Soup and Soap isn’t enough!
Soup, soap, salvation: Soppa, tvål, frälsning in Swedish. It does not sound as clumsy in Swedish as the three Ss in English: Soup, Soap and Salvation. But the program concept formulated by the Founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth has the same weight and holds the same challenge in Sweden’s 2010s as in 19th century England.
It is no coincidence that the words appear in the order they do. Soup comes first, to satisfy every person's basic need, to get fed. Soap next, because the human dignity lost on the shadow side of society needs recycling. And finally, salvation, the offer to have a better life here and now, but also forever and ever.
Christians do not have a monopoly on goodness and care for people in need. Catering to material needs, whether it's food in the stomach or a shower and hair cut offer, is so important no matter what the value base is that leads to compelling action.
It is the combination of the practical human love and the presentation of the ‘salvation’ component offering that gives Christian social work not only its distinctive character but its purpose to exist.
Of course, and unproblematic? Absolutely not. There are several stumbling blocks. This is especially true when the social work of churches and Christian organizations is financed in whole or in part by public funds.
On the one hand, state and municipal bodies willingly endorse efforts by non-profit organizations, including Christians, to feed the hungry and provide the homeless with roofs over their heads. It is sad that the unquestionable fact is that the Swedish welfare safety net is not sufficiently fine-tuned - or sufficienly well maintained - to meet all its citizens' needs. Many deacons can testify to help-seeking parishioners who knock on their door, having been referred by social service authorities whose sources have dried up. The risk of the churches being turned into auxiliary agencies to sweep up what the public is unable to provide is obvious.
It is positive that efforts are sought and applauded - as long as it does not cause church employees and volunteers to burn themselves out in their zeal to step up.
On the other hand, an overly religious sense may be the Christian actors’ nemesis when they seek to perform social service tasks on the same basis as others providing services by means of public funds. Delving out soup and soap are more than acceptable, but if you begin to speak of salvation, it becomes a very sensitive matter. It’s a matter of holding fast to the basic Christian mission - to spread the gospel in action as well as in words - and not tone down the message for fear that the contributions will otherwise freeze up. It is a ditch in which no church should end up.
If you begin to vacillate on the Christian foundational value and conceal the ultimate purpose of all Christian activities, you are on shallow ground. It can never be justified by the sound of coins jingling in the cash register.
But there is of course another ditch. Because it is equally reprehensible if the emphasis is placed so strongly on the Biblical salvation aspect that it is figurative, though not literally, in the mind of the person who needs food for the day. The golden rule speaks of love to fellow human beings as a human being, no matter who she is and what she believes in. It is a fundamental principle that cannot be compromised.
The soup and soap must be distributed freely and without an ulterior motive. The offer of salvation is the next step.
It can rarely be presented on day one, nor on day ten and maybe not even on day one hundred. But it must be included as a component at work from the outset to be raised when the time is ripe.
Allow me to get a little personal. My own church, St Clara, has more experience than most in conducting social work. It has been going on for decades and shows no tendencies to decline. On the contrary, the food queue in the church gardens shows no signs of shrinking, but is in fact growing. The contact areas with the hungry people on Sergel's square will not become fewer but more.
The one to whom a sandwich is offered can never first be asked: "What do you believe in? Are you a Christian? "If any volunteer would suggest such a condition’s in place in order to receive help, he or she should immediately be taken aside for a serious talk. But the offer, "May we pray for you?" is always appropriate as an opener. It's amazing how many people say yes. And in the long term, many take the step of moving from the food queue to become one of the many who butter the sandwich and serves them to others.
Soup and soap are not enough
Christian social work must not out-shine the offer for salvation, writes
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