Churches: Time to lead the way on economic inequality

In this guest blog, Simon Perfect, from Theos, argues that churches need to help tackle the gap between rich and poor, not just poverty.

For many churches, the pandemic has necessarily been a period of damage limitation – how can they transfer services online, keep congregations connected, and provide crucial support to their vulnerable, ill or bereaved members.

But as we emerge from lockdown, churches need to look outwards again. As a new report from Theos, the religion and society thinktank, argues, churches need to use their influence to drive a national conversation about the grievous inequalities exposed by COVID-19 – in particular, inequalities of income and wealth.

Even before the pandemic, the UK had one of the highest levels of income inequality in Europe, and the top 10% of households owned 45% of the country’s wealth. The crisis has exacerbated these inequalities, hitting poorer people far harder than the rich. But it is not just the poor who are negatively affected by high economic inequality. As the report explains, there is a growing body of research showing the social and political damage that high inequality drives, meaning we are all left worse off.  

As we look to rebuild our economy, then, we must seize the opportunity to address the pernicious gap between rich and poor. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of such issues. But there are key things that local churches can do to help. They can:

  • Use their investment power
    Where local churches have investments, they should scrupulously examine them to avoid profiting from ethically dubious sources. They could also invest in organisations which actively work to reduce economic and other inequalities. The Equality Impact Investing Project shows how organisations can do this.
  • Talk more about wealth, not just poverty
    Local churches have key roles to play in changing how we think about money, but often church leaders are much more comfortable talking about poverty than wealth. Christians must start seeing their financial choices, including their consumer, banking and investment choices, as faith choices. The Money Makes Change programme is a great way for churches to open up these conversations.
  • Use their national institutions to keep economic inequality on the agenda
    Local churches can use national structures (e.g. motions submitted to Synod or Conference) to push economic inequality up the agenda of senior church leaders. The latter should issue formal statements (ideally cross-denominationally) condemning high economic inequality and use their national voice to call loudly for the government to tackle it.

Such actions are urgent, because after the pandemic we cannot go back to the status quo. Churches must marshal their resources to point us to a better vision for the economy, one with a moral purpose: one which helps us become orientated towards other people’s needs rather than our own and helps us find our fulfilment through loving relationships. This is the Christian vision for the economy, and churches need to proclaim it now more loudly than ever.

If you’re interested in helping to open up these conversations in your church, why not explore the resources available as part of the Money Makes Change programme?

Simon Perfect is a Researcher at Theos, the religion and society thinktank. He is the author of Bridging the Gap: Economic Inequality and Church Responses in the UK

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