I am not sure it quite counts as ‘a guilty pleasure’, but the reality TV series ‘Can’t pay? We’ll take it away!’ is strangely pleasing. If you haven’t been watching it, then let me outline briefly how the programme progresses. It is based around bad debt which has got out of hand, finally arriving at the High Court and following the decision of the court, the High Court Enforcement Officers go about to reclaiming the debt. Basically, with the powers of the court, they visit debtors and try and recoup the value of the debt from the debtors on behalf of the creditors, either through money or by confiscating goods from the home to the value of the debt. It is a consequence of today’s consumer society.
One of the main reasons the series is popular is that reveals personal stories. Sometimes the debtors are basically rogues, people trying to work the system and aiming to make a dishonest living, but others are people with genuine experiences of hardship. What I find most heartening is that these officers show a care and consideration as they apply the decisions of the court. The officers often display genuine humanity for the people with authentic hardship, and show integrity.
The Methodist movement’s founder Revd John Wesley in the 18th Century experienced poverty and debt through his father Revd Samuel Wesley, who was a Church of England Rector in Lincolnshire and surprisingly spent time in ‘debtors prison’. John Wesley was influenced by this childhood experience and did a lot of thinking about money. He wrote a now famous sermon which had the points: Gain all you can; Save all you can; Give all you can. When John Wesley died all he actually owned was a pair of silver spoons! However, he taught those who found a relationship with Christ to be careful and responsible with cash. Still today we encourage people to live within their means.
We speak about debt because it is a reality amongst followers of Jesus and those who are yet to follow him. Jesus had much to say about money: ‘No one can be a slave of two masters; he will hate one and love the other; he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money’ (Matthew 6:24). It is interesting Jesus uses the language of slavery and ownership. As the church we are keen to help people struggling with debt learn how to overcome it. When I have had anyone come to me for advice I have found the best charity I know in this area is Christians Against Poverty. They provide advice and guidance for people who find themselves in debt and wish to escape it. Their website is: https://capuk.org I can strongly recommend them as a way forward to make life better.