Christian social action is currently a big theme in politics as well as the churches. This is demonstrated by a flurry of activity, including a debate in the House of Lords on Thursday, on a report by ResPublica, an independent think tank that was the brainchild of Philip Blond.
He was formerly a lecturer in theology and philosophy and has sought to develop solutions to long term social, economic and cultural problems in the UK. At one time he saw seen as David Cameron’s policy guru. His most recent publication for ResPublica, Holistic Mission: Social action and the Church of England was launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was the subject of the House of Lords debate.
The public expenditure cuts made by the Coalition Government to reduce the budget deficit have created the scope and need for the voluntary charitable sector to step in and bridge the gaps the cuts have left. Churches have contributed to this response, operating food banks, youth clubs, street champions, debt counselling as well as the more long term para-church organisations providing, for example, the care of people with disabilities and with drug and alcohol problems. However, some of these caring projects have faced suspicion and even hostility from local authorities and government professionals. The report calls on the Government to end this ‘cold war’. Blond argues “The Government’s plans for decentralisation, localism and community empowerment will never be complete without the biggest supporter of localism and community action – the Church”.
Coincidence or not, Thursday also saw the launch of “Together in Service”, a national initiative by FaithAction and the Department of Communities and Local Government to support multi-faith volunteering across communities. A new £180,000 grant programme funded by the Department will support faith-based projects. This has cross-party support and Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State was joined at the launch by Stephen Timms, the Shadow Employment Minister. Faith-based projects will be eligible for grants of between £2000 and £5000.
Some may suspect that these ideas and initiatives are examples of a social gospel and a distraction from the Christian priority of evangelism but they would surely be wrong. As the Archbishop said at the launch of the ResPublica report, “The Church that started the hospitals, that started schooling and that started the hospice movement, is continuing to meet social need out of the love for Christ, wherever it is”. He might also have pointed to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. His parable for the Good Samaritan showed how widely he expected his disciples to reach in love.
That is the spirit in which the Capital Vision 2020 mission in London seeks to draw many, especially young people, to faith in Jesus by acting with confidence in the Gospel, compassion in local community service and creativity in communicating the good news. This could give people cause to ask the reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).