Monday, 30 January 2012
The undeserving poor
Clergy have strikingly more liberal views about the causes of poverty than members of their congregations. And the views of churchgoers don’t differ markedly from those of non-churchgoers.
The national British Social Attitudes Survey gathered information from 3500 people, 500 of whom identified themselves as at least monthly churchgoers. The Church Urban Fund and Church Action on Poverty then asked identical questions of 209 clergy at their periodic deanery ‘chapter’ meetings - and last week they sent out spam to our e-mail addresses to tell us about this.
Three quarters of the clergy (74%) thought poverty was attributable to injustice in society, but only a fifth of churchgoers (22%) did so, not that much different from non-churchgoers (20%). 1% of clergy (that would be two of those at the meetings) agreed that laziness or lack of willpower was a cause, something a quarter of churchgoers (23%) and non-churchgoers (27%) thought it was.
Clergy were half as likely (16%) as either churchgoers or non-churchgoers (both 38%) to say poverty was an inevitable part of modern life. Clergy were twice as likely (78%) to think there was ‘quite a lot of child poverty’ (the Government's own figures suggest four million children) than churchgoers (37%), whose perception is very similar to non-churchgoers (38%).
So what should I type?
This vindicates the policy of having parish priests living in each community and having their antennae out among the most vulnerable around them. But it is pretty damning about the ways in which we share insights with and help the Gospel form the consciences of those in our congregations.
This challenges the policy of having stipendiary clergy who don’t have to earn a living and become detached from the objective realities which are self evident to their congregations and parishioners doing business in the real world. And it is good that our naivety washes over most of those to whom we preach.
I’d better not let me kid myself into being self congratulatory: far from my beliefs, values and behaviour about most things being so much more Gospel-sourced than even those in our congregations, most of what I think and do is almost indistinguishable from the norms in the community around me.
A sample of 209, especially collected in a context in which peers were present, is a very poor base from which to draw any conclusions.
Meanwhile, North East Lincolnshire Council is working along local roads pruning back the trees, as these two pictures at the gateway to St Michael’s (taken two days apart last week) show.