For the last 40 years or so, most governments have been doing their best to support consumer spending. That doesn’t just mean the necessary things like living expenses. It also means discretionary spending. One of the goals of free trade (whether it’s always worked or not) is to reduce the cost of goods by removing tariffs and barriers and allowing for manufacturing to be moved to places where the labour is cheaper.
Depending on your perspective, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. If you’re a middle class consumer who doesn’t work in manufacturing or a retailer who can get goods cheaper or a manufacturer who can move your operation, it’s a good thing. For others, many of whom used to work in factories, free trade is not such a good thing.
Most policy makers and most politicians come from middle class or upper middle class backgrounds. That’s the perspective in which they were formed and it’s the perspective from which they make decisions. It should be no surprise that their policies and projects serve the middle class or upper middle class. (There’s more to be said here about how the perspective of the wealthy and powerful influences policy makers but that’s going to have to wait.)
For most of us who follow Jesus, we are going to want to object at this point. We’re going to want to speak up for the marginalised and the forgotten: The working class, the working poor, those unable to work, those suffering from systemic racism, sexism, or prejudice. And I’m grateful that we feel that way.
The twist is that most of us in what we used to call “mainline churches” (Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United, Presbyterian) are middle and upper middle class. So, we naturally see the world through the lens of our social class. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s entirely human and should be expected.
But it means that we create worship spaces and programs and events that make sense from the perspective of our social class. Some of those things are really great and become a blessing to our communities. I’m not suggesting that they should all suddenly stop.
The danger in forgetting that our perspective is limited is that we risk creating a community of faith that serves and fits people who share that perspective. We run the risk of creating congregations that are for the middle class but that do good things for those who are from a different social class. Of course, doing good things for others is never a bad thing; it is a gospel imperative.
Calling each other to speak up for the marginalised when it comes to public policy is a good thing. Calling each other to do good things for others is a good thing. I hope that we continue to do both of those good things. I also hope that we remember that our calling is more than that too.
We have been called from our earliest days to redefine who is our neighbour. We continue to be called to erase the boundaries between social class. We continue to be called to create places and communities that feel like home to all those who enter. We continue to be called to create communities that are for all the beloved of God.