Spirit Sightings

May 4, 2014: Companions on the Road

From Fraser Macnaughton

The word “companions” comes from the Latin “bread together,” indicating the human importance of sharing food together. In the UK, the exponential growth of food banks due to the economic recession is something that horrifies many people. The government’s position on food banks was mired in confusion after it emerged that David Cameron had enthusiastically backed their work at a Christian faith group’s Easter reception, in contrast to biting criticism of the schemes made by Iain Duncan Smith’s work and pensions department.

A row erupted after figures from the Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank provider, revealed that almost one million people have sought three days’ emergency food supplies over the last year. The Christian charity also reported that government use of sanctions against benefit recipients was “increasingly harsh” and that half of those who had been referred to food banks in 2013–14 had suffered benefit delays or changes. One senior source in the Department for Work and Pensions accused the charity of being “misleading” and of “emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking.” Another official said the rise in food bank use was down to the Trussell Trust “aggressively marketing their services.”

But at a recent Downing Street event for Christian organizations, the prime minister praised the “provision of food banks.” He said, “Whether it’s providing services for children at risk of exclusion, whether it’s teaching prisoners to read, whether it’s dealing with breakdown, whether it’s provision of food banks, there are some extraordinary organisations run by faith groups and Christians in our country and I want to see the possibilities for that to expand. Cameron wrote in an article for the Church Times that Christianity “compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

Duncan Smith has refused to deal with the charity, accusing it of “scaremongering” and advancing a political agenda.

The contrasting responses reveal the government’s struggle to react to growing food poverty even as economic recovery gathers pace. While the Department for Work and Pensions chose to attack the trust as “publicity-seeking,” Cameron emphasized the importance of charity and community engagement as part of his faith. Meanwhile, Christian leaders have increasingly put pressure on the government to tackle food poverty. During Holy Week, 36 Anglican bishops and more than 600 church leaders from all major denominations signed a letter demanding action from ministers.

Explore…Luke 24:13–35

  • Are there any local initiatives your faith group can involve themselves in that entail walking with the poor?
  • If religion says positive things, politicians love it. If they say adverse things, politicians say keep religion out of politics. How do you react?
  • How do you reconcile the call to run food banks in the name of Christ over against taking more action to tackle the root causes of poverty?

Prayer links…

May we open our hearts to the plight of the poor but also open our minds to be informed as the systems and cultures that cause unnecessary poverty, as well as seeking new ways to live more simply that others may simply live. Amen.

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