The poverty still blighting parts of 21st century Britain will not be solved by Christians being more generous, says Giles Fraser.
Speaking at a service on Saturday to mark Church Action on Poverty’s 30th anniversary, Fraser warned that Christians were just as susceptible to the chains of consumerism and needed to address their own dependency on “stuff” if they were to be effective in helping others.
“When we pour all this stuff out, it’s just us, God, the people we love, our own vulnerability,” he said.
While the messages coming through TV adverts just make us want more stuff, he said that Christianity was truly courageous living because it was about being dependent on God alone.
“Be dependent on God. Then you are so fundamentally strong you can change the world, and the world needs changing,” he said.
Fraser made headlines last year when he resigned from St Paul’s Cathedral after officials initially opposed Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters camped outside the building.
He is now heading up the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission set up to look at poverty in the London borough, which is home to both breadline families and wealthy Canary Wharf.
Fraser urged the church to speak up about economic injustice as he expressed concern cuts to welfare will make thousands in Tower Hamlets homeless.
“We will not transform [society] by being more generous – just another quid out the pocket – but by being Christians,” he said.
“We know the love of God is what will transform the world.”
Church Action on Poverty marked its 30th anniversary with a fresh commitment to working for impoverished communities in the UK.
The celebration in Manchester saw the charity unveil several areas of focus for its work up to 2016.
These include the training of more congregations to address economic hardship in their areas and tackling negative public perceptions of people in poverty.
“We never wanted this to be a backward looking celebration,” said CAP director Niall Cooper.
“The challenge of tackling poverty is as great now as it was 30 years ago. That is why we need to be a forward looking organisation and more ambitious for the future.”
Mr Cooper warned that attitudes to welfare and people on benefits were only hardening.
“People are more willing to judge people and see them as the cause of poverty. Much needs to be done to challenge these perceptions, including in our own community,” he said.
Mr Cooper said CAP would be looking to work with the media to change the way it reports on poverty.
“The stigmatisation of people in poverty is reinforced [through the media],” he said.
One of CAP’s strategic aims for the next three years is to mobilise the institutional power of the church.
“We often think of our churches like glasses that are half empty. We think about what they can’t do, but they are still very powerful bodies,” said Mr Cooper.
The work of CAP has taken on a new international dimension in the last year after partnering with Christian Aid on tax evasion.
The two organisations have worked together on a tax justice campaign calling for greater international transparency and more corporate responsibility.
Closer to home, CAP said its work to close the price gap would be a special focus for the coming years.
The charity recently hit out at the high cost of lending, particularly by lease-to-buy companies.
“It’s an exciting time, it’s a challenging time. But together we can be agents for hope, change and transformation,” said Mr Cooper.
Generosity not enough to end poverty – Giles Fraser
Published 12 November 2012