LIVERPOOL and LONDON, November 16, 2010 - A group of Christians in public life, including ministers and theologians, have launched a new network to oppose government cuts in public spending and welfare provision. They criticise the Coalition’s ‘Big Society’ rhetoric as vacuous and misleading.
The Common Wealth initiative says targeting the poorest in society is un-Christian and warns against churches being co-opted into plugging damaging gaps in social provision.
The group’s founding document – endorsed by a professor of theology, Anglican and Methodist clergy, a Cambridge academic and a religious think-tank, among others – provides a radical theological critique of government policies and the social and economic order they seek to maintain.
Steven Shakespeare, an Anglican priest and lecturer in philosophy at Liverpool Hope University, explained: “This is not the time for the churches to be cozying up to government. That would be a failure of nerve, imagination and faith. We need to be saying loud and clear that we are part of the resistance. We don’t accept that the market is God.”
The group says: “Christians in Britain today are called to take a stand. Faced with the biggest cuts to public spending for over a generation, it is not enough to retreat into the private ghetto of religious consolation.”
The document continues: “We are convinced that the actions of the current government are an unjustified attack on the poor. The rhetoric of necessary austerity and virtuous belt-tightening conceals a grim reality: the victimization of people at the margins of society and the corrosion of community. Meanwhile, the false worship of markets continues unchecked and the immorality of the growing gap between rich and poor goes unquestioned.”
“We call on the churches to resist the cuts and stand in solidarity with those targeted,” it declares. “We urge them to join the forces fighting back against a distorted ideology… [and] we commit ourselves not to give in to despair, fear and fatalism. Another world is possible, the world announced by Jesus in his teachings, embodied in the love he took to the cross, and alive in the Spirit of his risen strength.”
Common Wealth says that churches should not be deceived by claims that the government is sympathetic to Christian ideals. The network describes David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, in which the state passes the buck to individuals, entrepreneurs, charities, and faith groups, as “a Big Lie”.
The ‘Big Society’ masks injustice, suffocating dissent with phoney “we're all in it together” sound bites, Common Wealth says. “It is divide-and-rule dressed up as high-minded community spirit.”
The Common Wealth statement recognises that, on the ground, churches and ministers are faced with difficult choices about working within the current system to get necessary resources to the most vulnerable. But it says that pragmatic decisions “should always be guided – and often limited – by a fundamental critique of the present order” based on a vision of a different society “revealed in the Church’s sacraments and other symbols of transformation.”
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: “The idea that there is no alternative to cuts that hit the poorest is being seen by Christians as economically false, morally wrong and spiritually bankrupt.”
Notes to Editors
1. The Common Wealth network’s website can be found here: http://commonwealthnetwork2010.blogspot.com/ . A downloadable version of the statement is available on the site.
2. The full statement, ‘Common Wealth: Christians for social and economic justice’ can also be read here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/CommonWealthStatement 
4. Initial signatories of the document are: * Al Barrett, Anglican vicar, Parish of Hodge Hill, Birmingham * Anthony Reddie, Methodist preacher, Research Fellow in Black Theology, Queens Theological Foundation Birmingham, author of Black Theology, Slavery & Contemporary Christianity, and editor of Black Theology journal * Chris Howson, Anglican priest at Soul Space, Bradford, and author of A Just Church: 21st Century Liberation Theology in Action * Chris Shannahan, Methodist minister, Research Fellow in Urban Theology, Birmingham University, and author of ' Power to the People: A Theology of Community Organising' * David Torevell, Associate Professor, Department of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University * Gary Hall, Methodist minister and Tutor in Practical Theology, Queen's Theological Foundation, Birmingham, and Co-ordinator of the Open Horizon anti-trafficking group * Keith Hebden, Anglican priest, St Katherine's Church Matson, and editor of 'A Pinch of Salt' magazine * Lisa Isherwood FRSA, Director of the Institute for Theological Partnerships, University of Winchester, and executive editor of Feminist Theology journal * Ray Gaston, Anglican and Methodist minister, Inter-Faith tutor and enabler at Queen's Theological Foundation and Birmingham Methodist District; author of A Heart Broken Open - Radical Faith in an Age of Fear * Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, writer and theologian, former assistant general secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland * Steven Shakespeare, Anglican priest; Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University, and author of Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction * Tim Gorringe, Anglican priest, Professor of Theology, Exeter University, and author of The Common Good and the Global Emergency * Zoe Bennett, Director of Postgraduate Studies in Pastoral Theology at the Cambridge Theological Federation and editor of Practical Theology journal
5. This press release has been distributed on behalf of Common Wealth by Ekklesia. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml