Politics, Poverty and the Church in an ‘Age of Austerity’
2. Surveying the Theological Landscape and Situating This Paper
2.1. A Picture of Poverty
2.2. All in This Together?
2.3. Literature Review—Theology, Poverty and the Role of Faith in the Public Sphere
2.3.1. The Role of Faith in the Public Sphere
2.3.2. Public Theology—Faith and the Common Good
2.3.3. Theology and Faith-Based Engagement with Austerity-Age Poverty
2.3.4. The Changing Focus of Liberation Theology
4.1. Mapping Christian Responses to Austerity-Age Poverty
4.1.1. A ‘Caring’ Response to Poverty in the UK
4.1.2. A ‘Campaigning and Advocacy’ Response to Poverty in the UK
In a similar vein Revd Dr Richard Fraser of the Church of Scotland suggested that “the failings of the system that led to the financial crisis of 2008 have been paid for by the poorest in society”. He argued that the Church needs to move beyond a “sticking plaster” response to poverty. For Fraser “our campaigning is … driven by our reading of the Gospel and a recognition that Jesus had a particular bias to the poor and to the people who were inhabiting the margins of society” (Interview 2020). This commitment to embody God’s preferential option for the poor—transforming structural injustice, as well as meeting the immediate needs of the homeless and the hungry—has major implications for the Church’s engagement with austerity-age poverty. However, our interviews with Church leaders illustrate an ambivalence towards social action that is intended to stimulate structural economic and political change. Whilst some Church leaders called the need to ‘transform structural injustice’ a “gospel imperative”, others were nervous about moving from charitable activities into more explicitly political action. A Baptist Church leader from Northern England summarised, “Responding to poverty is prioritised as an act of serving others or offering hospitality. Campaigning and advocacy are more political and therefore may be seen as too partisan” (Survey 2020). During Life on the Breadline some national and regional Church leaders expressed an uncertainty about engaging in civil society politics. Here, however, this Baptist leader reflected a fear of the Church being perceived as being engaged in Party politics.John Wesley suggested that the reason the rich don’t help the poor is because they don’t spend any time with them … I think there’s a continuing lack that has got worse with this latest government of empathy, of understanding of what it means to live on the breadline, to make that can of spam last two meals.(Interview 2020)
4.1.3. An ‘Enterprise’ Response to Poverty in the UK
Their approach therefore emphasised well-being through ‘enterprise’ rather than poverty language. This overlaps with the ‘community building’ approach, and contrasts the top-down approaches more commonly found in ‘caring’ approaches to poverty.… a place where people from different backgrounds can come together in order to live more whole lives … it’s a response to how do we live together in a neighbourhood, rather than how are we going to help poor people.(Interview 2020)
4.1.4. A ‘Community Building’ Response to Poverty in the UK
4.2. The Strengths and Weaknesses of Responses to Poverty in the UK
4.3. The Church’s Moment of Truth—Challenges and Opportunities
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Further details the 2018–2021 ‘Life on the Breadline’ research project, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council can be found at https://breadlineresearch.coventry.ac.uk accessed 1 December 2018.
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All fieldwork participants and interviewees whose names are used gave their explicit consent to be named.
(Interview 2019/2020) and (Survey 2020) in the following text refer to the interviews and surveys performed in the Life on the Breadline research in different years.
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Shannahan, C.; Denning, S. Politics, Poverty and the Church in an ‘Age of Austerity’. Religions 2023, 14, 59. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010059
Shannahan C, Denning S. Politics, Poverty and the Church in an ‘Age of Austerity’. Religions. 2023; 14(1):59. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010059Chicago/Turabian Style
Shannahan, Chris, and Stephanie Denning. 2023. "Politics, Poverty and the Church in an ‘Age of Austerity’" Religions 14, no. 1: 59. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14010059