In a recent report the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission explain that, according to their research, less able children from richer families were 35% more likely to become high earners than more able children from poorer families.
This is not a surprising report. It confirms what many suspect to be true- a child’s ability has less bearing on their future than their parent’s income. Wealthy parents protect their children from downward mobility, hoarding opportunities and preventing more able children from reaching their true potential.
Despite the results of this report not being particularly surprising, many would agree with Alan Milburn of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission when he says, “It’s a social scandal that all too often demography is still destiny in Britain.”
A predictable debate will ensue around these findings and Christians will fall on both sides- big society or cradle-to-grave welfare state- but that debate can and will be had elsewhere. The question I’d like to ask is, What should the church’s response be?
The Church should do nothing.
While often the question ‘what if we do nothing?’ is a helpful one, this is not such a case. This option looks like a worrying amount of churches around the world. It looks like a church full of affluent families meeting just metres from a deprived housing estate while remaining completely comfortable with the awkward relationship between that situation and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church should do nothing because it lives with this reality every day and does not blink an eye.
The Church should give lip service to equality in Christ but only on Sundays.
This is the most common response to reports like this. A church has a good demographic mix on a Sunday morning where the rich and poor, old and young sit side by side. They are ‘succeeding’. But this rarely translates into changed social situations during the week. Socialising remains within demographic groups. Families share Sunday lunch together but the underprivileged single mother is rarely invited. The young city boys meet for squash on a Wednesday but don’t invite the not-quite-recovering alcoholic. Sure, if they meet on the high-street they will stop for a chat but their lives never truly integrate. The church should proclaim equality in Christ but not demand uncomfortable social interactions midweek.
The Church should be countercultural and embrace all as family.
‘Countercultural’ is a word often overused in Christian circles. Perhaps it, along with ‘radical’, ought to be banned to prevent lazy usage. But it seems to be suitable in this case. What this report has uncovered is our natural desire to protect our children even if that means that our child’s success is at the expense of others’. What makes this opportunity hoarding such an issue is that on the surface it appears to be a victimless crime. Few of us would destroy another person’s job prospect for the sake of our own child if we had to look the other in the eye. The effects of this prioritisation of family over others are indirect, distant.
It could be said that we are a part of three families, each with a wider range than the one preceding it. We are a part of a natural family, our blood relatives and in-laws. Next, we are a part of our family in Christ as best represented locally by the church we worship in but this is not exclusive. Finally, we are a part of the family of humanity, all made in God’s image.
Jesus was asked, ‘who is my neighbour?’ But it is differing interpretations of ‘who is my family?’ that leads to these three responses to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report. If our response is, ‘your natural family’ then the reaction that unsurprisingly follows is that the Church should do nothing. If our response is, ‘your family in Christ’, then we are limited by the demographic mix of our church on a Sunday; it doesn’t necessarily infiltrate into the rest of the week. However, if our response is, ‘your family of humanity, all made in God’s image’, then we have no limit on who we ought to give preference.
What can often be missed when discussing what is essentially the (albeit indirect) oppression of the poor by the rich is that oppression works both ways- the oppressor is oppressed by their oppressive actions. This is why liberation liberates both the oppressed and the oppressor. This is not a case of the rich handing out alms only to retreat back to their nice neighbourhood before nightfall. This is a coming together in partnership, a mutual sharing of insight and resources. It’s the becoming friends with ‘undesirables’ while realising all the reasons they may not want to be friend with you.
What should the church’s response be to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s report? To acknowledge that we all want to protect and promote our own family but to realise that Jesus came to expand our understanding of family and that is truly countercultural.