Tag Archives: Tearfund

The Big Church Switch

the-big-shiftHow long has changing to a green energy supplier at home been on my to-do list? Too long! So having someone do all the hard work and find a good deal for me was too good an opportunity to miss. So at last I’ve made the switch.

But the trouble when you want to change the world is that it is all too much for one person. I can’t tackle global climate change on my own. So I was determined to do what I could to persuade our church to join in with Christian Aid’s campaign and make the Big Church Switch to clean energy.

As a family, we’ve only been going to our church for a couple of years and it still feels fairly new to us. It is a big, busy church, with lots of services, home groups and a myriad other weekly activities. Many, many things compete for attention, and Christian Aid is only one of them. I wouldn’t like to guess where climate change fits in!

I bided my time – I needed to find the right moment, when climate change would be recognised as a priority. And here was my chance. We held a series of lectures through Lent with theological reflections on contemporary issues, including one on the topic of climate change! It was a thought-provoking evening exploring how contemporary materialistic measures of success and what makes for a good life drive consumption and the exploitation of the Earth – our shared home.

How much impact could the church have if we truly valued a good life based on relationships and community? Our values are revealed in where we spend our time and money, so it’s time I thought to put our money where our prayers and hopes are; with our neighbours suffering the devastating impacts of climate change, both around the world and in recent times closer to home too.

Perfect! Immediately after the lecture I approached our vicar. Would the church review where it bought its energy from and consider switching to a renewable tariff? Thereby taking our money away from dirty fossil fuels driving climate change and towards something that builds a brighter future, something that can help all God’s people to flourish.

Apparently this would be a matter for the church’s Executive committee, which happened to be meeting the following Monday! “Write me a briefing paper,” the vicar said. I knew I wouldn’t need to do that, because the perfect thing was already in Christian Aid’s Church Contact Pack! I could put it in his hand on Sunday morning. I told him it was a joint initiative between Christian Aid and Tearfund (that helped as the church supports Tearfund too). At this stage, all we would need to do would be to register our interest, and when the quote came back it would be up to us to accept or decline. It might even be cheaper than our current bill, though our vicar was confident that the committee would be happy to pay a little more if it felt it was doing the right thing.

On the Sunday, I gave the briefing papers to the vicar and the treasurer. On the Monday, the matter was discussed by the Exec committee. By Tuesday I got an email asking me to register the church’s interest, copied to the Finance manager who deals with the bill. We’re nothing if not efficient once we’ve made up our mind! Unfortunately we’ve come to a bit of a standstill for now. I’ve registered our interest as a church, but I can’t complete all our details just yet as the Finance manager isn’t well.

Despite this minor delay, I’ve had a really positive response from everyone in the church who has been involved so far, summed up by the sentiment ‘thank you for taking this forward’. We believe that looking after the creation is a part of our faith and ministry, but it’s not always easy to express that as a church. And it’s not always easy for a church full of busy people to find someone who wants to make this a priority. It was great to be able to take a very practical step as an immediate response to our Lenten challenge. I hope we can hold up our corporate action as a church as an example for everyone to follow as we find ways to work out in practice our ministry to care for our creation.

What are Christian Values?

Writing recently about whether hard work is a Christian value reminded me why I started this blog. I finished my dissertation and found myself with more questions than answers….

Thinking about values was a key part of my dissertation. Research by Schwartz in the early 90s identified values which are important to people and motivational to the way people live their lives. Further research identified that most of these values are consistently important across societies and cultures around the world. Plotting how much importance people attached to these values showed patterns where certain values cluster together – if one value in a cluster is important to someone, then all of them usually are. Schwartz called these clusters “value types” and identified an underlying motivational goal for each one. For example, values such as social power, wealth, preserving my public image and authority were grouped together as “power”. The value types also have a relationship to each other, with certain types being found together. This relationship brings all the value types together in a circle. So an individual with a tendency towards “power” values would also be likely to rate highly values within “achievement” and “security”, and so on round the circle:

Schwartz's Values Circumplex
Schwartz’s Values Circumplex

Other values are important to people in different cultures, but Schwartz concentrated on the ones which could be considered universal. They are values which are shared across humanity. We all place different weight on which values are important to us, and this weighting is not static. We change which values we consider to be important depending on what decision we are making and the circumstances we find ourselves in. We are also influenced by other people and the environment around us as to which ones we attach more importance to. The circle above shows how values influence each other. A situation which highlights security values will also raise the importance of power and tradition/conformity. At the same time, it will also diminish the importance of the values directly opposite in the circle – in this case self-direction and stimulation.

