Irish Christians and Social Justice 1

Tearfund Ireland and Evangelical Alliance Ireland recently completed a research report on, and I quote, “Irish Christians’ involvement in charity, social justice and sustainable development“. Whew.

I recently heard Helen Lane, who was the research consultant on the project, give a very good presentation of its findings. Research into attitudes and actual practice of Irish evangelicals is welcome, because, well, there ain’t much done in what is a new and developing area.

In this post I’ll simply list and throw in a comment or two on the 5 key findings of the report. In another post I’ll discuss its practical recommendations.

Before saying more it is worth giving the definition of social justice set out in the report – it’s often a slippery term. I’m no expert, but I wonder if there is not a better definition? This one seems a bit narrowly focused on rather tidy ‘safe’ activities?

“social justice activities are those based around a concept or idea, such as human rights or trade injustice. Social justice activities seek to bring change and might involve participating in a campaign, writing a letter to a politician about an injustice, or advocating for Fairtrade products to be used at church.”

5 Key Findings:

1. There is limited understanding of the links between faith and social justice / development issues.  Church leaders (not surprisingly) were more aware of the connections.

Comment: Apparently 92% of people said that the mission of the church includes caring for the needs of the whole person (holistic mission). ( I wonder what the 8% think! – that the church should not care?]. But there appears to be little thought-out theology of social justice at a local level.

2.Most church leaders and church members responded to needs via charity with limited understanding of sustainable development or issues of social justice.

Comment: Interesting that most people (90-95%) agree that campaigning on issues of poverty is good, but most feel little affinity or ability to be involved in social activism and find giving through one-off events easier. It’s telling that none of the sample churches were involved in campaigning on issues of social justice.

3. Local involvement with the marginalized (such as migrants or the homeless) was (slightly) less evident than overseas involvement with marginalised people. And newer African-led churches were more involved in this area than older Irish-led churches.

Busy church life and high work commitments mean that there is little space left for an organized response to local poverty or injustice.

4. High levels of disconnect were found from global issues of poverty / injustice. Many felt they could make little difference and did not have high confidence in development organizations

While there was a theoretical acknowledgement of the importance of issues of global inequality, few had the time, expertise, or belief they could make much of a difference. Giving money (94%) is how most people contribute.

5. Newer African-led churches have limited engagement with Irish-led churches and were often doing similar social activities in parallel. Both were open to engage but there are significant barriers of theology and cultural misunderstanding.

Comment: an interesting fact that church is the most likely situation (83%) in which people are likely to develop relationships with those of another ethnicity. Yet high levels of homogeneity exist on across ethnic divides.

The overall impression? Of a disconnect between (good) theory and actual practice – mainly due to the volunteer and often ad-hoc nature of local church life.

Are you surprised by any of these? Encouraged? Discouraged?

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