The President of the Methodist Conference challenged the myth that poverty is the fault of the poor in his Easter message this week.
The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin said that blame was always a way out of feeling uncomfortable about injustice. He also said that social ills “do not cause poverty any more than spots cause measles”.
“We’d prefer to think that others “had it coming”, and we try hard to distinguish between the worthy and unworthy,” Dr Wakelin said. “Who is responsible for poverty? The God answer is: I am, you are, we are.”
Dr Wakelin quoted John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, at the end of his Easter message: “Every shilling which you needlessly spend is, in effect, stolen from God and the poor.”
Full text of the President’s Easter Message follows:
Who’s to blame?
The Methodist Church, through our Joint Public Issues Team, has been bringing to our intention a great untruth perpetrated by some press and some politicians alike: that poverty is the fault of the poor.
There has always been a temptation to do this, something John Wesley was well aware of when he said it is, “foolish and wickedly false… to say [the poor] are poor because they are idle”.
A few years ago our beliefs about poverty, grounded firmly in careful study and research, understood many social ills, such as drug and alcohol use; struggling relationships; lack of work; illness and the rest, came about as the result of being poor. Some in the public domain have been trying to turn the consequence of poverty into its cause. We must speak out against this untruth.
Being poor isn’t good for you. How can someone be well when basic human needs are denied; when access to everyday life is denied and the power to change is removed?
Poverty is a bad thing. It causes social ills. Ills do not cause poverty any more than spots cause measles.
But blame is always a way out of feeling uncomfortable about injustice. We’d prefer to think that others “had it coming” and we try hard to distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. Who’s to blame?
This is a verse from an ironic song by Sydney Carter in which a robber is being crucified next to a carpenter:
It was on a Friday morning
that they took me from the cell
and I saw they had a carpenter
to crucify as well
You can blame it on to Pilate
You can blame it on the Jews
You can blame it on the Devil
It’s God I accuse
It’s God they ought to crucify
instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter,
a-hanging on the tree
God’s response to “blame” is “I’m responsible” – and the cross is a huge statement by God that as creator, God claims responsibility. God gave human beings a wonderful gift of freedom programmed deeply into our nature. A huge risk; for true choice means we can choose not to love, and not loving has profound consequences, not only for our happiness, but that of others. In that sense, because God is responsible for poverty and sin, sickness and sadness become possible. But God is not to blame, for the creator’s intention is only good; freely given love is the greatest of all gifts and the most challenging of all expectations.
Who is to blame for poverty? That is possibly an unhelpful question, so put it in a God-centred way. Who is responsible for poverty? And the God answer is: “I am, you are, we are.” This is the “cross” solution: a unilateral acceptance that God has given us a challenge and a gift, and by being responsible we side with God in the only way we can: to end misery and extend his rule of love and joy. Wesley put this in a practical and uncomfortable way: “Every shilling which you needlessly spend… is, in effect, stolen from God and the poor.”