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April 10, 2013

I think I may have had enough of Lady Thatcher’s legacy. In the last 48 hours, I’ve heard so many tributes and tirades and been overwhelmed by the Thatcher quotes – and the ensuing comments – which have popped up as friends’ Facebook status updates.

In many ways, these debates about Thatcher’s legacy are becoming just another reincarnation of the wider debates surrounding welfare reform which have filled the news in the past few weeks.  Whose responsibility is the allocation of the common good? Does the common good even matter when all individuals could be out for themselves? Who should pay for what? What about the poor?

Christians will undoubtedly hold different opinions about the roles of the state and market in the distribution of welfare and, as has been evident in people’s comments about Thatcher’s life and work, take different political stances on things like the budget, deregulation, taxation, employment etc etc etc.  However, as debates have become increasingly heated and their language more toxic – whether that’s in vilifying the ‘bogus’ benefit claimants or the politicians who are perceived to have impoverished them –  I’ve been reflecting on the responses of Christians who are seeking to live more simply and generously in this competitive, complicated context.

Over Easter, I was encouraged to read about a coalition of church groups which is challenging the way that politicians and the media have perpetuated certain ‘myths’ about poverty and, in doing so, further fuelled justification for the cuts. Their report , ‘The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty’, argues that ‘the systematic misrepresentation of the poorest in society is a matter of injustice which all Christians have a responsibility to challenge’. If we’re thinking about how to bring alternative perspectives into current debates, this report could be an interesting starting point.

Of course, reports like that force us to look honestly at the opinions we hold and the language we use ourselves because it’s very easy to point out the speck while ignoring the plank. 468,325 (and counting) people have signed a petition calling for Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 a week, a 97% reduction in his current income, as he claimed he could do if he had to. A considerably smaller number, I imagine, have asked themselves whether or not they could do the same.

Sara Kewly Hyde asks this of herself in ‘What is Enough?’, a recent blog post for the Evangelical Alliance in which she considers what it means to live in a way that reflects Jesus’ teaching and example in both our generosity and judgement of others. Whether we’re discussing Lady Thatcher, debating government policies, feeling the impact of recent welfare cuts, or simply seeking to be more generous in our words and actions, the questions raised in Sara Kewly Hyde’s article might be a helpful place to begin.  @BowermanEmily

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