One in eight people in the UK go hungry every day. Let that statistic sit with you for a while. If it helps, it’s around three-quarters of a million people, roughly equivalent to everyone in Leeds. The statistic appeared in a Guardian article earlier today, which talks about FareShare, a charity which redistributes food that would otherwise have gone to waste; 17,000 tonnes of it (or, say, 85 blue whales worth). The article talks about various responses to this hunger crisis, all of which are positive, but it doesn’t touch on the deeper issue: that 12.5 of people in one of the world’s richest countries are going hungry. This is on the heels of a report saying that children are filling their pockets with food from their school canteens, with a head teacher describing them as having “grey skin, poor teeth, poor hair.”
What’s going on?
This isn’t a new thing. Way back in ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah tore into religious supplicants who made a show of fasting but who ignored the plight of the poor. And for all that charities and foodbanks and churches are springing up to respond to this crisis, the fact is that this doesn’t happen overnight, and if we need an infrastructure to deal with the best part of a million people going hungry, something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, Bishop Michael Curry stood in front of Britain’s great and good and powerful, and said “When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history.” People seemed to respond well to his words, but at the same time there were plenty of smirks, plenty of eye rolls, plenty of complaints that 14 minutes was too long to talk about love. People aren’t used to being taken to church during a royal wedding.
But hey, Bishop Curry was nice about it. Isaiah would have been brutal:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
I’d say the church has a choice, but it’s only the same choice that we’ve always had. And this isn’t simply about collecting for charity and foodbanks, although if your church isn’t it should be. No, it’s about staying silent and complicit, or about asking the question that got Martin Luther King labelled a Communist – why are people going hungry? Because statistically speaking, this affects people in your congregation; they may be open about it, but they may be hiding it out of shame and despair. And we need to care for those going hungry within and without our walls, but we also need to challenge and convict a society that’s happily letting this happen, that allowed horrors like Grenfell Tower because of cost cutting and neglect. Spreadsheets are still spiritual. And Isaiah’s words still ring.