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What does a practical prophetic and political response to the cost of living crisis look like?

It is relatively easy to achieve one of the three, but a response that speaks to the true influence of lives transformed by Jesus should touch all three.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 255/Danny_Webster 10 DE ABRIL DE 2023 09:30 h
Manchester city mission, / [link]EAUK Cost of Living[/link].

As 2023 began any positive news about the state of the economy was sufficiently negligible to have been missed by many.



Inflation may have dropped from its high but still sits at more than 10%. So far, the UK has not technically entered recession, with growth of 0.01 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022 averting that classification by the narrowest of margins.



Strikes in many industries are showing the pressure for wage increases that actually feel like an increase rather than a cut. However that still leaves businesses with higher costs that they either absorb or pass on to customers causing prices to rise further.



In this challenging economic environment, whether it is the worst since the early 1990s, or the 1970s is a debate economists and historians will determine, the term ‘cost of living crisis’ affectively sums up the impact for many.



The cost of day-to-day essentials is increasingly beyond the reach of many and forcing households to make decisions they never imagined.



An investigation published in the Sunday Times (1) uncovered the awful practice in the UK of energy companies force fitting pre payment meetings when customers are struggling with their bills.



They are legally not allowed to cut off someone’s supply but by putting them on a pre payment meter they make it inevitable that many will self-disconnect.



Following this report a magistrate resigned (2) citing pressure to rubberstamp these decisions, and the publicity has forced a moratorium on such action.



A Christian response to the ‘cost of living crisis’ we are in should be practical, prophetic and political. It is relatively easy to achieve one of the three, but a response that speaks to the true influence of lives transformed by Jesus should touch all three.



 



Practical response



The Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom produced a Stories of Hope Resource (3)  in autumn 2022 to record a selection of ways churches and Christian ministries are responding to the ‘cost of living crisis’ in their local communities and across the nations of the UK.



When it comes to supporting elderly people, children, and the homeless, helping those in poverty or out of addiction, and many other areas, the church is the most overlooked social support structure.



In every community, Christians are committed to showing practical love to their neighbour and making a difference in their communities. Churches and Christian organisations provide life-changing support and provision for those in greatest need.



They are often the first to respond and the ones who stick around long after the headlines have faded and the attention has shifted.



Churches have opened their buildings as warm spaces for people who cannot afford to heat their houses, they have continued providing emergency food supplies even when they are having to pay higher bills themselves, and while the safety net they provide may be frayed and torn in places, it continues to be an essential support for many. 



Alistair Doxat-Purser, CEO of Faithworks Wessex, reflected on his work and said: “We are not called to solve everything, or indeed make everything better. But we can give people hope for today and celebrate with them in the little victories.



These victories range from receiving a recipe bag alongside their food parcel, a health appointment getting sorted, a benefits application submitted, or increasingly, seeing them at church on Sunday; all steps on the journey out of material and emotional poverty.” (4)



The practical response of churches to the ‘cost of living crises’ through projects and services is visible in every community. It is often the only place many connect with church and is a visible witness of faith in action.





[photo_footer]EAUK Cost of Living [/photo_footer] 


 



Prophetic response



However, practical responses alone are insufficient, firstly because when they only deal with practical change, any spiritual renewal is often relegated, and secondly, it does not address the political challenges that need to be tackled to deliver lasting change.



The prophetic task of the church in public life is to speak out for truth and justice to a world distracted and disillusioned. It is a task that requires boldness and courage, it calls us to speak the words of the Good News as we are acting with good deeds.



I’m thinking about the foodbank hesitant to offer prayer to those they are working with in case it causes offence, or local government putting restrictions on partnership that mean they will only work with churches if they limit what they say about their faith.



We cannot let our social action become sanitised and look just the same as any other good public service, this is the task of integral mission that fully encompasses both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration in action.



The work of the church in communities should be exemplary, it should go above and beyond in professionalism and standards, we should care about our relationships with local authorities, other services, and those that we support and walk alongside. But professionalism is not a reason to diminish our prophetic voice.



I am encouraged by Christians who hold both firmly together, constantly calling attention to what Jesus is doing, but also highlighting injustice.



The biblical model of Old Testament prophets demonstrates what working against injustice can look like. Prophets who spoke (5) against the inextricable link between the idolatry and injustice that they witnessed.



Like Amos in chapter 5 verse 24  quoted Martin Luther King Jnr when he said: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”.



Prophets see what is wrong, and they see a future when God’s righteousness and glory rule.



 



Political response



While practical action and prophetic speech are both vital, they are still not enough. Our collective response to the cost-of living crisis has to be political as well. And this point needs some care, because I am not advocating for a particular party political response, but the outworking of this often will be through party politics.



The testimony of the Scriptures, and the history of the Church through the centuries press us to see the governance of society, and in particular politics, as a way of seeking lasting solutions to the problems we are encountering.



A careful reading of the Bible will require different political responses to different issues. There are some places where we will find reasonable unity in reading across from scripture into policy with fairly direct application.



Support for life from conception to death is one area. There are other issues where the broad position can be ascertained, but the outworking in policy action will be more complex.



Economic matters usually fit in this latter category. It is clear to me that the God we worship does not tolerate injustice, and that as his ambassadors we have a responsibility to act with compassion towards those with the least and forgotten by others.



How we do that requires considerable care, as Christians will disagree about the best response and most effective way for compassion to be outworked in practical policy terms.



The prophetic task of the church in public life is to speak out for truth and justice to a world distracted and disillusioned. I think this calls for clarity about where we can speak collectively as churches or Christian bodies, and where we can’t.



For example there may be specific injustices such as the forced installation of pre payment metres, that we can rail against with all the outrage of Old Testament prophets.



There will also be a distinction between what organisations or churches campaign for and what an individual Christian politician supports in a particular context.



There is also a need for grace and understanding towards those with whom we disagree, to seek the best of what they may be supporting rather than latch on to easy political opposition.



Disagreement is not the problem but disparaging one another for how we might approach things differently is.



 



Conclusion



A Christian response to the cost-of-living crisis must be practical, we must demonstrate our compassion in action, and in action that makes a positive difference rather than to salve our conscience.



It must also be prophetic in calling attention to the idolatries and injustices that lead to financial challenges.



And it must be political so that solutions that last are found and we do not allow poverty to be aggravated and perpetuated.



Danny Webster, Director of Advocacy, Evangelical Alliance UK



Vista is an online journal offering research-based information about mission in Europe. Founded in 2010, each themed edition covers a variety of perspectives on crucial issues for mission.



Download the latest edition or read individual articles here. This article first appeared in the march 2023 edition of Vista Journal.



 



Endnotes



1. Morgan-Bentley, Paul (2023) ‘Exposed: How British Gas debt agents break into the homes of the vulnerable’ Sunday Times, 1 February. Available at:



2. As covered by the BBC here.



3. Available online



4. Doxat-Purser (2022) ‘Hope for today: partnership response in times of crisis’ Available here



5. For example in passages such as Isa. 1:11-31; Jer. 7:1-11; Ezek. 8-9; Micah 6 and Mal. 2


 

 


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