The Church and Intergenerational Justice

Angus Hanton explains why, as he sees it, the Church(es) are not on board when it comes to intergenerational matters

It is perhaps surprising that British Churches, both Protestant and Catholic, have been so quiet on the subject of Intergenerational Justice, both in relation to imbalances between younger and older generations and in relation to future generations. Here are four possible explanations of why the Churches may have been relatively quiet so far on these issues:

Some people in the Church are exclusively concerned with the life to come

Jesus focused very much on the after-life, and early Christians believed the second coming was imminent. Hence questions of sustainability are not prominent in the writings of the New Testament. Even today it seems that some Christians don’t want to distract attention away from spiritual concerns and think about longer-term environmental concerns.

There is also a passive belief held by many Christians that “…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Romans, chapter 8, verse 28), which is taken by some Christians as evidence that we don’t need to worry ourselves about secular matters – they adopt the comforting belief that “God will sort it all out.”

The Church is focused on social justice in the here and now

Christians are exhorted by Jesus to care for those around them, and they are requested to “love their neighbours as themselves”. The Sermon on the Mount also shows Jesus’s concern for fairness and social justice, but it is intensely thinking about present behaviour.

Many great Church projects are inspired by these ideas, but they rarely think about the long term or challenges of unfairness between different generations. Indeed if anything, the Church has developed a philosophy of not questioning older generations’ decisions but expecting these to be fully respected.

The Church is now a slightly aged and ageing organisation

For Christians, this is a sad admission but the secularisation of British society and the decline in churchgoing has made this true. As a result, people in the Churches naturally look at issues from an older perspective, which is disinclined towards uncomfortable ideas such as the notion of “intergenerational theft” – the idea that the current older generation has done rather well at the expense of younger and future generations.

Establishment organisations will always find it hard to challenge the political establishment

Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church are now very much part of “the establishment” and are disinclined to challenge accepted ways of thinking. Their members are also typically relatively property-rich and they have mostly been beneficiaries of the property price increases and the light taxation of residential property.

If the Churches are to make a difference they need to take a strong stand on matters of intergenerational fairness and the challenge for young people in the Church is to get their institutions to see how damaging their current complacency is. Ignoring intergenerational justice may make the Churches very unattractive institutions to many younger people on whom their very survival depends.

It will be interesting to see how the Churches develop their thinking on intergenerational issues.