The weighting and importance placed on values influences the way we behave. Bringing it back to topics closer to my heart, research was carried out on the values considered more important by people who got involved with issues of social justice such as climate change, global poverty and human rights. People who placed an emphasis on “universalism” values were more likely to have modified their behaviour because of these issues, from recycling to buying Fair Trade. Universalism values are equality, unity with nature, wisdom, a world of beauty, social justice, broad-minded, protecting the environment, a world at peace. This doesn’t seem like rocket science when you see what these values are! Universalism is described as being concerned with the welfare of all people and nature. Second most strongly linked with pro-social behaviour was the “benevolence” value type, described as concern for those around you. These values are helpful, responsible, forgiving, honest, loyal. So far so obvious. But the value types on the opposite side of the circle – power, achievement and, to a lesser extent, security – were associated with not getting involved with this pro-social behaviour.

As I said above, we all have all the values, it is just the importance of each value that differs between us, and this is not static. This begs the question, if the balance of values changes, does this change behaviour? The research suggests that yes, it does. Remember that encouraging the values on one side of the circle diminishes the other side. This means that the emphasis given to power or achievement values can be reduced by promoting universalism and benevolence values. Researchers found effects could be achieved simply by exposing participants to words associated with universalism, and the opposite effect with power words, all compared to controls of neutral words.

Extrapolating from research brings us to this: Issues of climate change, global poverty and human rights are not going away. We do not seem to be able to fully grapple with what we need to do across the whole of society to deal with these issues. If we could encourage the emphasis on universalism values, we would see more people willing to engage and act in pro-social ways. These values are part of every person’s value set, we don’t need to change people, just encourage what is already within. But a quick look around the influences in our society, especially advertising and the media, reveals that we are bombarded with messages emphasising the importance of power and achievement values. I’m starting to see articles in the paper about this, such as this one about the link between materialism and lack of empathy. It’s a big job, but one that can start wherever you are, encouraging values of equality, social justice, unity with nature etc by what we say, how we treat people, the metaphors we use, the motivations that drive us.

I came away from my dissertation enthusiastic to promote these values, and I still feel this way. I really want to encourage them in the church, and that is what set me thinking. If I am promoting justice, wisdom, equality etc am I not just promoting Christianity? Trying to embody these values feels to me like trying to be more like Jesus. Should I focus on the values, or focus on sharing my faith, because the values follow on naturally? Are they compatible or mutually exclusive? Just a question of emphasis? What are Christian values anyway? Are there other values in the circle which are Christian, and if there are, do they work against the values which encourage pro-social behaviour? I can see some conflict with tradition/conformity being seen as typically religious values, but which might limit a vision to see beyond ourselves and being willing to rock the boat (which the massive challenges ahead of us would seem to demand). But I get the feeling a lot of church leaders feel like this too!

The values of benevolence are also associated with pro-social behaviour and look pretty much like Christian values. Some groups involved in promoting this values-based approach to address global issues have not wanted to focus on benevolence values because the looking towards our neighbour sometimes closes the door to behaviour which benefits those far away if it harms or doesn’t benefit those close to home (eg paying more for Fair Trade). However, church is often one place where we do recognise that our neighbour includes those in far away places, especially churches which support organisations like TearFund and Christian Aid.

Below is a table of all the universal values, grouped in value types. Which ones are Christian values? Do we see universalism values in Jesus, in the Bible, in church? Is this what church should be like? Does it matter? I want to pursue these questions, and would love to know what you think?

Universalism Equality – Unity with nature – Wisdom – A world of beauty – Social justice – Broad-minded – Protecting the environment – A world at peace
Benevolence Helpful – Responsible – Forgiving – Honest – Loyal
Conformity Obedient – Self-discipline – Politeness – Honouring of parents and elders
Tradition Respect for tradition – Devout – Accepting my portion in life – Humble – Moderate
Security National security – Reciprocation of favours – Family security – Social order
Power Social power – Wealth – Authority – Preserving my public image
Achievement Ambitious – Influential – Capable – Successful
Hedonism Pleasure – Enjoying life
Stimulation An exciting life – A varied life – Daring
Self-direction Freedom – Creativity – Independent – Choosing own goals – Curious

Tearfund as a movement for Social Change

I started writing my blog as a place to think about how tackling issues like global poverty and climate change needs to start at a more fundamental level, establishing the very values which an organisation, and even society should be based on. Here is Tearfund, asking those very same questions.

TearFund has undertaken a piece of work and concluded that “they should be aiming to change the current unsustainable economic system by altering the social norms and worldviews on which it is based. They realised that a mass movement of people would be needed to achieve social change of this magnitude, and committed to helping build this movement rather than focussing on single issue campaigns and policy led processes.”

Read all about it here.