the church has often led the way in responding to major need around the world; particularly since communications have both meant the flow of information is much quicker and the capacity to get necessary goods to the place of need has increased.

Refugee crisis – Bishops’ letter and responses ‘not our problem’ or ‘look after our ow first’. The Christian response cannot be to agree with either view.

ASKING QUESTIONS

Many see their role as simply to respond to need as it is presented. But there have always been those who have wanted to go further and ask questions about why the need is there in the first place. I would say this is what more Christians should be doing; asking the question ‘Why?’

Why are people poor? Why is it that when we lay a map of poverty in the late 19th century in a city over a map of poverty in the same city today often there appears to be little change in where poverty lies? So why entrenched poverty in some communities and not others? Why entrenched wealth in some?

Then also to ask, in the light especially of those saying ‘look after own first’, is responding to poverty a zero sum game? Are there limits to the response that means it has to be restricted?

It is asking these difficulty questions that has led an organisation like the Trussell Trust to research carefully who is using food banks; what are their circumstances, why are they in these? Is this the best way out? What else might help eg debt and budgeting advice.

We will all remember I am sure the great Central American bishop, Oscar Romero’s comment

‘When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a Communist.”

In perhaps not quite such strong language the same still goes on. As church we will be applauded for our work in providing food banks and night shelters; we are looked to by government both national and local for practical help in supporting Syrian refugees as they begin to arrive in our communities. But we are told that it is not our part to ask questions about why people need to use food banks in the first place. We are told to stay out of politics if we ask awkward questions. We are both saints and interfering idiots at the same time it seems.

But if we are to be faithful to our calling as concerned for the whole wellbeing of the earth and all its creatures then we must ask questions. They will be uncomfortable, including for ourselves.

OFFERING ANSWERS

Defining Poverty

The debate about how poverty should be defined goes back a very long way. It seems clear that there were debates in ancient Israel and amongst the leaders of Jesus own day. It appears that Jesus himself turned ideas about poverty upside down. He certainly radically altered how the poor were to be viewed – the kingdom of God is for the poor rather than their poverty suggesting they are excluded from it. The poor discover good news in Jesus.

In our own era

Peter Townsend, the sociologist who did so much to advance our understanding of poverty and its relationship to wider society, and one of Child Poverty Action Group’s founders, in 1979 defined poverty as follows: 

Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack resources to obtain the type of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged and approved, in the societies in which they belong.

This has dominated definitions of poverty for most of the period since then.

However Ian Duncan Smith is currently seeking to redefine it with a multidimensional model. In the 2010 consultation it was suggested that a number of dimensions that might be used to build a picture of a child’s life.

For example as well as income we might consider whether a child:

  • lives in a workless household;
  • lives in a family with problem debt;
  • lives in poor housing or a troubled area;
  • lives in an unstable family environment;
  • attends a failing school;
  • has parents without the skills they need to get on; or
  • has parents who are in poor health.

This has now turned into proposals which will scrap the current 60% median income definition, which is even as ‘deeply flawed’ and replace it with

New legislation to replace the Child Poverty Act 2010 will use:

the proportion of children living in workless household as well as long-term workless households

the educational attainment of all pupils and the most disadvantaged pupils at age 16

The government will also develop a range of other measures and indicators of root causes of poverty, including family breakdown, debt and addiction, setting these out in a children’s life chances strategy.

Now I believe that the church has a real role to play in the debate about defining poverty. We have never believed that poverty is simply a matter of economics and the possession of material goods. We have always believed that poverty includes matters that relate to social wellbeing, cultural opportunities, mental wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing. Poverty is a multidimensional matter. However to completely remove economic factors fails to recognise that there is a basic poverty which is to do with income etc. This is so clear in the poorest parts of the world. So we need to agree with IDS that the raw 60% figure is too simplistic and omits other key factors that contribute to poverty. But disagree with him by asserting that the bald fact of what a person or households income is does contribute significantly into whether or not a person is poor.

We also need to raise the seriousness of spiritual poverty in all thinking about poverty. Human beings are spiritual beings so that spiritual welfare does matter. 

PRACTICAL PROPOSALS

Local credit and funding

Credit Unions – school initiative from ABC

Community banks – Tynedale Community Bank opened by ABY yesterday

Debt advice – Clearly our conference today as Community Money Advice is a wonderful example of this in practice. The range of services that CMA offers is impressive and is effecting change in peoples’ lives. You will know that you are not the only example Christians against Poverty is another, and there are others besides.

Working in partnership with others to change the way local credit happens eg Sheffield

Feeding Britain report

Love keeps expanding

So not a zero sum game, although it probably does require some revolutionary answers.

Love is not a limited commodity it grows and expands. So our capacity to respond to human need is not limited by a fixed amount of love. God’s love is unlimited and so the love he enables us to offer also grows and expands.

So when people say that there are limits I want to say, Take care because love is not a zero sum game.

However we are not God and we do have to recognise our human limitations; so it is not unreasonable to consider what limits we might have. Also none of us individually can answer every need; we can only be responsible for some response. We have to work with others to effect fuller responses. So prayerfully considering limits is reasonable and godly. Although my experience is that God tends to stretch us just that bit further than we think we can handle. He keeps growing our capacity to love and to respond.

This includes being open to some radical shifts in our thinking and action. So I am convinced that we are never going to see the poorest nations of this earth transformed until we are prepared to live with less. We cannot go on becoming ever richer thinking that the poor will catch us up. There has to be a radical shift in our lifestyles to enable the poorest to have more of the earth’s resources.

Love is not a zero sum game; it grows. But it also takes us into exploring living differently.

 

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