Progressive Christians need to speak out about the Welfare of our fellow citizens!

Like many PCN members I have lived through the inflationary years of the 70’s, through various financial crises, through strikes and Thatcherism but never have I felt that our society was so grossly unequal as now; never a government so incompetent and a Prime Minister so devoid of a moral compass.. I am a comfortable pensioner – a secure church pension, free bus travel, a mortgage paid, children grown up and long since left the nest. And yet the government seeks to give me a 10% increase in my welfare through a triple lock pension whilst I see young friends and family members struggle with daily costs of living.

Progressive Christians need to speak out about the Welfare of our fellow citizens!

PCN is a supporter of the Equality Trust. We follow a Jesus who inspires up to act with compassion, to seek justice and to work for a kingdom of righteousness. So are we not angry with how our society is ordered? Are we not dismayed by the sight of foodbanks and alarmed at the rising number of children going hungry? Do we not need to enter into a political debate about all this , to raise questions with our MP, to provoke discussion in the same ways as are doing over climate change?

I have just read a newly published book about Welfare, which is reviewed below. The author is very keen to discuss his book and his passion for a truly just Welfare State with us. Will you let me know if you would like such a discussion on Zoom?

In the meantime below is the book review and I commend such a meeting with Joseph Forde.

Before and Beyond the Big Society

John Milbank and the Church of England’s Approach to Welfare

Joseph Forde

Publisher: James Clarke and Co.

In the contest of today’s cost of living crisis and the ongoing political debate about the levels of poverty, the pressures facing the NHS, job insecurity and the housing crisis, here is a ‘tour de force’ analysis by Joseph Forde of the approaches to welfare in England from a historical, political and indeed theological set of perspectives and analyses.

The author worked for twenty six years in NHS management and is Honorary Research Fellow in Historical Theology at the Urban Theology Union in Sheffield. Forde worships in an Anglican church and is chair of Sheffield’s Church Action on Poverty. Hence the book, which arises from his PhD thesis, is written not only with meticulous attention to the historical and political contexts of the approaches to Welfare, especially since 1945, but displays the author’s own passion to a Welfare State with equality as its underpinning and a Church of England using its established role to play a vital and integral contribution in cooperation with the state and the private sector.

In arriving at the conclusion which is framed by the author in eight points on how the Church might formulate its future approach to welfare, Forde has taken the 2010 ‘Big Society’ project of Prime Minister David Cameron as a seminal moment to analyse the different strands in approach to welfare before and after the time of the coalition government. Was the Big Society idea a real opportunity for the church to be more to the front in serving the needs of our fellow citizens? Or did the government of the day wish to unburden itself financially and ideologically from the demands of ever increasing welfare needs? Part Three of this book details the many responses from theologians, politicians, the General Synod, archbishops and others. In particular there is a lengthy critique of the ‘blue socialist’ thinking of John Milbank, tracing this back to the ‘Christendom strand’ which has been wary of the power of the political state and over-encroachment on the place of local, grassroots and church contributions. In contrast to Milbank, Forde outlines the William Temple/Tawney strand of Welfare State provision through the democratically elected government of the day, which has largely been the accepted norm of delivery of welfare alongside the voluntary sector.

The notion of the ‘Big Society’ raised then, in 2010, and now twelve years later, vital questions about government policy and ideology in regard to welfare and what place there should be for organisations outside government, including the Church, to influence and be part of such welfare provision. Forde gives a masterly overview of how successive governments since the time of Attlee have pivoted over welfare issues and what has been the response of the Church of England in particular. I found Forde’s interview with Malcolm Brown, Director of Faith and Public Life for the Church of England and his analysis of Brown’s writings, reports and strong influence on the Church’s approach to welfare, a fascinating and brave piece of research and comment by Forde.

Christians, looking back in the history and development of their faith, from its Jewish roots to the life and teachings of Christ, through to the present time, can trace a central concern for the poor, the orphaned and widowed, the stranger and the outcast. In these islands and indeed through the time of colonisation, we see the church’s involvement in the provision of education and health care, prison reform and all other aspects of care for the welfare of our citizens. Today the Church is struggling for its own well-being in a far more secular environment and yet its social work continues through the provision of foodbanks, hospital chaplaincy, Church schools and in many other ways. How does the Church, as well as thousands of voluntary agencies work alongside government to create a just, fair and compassionate society?

This book puts this important question in a much larger historical and theological timeframe. It is a must-read for all interested in such concerns for the welfare of all our fellow citizens.


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