Monday, December 6, 2010

Churches may not be so big on society after all

This really interesting piece from last week's Guardian deserves some close reading.

"The Big Society" remains a nebulous concept but as it slowly takes shape, some Christian groups have been joining the conversation. The Church of England in particular has started to put some flesh on the bones of what this might look like.  But is this driven by the motives that Riazat Butt suggests?
Christian leaders have welcomed David Cameron's concept of a big society, seeing it as a way to re-establish their place in society.

I can well believe that there are people who think exactly this: a chance for the church to regain its lost status as lynchpin of British society and doorkeeper of the way to social assistance. Part of me even warms to the idea, thinking that perhaps this might help to reverse the trend of secularisation and the marginalisation of Christianity in public debate.

But to "re-establish our place in society" is not a noble goal. The only possible reason for such an aim would be to make a grab for power, prestige and control over people's lives. The established church had a measure of these things in the past, and thank God, those days are gone. A church with a "place in society" is a church that would find it difficult to follow in the footsteps of the Son of Man. Better to have a "place" nearer where we are now, lurking on the fringe of power rather than stalking its corridors, influencing rather than ruling, and getting on with the job of loving our neighbour whether the politicians realise it or not.  With the loss of status comes the freedom from messy motives.

Which leads us to this line, from the same article:
Pickles's warning may dampen the enthusiasm – and restrict the extent – of churches' participation.
Could it be true that the church will pull back from the Big Society when it realises there isn't any cash on offer? Perish the thought. But if that was our motive then let's knock that on the head too.  At least it would mean we wouldn't be doing the Government's dirty work (Lesley gets cross at the idea).  The Christian church is called to meet people in their need because that is what Christ does. Any other reason is going to lead us into very murky waters.

1 comment:

Pam said...

You've hit the nail on the head again Charlie. I've questioned my own discomfort about hearing church leaders 'welcoming' the idea of Big Society and I think it is that undercurrent of self interest that has made me feel wary.

It's one thing to work in partnership with government, local or national, to provide for people, it's another thing to want to be identified with a party political policy because it puts us in a position of power an influence.

I'm sure those who applauded Big Society on behalf of the church did so from the best of motives, but to me this is an example of how politics and religion should NOT mix.