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26 October 2012

Does money matter?

Does money matter?

Evangelicals are good at looking after their money, and they give generously, but the Church must do more to tackle the roots of poverty and injustice, finds Daniel Webster, the Alliance’s parliamentary officer…

The latest report in the Evangelical Alliance’s ongoing research programme into the beliefs and habits of evangelical Christians in the UK, Does money matter?, examined the financial habits of evangelical Christians and uncovered a group who save well, give generously and spend sensibly. The research not only presented a sensible response in the current economic climate, but it also showed a Church that is active in their community providing support for others. 

The research shows 42 per cent attend a church that supports or runs a foodbank, and one in five attend churches running either a CAP Money course or debt centre, or both. However, other areas in response to economic need fared less well. Only seven per cent are in churches offering help to the unemployed, and 3.5 per cent have either a personal or church involvement with Church Action on Poverty campaigns on issues such as unscrupulous lenders or the introduction of the living wage. 

Foodbanks, which are often run by churches through the Trussell Trust, have received considerable attention in the press recently. They have been lauded for the service they provide to those in desperate need, people who are often in work but who are still unable to afford enough food to feed their families. However, they have also been on the receiving end of criticism for potentially aiding a dependency culture, replacing state provision, and not addressing the underlying problems. 

The survey, which was completed by 1,237 people in May 2012, discovered a high level of agreement on beliefs about God and money. On issues of compassion, justice, trust and prudence well over 80 per cent of respondents hold similar views. When asked whether or not it is “every Christian’s duty to help those in poverty”, 92 per cent agreed; and 89 per cent backed a belief in advocacy for justice and the poor. On other issues there was disagreement. Only 36 per cent agreed that wealth is usually a real barrier to someone who seeks to follow Christ, and the same number agreed that speculation and taking risks on the financial markets is morally wrong. 

As well as practical action and theological views, the research considered opinions on more political issues which have come under greater scrutiny during the recent financial crises. Around 92 per cent of respondents thought some ‘top’ people were paid too much, and 77 per cent thought that the rich should pay higher levels of tax. The results also echoed the complexity of the welfare system because, while 55 percent thought cuts in public services were causing too much hardship, 68 per cent thought too many had become dependent on state benefits. 

Generally, the research provides an encouraging picture about the approach of evangelical Christians to handling money and it shows a generous response from the Church to the economic crisis. However, the picture is not wholly positive, and the report highlights areas that should provoke us to consider whether the current response is adequate. In particular it would appear mercy ministry responses are far more common than those which seek change to the structural situation that causes poverty. Specifically, despite evangelicals having a great history of helping the unemployed by providing relief and creating work, the report found that only seven per cent of churches are doing anything to help the growing number of people currently unemployed in the UK. 

Daniel WebsterAlthough there is clearly much to be proud of, the challenge to the Church is to embrace the more thorny issues. These will involve taking action over a longer term and will not always provide the same immediate results that can be achieved when handing over a much-needed bag of food. Often political campaigning or creating employment can be hard graft, but if we are concerned to see injustices righted, the hungry fed, and people given the dignity of work, then we have to do more than respond to the crisis and see what we can do to prevent it happening again. 

Daniel Webster is the Alliance’s parliamentary officer.

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