Author(s)Kirsten Birkett
Date 28 March 2023
Category Class
Tags Class

Humans tend to have a whole range of views on what is the right and what the is wrong way to do things. As Christians, these views should be shaped by Scripture. Scripture, however, leaves us with a great deal of freedom to live life in different ways; we do not have a rulebook that covers everything, because the godly person is free to make personal decisions on a whole range of issues. Whether you prefer kale or broccoli, countryside or city streets, easy rock or hard-core classical, a great deal of how we live life day to day is a matter of Christian freedom.

Nonetheless, for most of us, our views easily solidify into something more judgemental than that. How we are brought up has a great deal to do with this; how the people in our church behave also affects us. It is very easy to conflate ‘what our sort of people do’ with ‘what Christians should do’.

‘We all learned how to behave, what to believe and how to talk as children. Money doesn’t tend to change these norms, which is why class is not really about money’.[1]

But class can involve set attitudes to a whole range of lifestyle issues, none of which are necessarily to do with Christian ethics – but Christians can nevertheless become very judgemental about them. Just a few areas in which such unconscious assumptions are treated as Christian ethics are listed below.


In the UK around 13.3% of people aged 18 years and over smoke cigarettes. That is about around 6.6 million people. How would they feel in our churches? Would they feel completely comfortable about ducking outside during coffee time for a cigarette? I would guess, probably not. I would also guess that it would not be long before a well-meaning church member took that person aside to counsel them on giving up smoking. Such attitudes, however, would disproportionately affect working class people; in the UK, people with no qualifications are more likely to smoke (28.2%) than those with a degree (6.6%).


Attitudes to money are frequently mentioned in the differences between middle class and working class people. It is not just a matter of how much money a person has or earns, but what people do with it. Do we deride other people’s ways of spending money? Why is ours any more Christian? Is it biblical to accumulate wealth? To have wealth to pass onto children?

Middle-class people are notoriously tight when it comes to giving money away. I am frequently astonished at the sacrificial generosity of people who have little to give, but still give it. A culture that instead values saving, investing and accumulating wealth, by definition hangs on to money. Moreover, that culture can become surprisingly judgemental towards those who do not hang onto their money so tightly; who do not save, who never aim to own property.

At the same time, I suspect middle class churches are relatively slow to condemn the sins of pride, gluttony, greed, and coveting, all of which are closely associated with attitudes to money. How much does your church challenge those who accumulate money rather than giving to the poor? What percentage of income are you encouraged to give away (and has anyone in your church actually mentioned a percentage?) After all, the more money you have, the greater percentage you can afford to part with – is that a challenge that has been made in your church?


The middle-class attitude to work tends to revolve around achievement, status, personal satisfaction and a sense of meaning in life. Is work a means to an end, or something that gives you purpose? If your work is in a supermarket or answering phones at the council, there’s little chance that you think of it in terms of purpose or fulfilment.

Middle-class preachers emphasise the dignity of work, and it is indeed a pre-fall creation ordinance. Yes, work ‘is part of our purpose, but in the western, middle-class world, for many this has been stretched to make specific work the purpose of our lives’.[2] Work is dignified because it allows us to eat; not because it gives us meaning, or purpose, or fulfilment. Personal fulfilment is to be found in the Great Commandments and the Great Commission.

‘Where we work is not as important as the relationships we build’.[3]


An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him

The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him[4]

British ears are very attuned to accents, especially when they relate to class differences. That wouldn’t matter if there were no judgements made on the basis of class; but when every class is prepared to judge another negatively, these indicators can be barriers. Such judgements are often made immediately, and unconsciously. It takes effort to be aware of one’s own reactions, and to take conscious control of judgements. Whether your immediate reaction to another person’s accent is positive or negative, we need to be aware of it so that we neither form cliques nor subtly exclude anyone.


Have you ever been invited around to someone’s house for dinner? For most middle-class people, the answer is ‘of course’. It’s a very common way of socialising. There are a lot of people, however, who never socialise like that; people for whom sit-down dinner parties just never happen. Socialising instead happens at the pub, or another venue, and that is where people feel comfortable.

The rules around dinner parties are strict, but never explained, because it is assumed that everyone knows them. When you are invited to someone’s house, there is generally an assumption (never stated, and denied if asked) that you should bring something. Chocolates, wine or flowers are acceptable; hot chocolate mix is not. A plant in a pot is acceptable; a cabbage is not. Without knowing the rules, however, a person is easily left baffled, ashamed and feeling thoroughly unwelcome.

The middle-class method of exercising hospitality by having people around for a meal can also be a way of failing to share life with them. How much do we go to people’s houses just to be there? Not for a meal, but to spend the afternoon or evening? There is a totally different feel of sharing life when people know they do not need to wait for an invitation, but are welcome to come at any time, whatever is happening. The middle-class way of hospitality, however, tends to be strictly controlled. We want to put definite boundaries on when we are hospitable to others. That suits us; after all middle-class people have busy lives. Visitors just dropping in might disrupt that.

What is served after church also easily embeds middle class assumptions about hospitality. I have heard the argument that having high-quality coffee actually makes people feel welcome; but it can also make people feel excluded, if they never drink it anywhere else. Or it may be that only a certain kind of free-trade beverage is used, on the assumption that that is the best way to have a social conscience. The fact that this is a very middle-class attitude does not often come into the discussion.

  1. Williams and Brown challenge us to think about the following assumptions:
  • Home ownership is better than renting
  • Saving money is better than giving it away
  • The longer you stay in education the better
  • You should choose carefully the neighbourhood where you live
  • You should try to send your children to the highest-achieving school
  • Being organized with a diary is a sign of spiritual maturity[5]
  1. Picture yourself going to someone else’s house for a meal. How many unspoken rules are there? Go through the evening and question everything you might do – how do you know what is expected?
  2. Consider Ephesians 5:4 ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place’. What does this actually mean? What is included and excluded? Why do you place the boundaries where you do?
  3. Do we have church services or Bible study groups available for people on shift work? Have you ever been challenged to work less so you have more time for ministry? Has the idea of ‘career’ been challenged as being fundamentally self-centred?
  4. How similar are the accents in your church? How do you feel when you hear someone with a regional or working class accent? Do you assume that person is less well educated, less suitable to read the Bible out loud, less likely to be a good leader?
  5. Are some jobs better than others? On what basis? Are there Bible verses that support your assumptions? Would you be happy for your child to be a hairdresser/ sandwich maker/ street sweeper? Why/why not?
  6. What is your attitude to smoking? How would you react to having a smoker in your home group? Would you allow a fellow Christian to smoke inside your home?


[1] Mez McConnell, The Least, the Last and the Lost: Understanding Poverty in the UK and the Responsibility of the Local Church (Leyland, Evangelical Press; 2021), p. 136.

[2] Williams and Brown, p. 105.

[3] Williams and Brown, p. 107.

[4] ‘Why Can’t the English’, My Fair Lady.

[5] Natalie Williams and Paul Brown, Invisible Divides: Class, Culture and Barriers to Belonging in the Church (London: SPCK, 2022), p. 39.