Eunice Atwood, Church at the Margins Officer, writes about how ministry at the margins shows the biblical calling to challenge poverty. This blog is part of a series for Challenge Poverty Week England and Wales.
Margins are often places of growth and adaptation, edges, thresholds between places and people. The margins of a field can enable insects, birds, and wildflowers to develop and thrive.
To be marginalised as a person, however, is to be excluded, distanced, and disconnected from the life of a community by others. The existence of marginalisation in the human community is an example of sin. God loves and values every human being. Processes which discriminate and marginalise are not what God desires for the human community.
Marginalisation is a process and a condition. The Bible contains many stories of people being excluded or dominated by others due to their gender, ethnicity, physical, or mental ill health and poverty. To be born into poverty in the biblical text often resulted in you and your family experiencing shame and exclusion. Marginalisation caused by economic poverty has always had a devastating impact on the lives of individuals and communities, contributing to mental and physical ill health.
In the biblical stories, God persistently highlights the injustices of the human community. The prophets frequently communicate God’s message of justice, and the offence caused to God when people become wealthy by oppressing people in poverty and failing to share with people in need. Through the prophets, God calls the wealthy to repentance. God’s character reveals a God of justice. The presence of poverty contradicts the will and justice of God. God is not biased to the poor, God is for all. But the biblical story indicates that God does have a preferential option for people experiencing economic injustice.
The good news of God revealed in Jesus Christ demonstrates the challenge offered to human systems which marginalise others. Jesus sees the extraordinary worth of people, including those outcast by others, and seeks to restore their worth, dignity and value.
The work of church at the economic margins recognises the harm caused by marginalisation, and the sin of economic exclusion. We recognise that the multiple systems which marginalise others are challenged by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only does Jesus challenge the social systems which marginalise people experiencing poverty, on many occasions Jesus tells us that in the face of the poor we see God. Jesus is inviting us into the expansive vision of the diversity of God’s image, which includes people experiencing poverty. Church at the economic margins is a theology of liberation and resistance. Liberating people from economic poverty to discover their intrinsic worth, dignity and value and resisting the privileged position of wealth and power. It also resists seeing people as ‘lacking or deficient and in need’ and recognises and celebrates the gifts and talents of people at the margins.
God is good news to people experiencing poverty and good news to people who are wealthy. The good news for people who are wealthy includes freedom from the sin of being unjust and exploiting others. This includes individuals, and the social structures and systems of the human community. Jesus spent time with people who were marginalised by the social structures of his community, including women, children, those stigmatised by their physical health and people who were impoverished. Jesus highlighted the needs of the marginalised in such a way that it is reasonable to conclude that to abandon people experiencing poverty is to abandon the gospel. Our tendency when we want to change is to look towards the wealthy and powerful, those with influence. Jesus often looked towards those who were oppressed, those who were marginalised.
In Matthew 5, Jesus spoke to the crowds and offered a reflection on how to live. Jesus begins with ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Jesus echoes the text of Isaiah 61 v1: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the oppressed.’ Jesus does not say ‘Blessed are those in poverty.’ Good news to the poor is freedom to live a life of dignity and value. Church at the economic margins is not new, neither is it an initiative, it is the gospel of Christ. Developing new Christian communities amongst economically marginalised people is an invitation for Christians to act like Christians, and to share the good news of the gospel which includes challenging economic poverty.
This blog was originally published as part of resources for The Methodist Church in Britain. Click here to find the original post.
Eunice Attwood brings over twenty years’ experience of ordained diaconal ministry from a variety of contexts, including theological education and city- and town-centred ministry amongst marginalised and vulnerable communities, where she helped start and grow many fresh expressions of church. Building on the biblical connection between evangelism and social justice, Eunice is helping to start a movement of new Christian communities led by people experiencing economic marginalisation.