Churches urban report dismissed as socialism tinged with piety
Echoing the sentiments which led politicians in Margaret Thatcherís administration to dismiss its predecessor, ëFaith in the Cityí, as ìMarxistî 21 years ago, the Daily Telegraph newspaper ñ considered by some a barometer of UK conservative opinion ñ yesterday attacked the latest churchesí report on urban life, branding it ìsocialism tinged with pietyî.
Two decades ago, some Thatcherites were known to have condemned the findings of the ground-breaking report of the Archbishopsí Commission on Urban Priority Areas without having read it.
By contrast, the Telegraph seems to have given the new Commission on Urban Life and Faith (ACULF) document, the product of two years careful work, at least a cursory scan. And it prefaces its rebuttal by commending ìthe excellent work done by Christian organisations in dealing with some of the most intractable social problems in Britain.î
But the newspaper rigorously objects to the notion that an unbridled market economy may have something to do with the symptoms of inequality, discontent, over-consumption and social anomie described in ëFaithful Citiesí ñ a report jointly published by the Church of England and the Methodist Church, and involving participants from other faith communities.
ìChristians are commanded to love the widow, the orphan and the stranger,î says the Telegraph leader, before sniffily adding that these are ìoften translated these days to mean single mothers, children in care and immigrants.î
The paper does not spell out what is wrong with this, though it backs suggestions that the churches might ìextend their efforts, helped by a government that gives greater opportunities to their work.î
But it bluntly describes as ìeconomic and moral childishnessî ACULF proposals for a living wage rather than a minimum wage (also supported by Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy OíConnor and Church Action on Poverty), and for asylum seekers to be able to work while their applications are being processed.
A commentator told Ekklesia wrily. ìObviously the writer was unaware that Jesus said we needed to become like children to enter the kingdom of God, and presumably he or she would laugh out loud at the naivete of the Beatitudes.î
The proposals in question are, however, being welcomed by anti-poverty and refugee campaigners. And economists may be puzzled by the Telegraphís view that policies which increase spending power and produce revenue from those otherwise dependent are economically foolish.
The Telegraph goes on: ìIt is proper that the Church engages in public debate on social policy. What is depressing is the resort to ideas long exploded by theory and experience, and the inexplicable blindness to policies that would give voluntary organisations, including churches, a central place in the delivery of welfare services.î
It suggests that it may be best for those in need to remain dependent on individual or voluntary benefaction, and that the state should not burden society with social justice.
Referring to a famous Gospel story, the paper also says, echoing Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, that market-driven capitalism ìis the way to make the money that the Good Samaritan spent on [a] stricken travellerî.
Biblical scholars have suggested that such an interpretation is rather weak on its understanding of first-century Palestinian social economy, and misses the main point of Jesusí story ñ that those despised by society and ignored by organised religion are the objects of Godís love and a priority concern for his followers.
In his preface to the new report, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that while riches and opportunities have grown since Faith in the City, the two decades had also brought ìfear, racial tension and the tendency to treat neighbours as strangersî.
[Also on Ekklesia: Rich-poor divide a disgrace says church report 23/05/06; Faithful Cities (order book); Controversial 'Faithful Cities' report launched 22/05/06; US faith groups to campaign for living wages; Church report to criticise government over asylum, immigration and refugees; Cardinal suggests UK amnesty for illegal immigrants; Catholics to celebrate migrant workers; Tenants to picket Archbishop of Canterbury over homes sale; Major church report to urge just wealth creation; God in the City: Essays and Reflections; Ekklesia response to 2005 CTBI report on wealth: Is God bankrupt? By Simon Barrow - *.PDF document]