Middle Class Christianity

One of my informal hobbies is people watching. Unlike stalkers, who creepily follow their victims home, the people-watcher stays in one place and just observes the diverse folk who cross his vision. I have had ample opportunity for this at this year’s Word Alive event, having several thousand from which to choose. The first days’ watching set me wondering if Christianity in this country is too middle-class. Such a claim is subtly loaded, of course; it assumes there is a common definition of ‘middle-class’ and that there is a proportion of people who may be described thus, beyond which is ‘too much’ and ‘too many’. The old Marxist definition of the middling class- those who own the means of production rather than land and titles- is decreasingly helpful; my enquiry is essentially a fool’s errand. Still, I pray you indulge my thoughts.

This week I observed Jonty and Charles, the evangelical Anglican ordinands and curates with their double-barrelled names, confident laughs and love of scarves. Jo, the southern yummy-mummy, scrupulously monitoring little Tarquin and Poppy’s vegetable intake at mealtimes. Chloe and Lizzie, the university students who joined us for the 10.30pm-1am film showing, but were strangely inconspicuous at the 7.30am breakfast slot. Robert and Meredith, young professionals on the look-out for a suitable marriage partner. All wonderfully civilised people, well raised, well educated, polite, godly and genuine lovers of God’s word. I suspect this Welsh Pontins establishment does not usually host quite so many courteous and salaried professional persons and their neatly attired families.

Does this indicate that working-class people, those without professional qualifications and career progressions, are underrepresented in our churches? Those who clean for a living, assemble items on a conveyer belt, those who work with their hands for an employer’s profit: where were they this week? Word Alive might not provide a typical cross sample. Those who can afford to take a week out for a Christian holiday may not be representative of our churches; there are more who did not attend than those who did. Of our chapel of 50 people, four made the trip.

I also wondered if embracing the gospel causes us to rise through the world’s social ranks. Christians are big readers, as the 10 of Those bookshop’s ringing tills readily testify. To read much, one requires a reasonable level of education. Christian virtues such as patience and kindness are now considered evidence of good upbringing, something to which whole swathes of modern Britain are alien. Furthermore, the Christian life is one of service, self-improvement and societal betterment. The Christian seeks to improve his own heart while blessing the community of which he is part, something generally associated with middle-class do-gooders.

The Bible actually decries social class as an irrelevance. What matters is a standing with Christ and our place in the eternal kingdom. Word Alive might have a bourgeois clientele, but New Jerusalem certainly has not.