A new book explores poverty through the lens of Jubilee

InjusticeIntegral mission and theologyPoor CommunitiesReconciliation

Talk of ‘justice’ can flow easily. Calls for gentle reform and renewal are put forward. They often demand no significant costs or responsibilities for those who believe themselves permanently insulated from need.

In Christian communities there is often a gentility, a quality that can confuse good manners with biblical transformation. When this enters the blood of church life, it can distract churches from the consequences that flow from a deep reading of scripture: deep, radical reform can seem rude! However, when this happens, Christians become distanced from the fundamental covenant that joins us humans to our creator, each person to the next, and the poor to a God who loves them as part of himself.

Boats on a lake in Uganda. Photo: Andrew Philip

‘The church was born to be a sign and a living example of a better ordering of society – and its greatest worship rests in the work of defeating want.’

Fresh vision

The essays in this book – Jubilee: God’s answer to poverty? – give me joy because they don’t feel the need to be ‘polite’. They sound a clarion call for a fresh vision of ‘holistic mission’, a new and powerful reappraisal of the ancient practice of ‘Jubilee’. The book’s message is simple: it argues that poverty matters to the church because it is a consequence of broken relationships with each other and with God, and prevents those relationships from being fully restored. 

Our God has no favourites. God loves all equally, which is why he so often speaks for the poor – in order to make sure they are not forgotten. The church was born to be a sign and a living example of a better ordering of society – and its greatest worship rests in the work of defeating want. For, as this book shows, when ‘justice’ becomes easy talk, or when Christian life becomes a polite procession of duties, we hide not only from ourselves but the very prompting of the Holy Spirit itself.

Powerful reflections

This book is the product of the discussions that took place during the Global Forum on Church and Poverty in Kigali in 2018, less than a year before Rwanda marked 25 years since the genocide. As such, it is a bridging point between past suffering and current challenges, ‘first world’ concerns and the global South’s realities, scripture that is misused and biblical calls that command the renewal of the face of the earth. It combines powerful critical and academic reflections with lived experience of the journeys of reconciliation, justice-building, and renewing relationships. It presents the voices of women and men; Africans and Asians; those in churches, policy, academia and civil society. 

It is a must-read for those in similar vocations but also for students, churchgoers and others open to learning fresh insights for our times. 

Jubilee: God’s Answer to Poverty? is edited by Hannah Swithinbank and Emmanuel Murangira. It is available to buy.

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Francis Davis
Francis Davis is Professor of Religion, Communities and Public Policy at the University of Birmingham, Visiting Professorial Fellow at the University of Oxford and co-author of Ageing and Development in Rwanda: Challenges to Church, State and Nation (Tearfund 2020).