Why we sacrifice for some and not for others

Some folk have been resharing an article of mine about the church’s idol of comfort. I read it back and nothing much has happened to change my view. Overall, we have allowed comfort to become our functional god and are, by and large, only prepared to make gospel sacrifices that we are essentially comfortable making and that do not affect us too badly.

I can hear the many sharp intakes of breath as I write. ‘But we have done X or Y at great cost’, I hear folk crying. I have no doubt that is true. But our idea of sacrifice seems to go so far and no further. What is more, some of the sacrifices we make are often extensions of stuff that we either value or enjoy already such that – though the average person may think ‘what a sacrifice’ – to us, it isn’t really any such thing.

In a recent blog post, that I will link to in the upcoming Snippets feature, Mez McConnell said this:

The problem is that when we say the word ‘council estate’ or ‘scheme’ something happens inside the average UK Christian. They, subconsciously at least, draw their children a little bit closer and shudder inwardly. What about their little ones? What about their education? What about wisdom? Would it be wise to put their family in harm’s way? God wants us to be sensible. That’s how the thinking goes. Come on now! We are not talking about moving people into 1980’s Beirut!

I find it baffling that (some of) these same people would be willing to undergo all sorts of personal privations to reach a lost tribe in the jungles of Peru, yet balk at the thought of moving into a neighbourhood where the locals like tracksuits and a particular breed of dog.

For the record, I think Mez is essentially right. It bears asking why that is the case? It’s not as if going to Papua New Guinea and reaching remote tribes is a doddle, full of home comforts. So why the willingness to go there but not such a burning desire to go to an estate or deprived community?

I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the same ballpark as to why middle class churches are – by and large – quite good at welcoming foreigners but extremely poor at welcoming working class people. It is for similar reasons to why middle class people are happy to eat the peasant food of pretty much any world country except their own

It is seen to be liberal and cultured to enjoy foreign cuisine and customs – it is almost viewed as an extension of loving the people themselves – and so welcoming and celebrating foreigners, even to the point of going to their country to reach them, is seen as adventurous and positive. Eating frozen food from Iceland, or burger and chips from Maccies, is seen as gauche and, frankly, a bit dirty. Celebrating the very culture that middle class people seem intent on saving the working classes from – that is, saving the working classes from themselves – is seen as absurd and backward. Why would we do that when we want to help them better themselves by leaving that behind?

Happily enough for me, my church is in the middle of a predominantly South Asian community so all my middle class mates think, ‘how adventurous!’ But many of the local Oldhammers view things a bit differently. They feel their culture has been squeezed out because middle class people benefit from the immigration that they themselves aren’t prepared to live near. Many are scared to come into our area for fear of reprisals meaning, to realistically reach Oldham, we’re going to have to plant into local estates because most of those guys aren’t going to wander in apropos of nothing.

What saddens me more is that, despite the working class white guys we may reach, people have only really been interested in supporting us because of our work amongst Muslims. This tells me that the likelihood of getting local church plants off the ground are, humanly speaking, vanishingly small. We know the Lord can raise the funds and bring in the workers that we need but, on the face of it, reaching white working class Brits seems about as low on the priority list as you get. People seem happy to get behind the idea (to some degree) of reaching foreigners on our doorstep. Reaching Muslims peaks people’s interest. Reaching the white kids on the local estate doesn’t raise the same concern despite the fact that they have the same fate awaiting them if we don’t.

In a follow up, I want to look at the idea of sacrifice in more detail.