Invisible divides

Books Class Poverty Proximity Principle
AN image of Natalie Williams Natalie Williams
5th June 2024 4 minute read
A book cover of the Invisible Divide

I did not know I was in poverty until I became a Christian. It was only when I experienced the massive culture shock of attending a majority-middle class church that I realised my upbringing and life experiences were not the same as everyone else’s.

It was challenging enough learning about Jesus, the Bible, worship – ‘Christian culture’ – but I was suddenly immersed in a world where it felt like much of everyday life had unspoken rules that I did not know and had not followed.

Before I became a Christian, I had never seen napkins used in someone’s home apart from at Christmas. I had never been on a plane. I had never thought about work as anything other than something you do to pay the bills.

Everything felt alien to me – the values of the majority when it came to authority, community, generosity, hospitality seemed in conflict with mine.

At first, I tried to mimic what I saw around me. I thought that being a good disciple of Jesus meant behaving like the middle-class people around me. 

That didn’t go so well for me. When I left the church where I got saved to do a gap year with another church, I don’t think they knew what had hit them. I got kicked off the volunteer programme and was devastated. I thought, ‘if these people (Christians) don’t want me, it must mean God doesn’t want me.’

I have now been a Christian for 30 years. These days, I know without a shadow of a doubt that God wants me. He chose me. He called me to be part of his family. But I still sometimes feel like I do not fit in. And I have had to battle not to conform to the values of middle-class Christians, rather than the image of Christ.

That is why Paul Brown, and I wrote Invisible Divides. We wanted to help majority-middle class churches to understand what it is like for those of us with working class backgrounds when we first join a family of believers.

During the writing process, we often put out on social media some information about what we were working on, inviting people to respond. A number of people got in touch to tell us we were making a big deal about class divides that no longer exist. But the truth is that the only people who said that to us were those from middle class backgrounds.

There was a noticeable contrast in the comments we received – each person who told us they were working class also, without exception, thanked us for writing this book, which they said was really needed. We had the privilege of hearing and reading several stories about how people had struggled to fit in. Most had stuck with church because they knew God wanted them there.

The divisions between classes are often invisible (hence the title) but they can, if left unrecognised and unchecked, lead to new believers feeling alienated or excluded.

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for a diverse bride, and that when he returns our differences are not going to disappear but be preserved for all eternity so that he is glorified by our unity.

Unity when we are all the same is not hard. It does not require the help of the Spirit to love people who are just like you. But loving people who are nothing like you – that requires gospel power. That is why Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 35).

The church is supposed to be a place where onlookers can see people from hugely different backgrounds in deep, devoted fellowship with each other – a friendship that would not exist, humanly speaking.

Invisible Divides is a rallying call to the church to remove those barriers some of us face, and to be a community where it really is true that all are invited not just to believe, but to belong. With a majority of people in the British Social Attitudes survey still self-identifying as working class, it’s not ok that they are woefully absent from our churches.

Jesus died for people like me. He wants people like me in his church. And that means I have got to love those who are very different to me, and they have got to love me. When we do this well, it is powerful and it points people to our glorious Saviour, Jesus Christ.

 

Written by

Natalie Williams

Natalie Williams grew up in relative poverty in the deprived seaside town of Hastings. She became a Christian at 15, which changed her life completely. Natalie has been involved with Jubilee+ since its first year and became Chief Executive in April 2021.

Natalie is the co-author of four books, including A Call to Act (2020) and Invisible Divides (2022). She is passionate about the church being a place of overflowing mercy, especially for those trapped in poverty.

AN image of Natalie Williams
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