2023 marks 40 years since Archbishop Robert Runcie set up the Archbishop’s Commision on Urban Priority Areas. This approach of bringing together a Commission of “the great and the good” to report on a pressing social issue was possibly the last hurrah of the William Temple tradition. It assumed that the established Church had considerable soft power, and could influence national policy. The report made 61 recommendations: 38 of them to the Church of England, and 23 to the government and nation. Almost all the policy recommendations on unemployment, housing, benefits, education, local government, and policing involved increased public spending, and an attempt to empower local urban communities. The underlying assumptions of the report were that a wide consensus around the post-war welfare state, that Temple and his colleagues had promoted, would ensure that progress towards justice, equality and human flourishing would continue.
Faith in the City represented a moment of prophetic truth-telling by the Church of England but Government Ministers labelled it “pure Marxist theology”. The storm surrounding the report exemplified a broader secularist narrative that sought to restrict religion to the private sphere.
Since 1985, Church of England attempts to influence national policy seem much more modest and have had little impact. The Faithful Cities report 20 years later is now largely forgotten. A new report from the Archbishops’ Families and Households Commission ‘Love Matters’ makes a series of recommendations about how families and households can best flourish, but was not even mentioned by the BBC, and a google search reveals only two articles in the secular national press. Where the bishops in the House of Lords have made what might be called “prophetic” comments on issues such as refugees, food poverty or personal integrity of politicians they appear marginal to the prevailing political narrative, or are eclipsed by the interventions of footballers, such as Gary Lineker and Marcus Rashford. The established church can, of course, still do spectacular public rituals like the Queen’s funeral or the Coronation, and in that context deliver a good sermon that points people to Jesus. However, it is more likely than ever to be referenced for scandal or hypocrisy, especially in regard to safeguarding failures. The media wants to concentrate on internal disagreements on sexuality, where large and vocal sections of the church are out of touch with the prevailing culture. The statistics from the Census, and Church attendance data increasingly show an erosion of public support, especially among the young. While some right wing populist politicians advocate a return to “Christian values”, they are weaker than in the USA or parts of Europe, and are fundamentally a statement of white “English” identity, rather than serious Christian commitment. The Church’s soft power is not what it was in 1985, let alone 1945. What would William Temple do today?
Faith in the City on the other hand did have a significant impact on the churches, especially in a wave of urban mission activity over the following two decades. (See our Urban Tract No 1, and recent autobiographies from Laurie Green, and Neville Black). A major achievement was establishment of the Church Urban Fund and its support of local community projects, which continues to this day. The critique of this approach as “salvation by projects” flags up some of the weakness of the report in terms of theology and missiology; all the energy expended in its wake failed in making disciples of inner city people and integrating them into flourishing, self-sustaining urban parishes. The recommendations to the institutional church seemed worthy at the time, but many have come back to haunt us forty years later. The training of leaders, both clergy and lay, to equip them for ministry in urban parishes remains woefully inadequate, despite a few useful initiatives in the immediate aftermath of Faith in the City. The sharing of resources, especially finance, of affluent dioceses and parishes to poorer areas remains a pipe dream. The issue of institutional racism in the church was highlighted, but never adequately addressed. Although recently a new wave of awareness, and activism followed the rise of Black Lives Matter in 2020, the struggles of BAME Anglicans remain a battleground. Additionally, the reality of White Privilege and “whiteness” have been rejected by many who hold power and influence in the Church.
There have been major changes in the urban scene since 1985. Massive regeneration programmes have taken place in major cities such as London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Leeds, particularly around derelict dockland and post industrial areas. Land use has changed, land values have soared, but often original urban communities have been displaced, died out or moved out. Inequality has grown and concentrations of poverty and deprivation are now more likely to be found in peripheral estates, smaller post industrial towns, ex coalfield communities and coastal resorts. Globalisation and large scale immigration has produced a superdiversity of populations in metropolitan areas, and increasingly in smaller cities. The results and reaction to these trends seem somewhat contradictory; on the one hand xenophobia and the Brexit vote, on the other economic and cultural vibrancy in local communities. In the churches, the dominant forces now seem to be new congregations that serve particular ethnic heritage communities, or charismatic groups that attract individual consumers of religion. Yet alongside this, we also witness growing numbers of lively multicultural local congregations and parishes as discussed in John Root’s blog. Research undertaken by Goldsmiths during the pandemic lockdowns suggest that locally there are more opportunities for faith communities to partner in welfare work, as long as no one actually talks explicitly about faith or questions assumptions about equalities as defined in law, or unjust economic inequalities.
To be fair the Church of England, encouraged by Bishop Philip North, has invested new time and finance in estates ministry and the National Estates Churches Network. An attempt has been made to develop an estates theology in a recent book, Finding the Treasure edited by Al Barrett. Personally, I found this rather disappointing in its methodology of experts listening to local voices, rather than the local people leading theological reflection as advocated in Laurie Green’s Let’s do theology. It also fails to connect, and will most likely not be read by Christians who are concerned with making disciples, urban church planting and renewal, and who want to ground their theology in scripture, read, interpreted and applied in local urban contexts.
Such readers will find more resonance in the work of “settler” mission teams associated with organisations such as the Eden Network. I attended a day at their recent Proximity Conference and listened to numerous hopeful stories, sometimes related with what seemed youthful enthusiasm, but which in the light of experience has moved beyond naivety. Anna Ruddick, or Chris Lane have written important books drawn from reflections on involvement in this movement, tracing how long term commitment introduced more realistic expectations and measures of success, and transformed theologies from triumphalism towards a discovery of the Missio Dei in marginal places. It is in such movements that I see signs of God at work, and some of his people getting on board.
It is this sense, rather than in the soft power approach of Temple and the established church, with its condescending “effortless superiority”, that I believe we can still find Faith in the City.
This short book comprises a collection of reflections from the Church of England Estates Theology Project with five case studies from parishes on social housing estates in various urban and suburban settings across England. It is intended to be an encouragement to church leaders working in such settings and to break the stereotype that all is grim and the church is dead or dying in the less affluent areas. It arises from the Anglican commitment promoted by Bishop Philip North to strengthen and renew parish life and spread the gospel among people living in such neighbourhoods. In my opinion (and personal lifelong calling) this is exactly where Christians should be directing their prayers, resources, time and effort, not so much because there is spiritual, social and economic need, but it is in such places that we will find remarkable signs of God at work and encounter Jesus in surprising ways, not just on Sundays. Although this is the message the book attempts to convey, I am not fully convinced it achieves its aim.
First of all, the case studies in the book are exclusively Anglican. This fact will inevitably narrow the potential readership to clergy working in parish settings, and those tasked with training them. The Wythenshawe case study concentrates on a community weaving project based at the William Temple Church. It comes over as a good story of an interesting example of a community art project. At certain points, it touches Christian values and faith. But over the years I have heard or read numerous other accounts of church life in Wythenshawe, from different denominations and mission perspectives, which are not represented in the chapter. As a result I am reminded of a comment originally made by Anne Morissey (who wrote a foreword to the book) about the way the Church of England exudes “a sense of effortless superiority” in its approach to community ministry.
The rest of the book continues in the same vein. The majority of the parishes involved are from a liberal catholic or radical tradition. Only the chapter from Eltham, with input from the Church Army, uses any evangelical language in its theological framing of the local story. Yet in doing so it largely rejects the evangelical priorities of sharing the Gospel, and calling people to repent, believe, follow Jesus and be baptised into the community of his church. Long experience of urban mission has shown there are big problems with such a formulaic approach, and that preaching at people is mostly ineffective. However, if the local church on estates is to survive, become self supporting and self propagating, we should work hard on talking about Jesus, making disciples, strengthening socially diverse worshipping communities, who engage with and serve their neighbourhood, and developing local Christian leaders. There doesn’t seem to be much of this sort of good news reflected in the book, though there are many other places where it is happening.
I find the theological method of the book curious. It is based on pairing an academic theologian with a church leader and trying to listen to the voices of local residents. They reflected on what they heard and produced chapters which still feel rather abstract and academic in style. While listening is always to be recommended, and contextual reflection on local stories is foundational for urban theology, it might have been helpful to use a more participatory approach where local people (Christians and others) worked together to generate conclusions and linking with Bible stories and themes. It is only in the final section of the book that the editor makes reference to Laurie Green’s “Let’s do Theology”, which would have been my personal starting point for the whole project.
Reviewed by Greg Smith, Associate Research Fellow William Temple Foundation and Trustee of Urban Theology Union.
In my last blog I reflected on whether the findings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report would send sufficiently strong signals to induce meaningful, global responses to the climate crisis. This week, the Earth Commission has published a report in Nature journal, which presents more evidence of signals from Earth systems to which we should devote considerable attention. These signals indicate that humans are taking colossal risks with the future of civilization, along with everything that lives on Earth. The FT headline about the report states simply that Earth is past its safe limits for humans. It haunts me that Steve Cutts’ chilling predictions about Man might come true.
Seven of Eight System Boundaries Have Been Breached
The Earth Commission’s report, “Safe and just Earth system boundaries,” assesses several biophysical processes and systems that regulate the state of the Earth system, including climate, biosphere, land use, water, nutrient cycles and aerosol pollutants. The researchers involved have identified the limits within which those systems operate effectively, and the harm that could ensue should those limits be breached. Of the eight boundaries reviewed by researchers, seven have been pushed beyond their safe and just limit into risk zones that increasingly threaten planetary and human health. As the report says, all the systems are interconnected, such that overshooting the safe limit for one could have consequential effects for others.
Natural and Social Limits
Although focussed on science and physical processes, the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report and the Earth Commission’s report both emphasise the effect that changes in earth systems will have on society. Environmental degradation and social justice are two sides of the same coin. The Earth Commission’s report exhibits a sincere concern for justice, focusing especially on intergenerational justice for people into the scientific analysis used to assess safe limits for the planet.
Global, Systemic Transformations Are Needed
The Earth Commission’s work is the first of its kind, building on the notion of Planetary Boundaries that were proposed over a decade ago. The result of work by more than 50 scientists from around the world has been to provide compelling evidence designed to advise key actors to achieve a safe and just future. The report calls for “nothing less than a just global transformation across all earth system boundaries to ensure human well-being.” Such transformations “must be systemic across energy, food, urban and other sectors, addressing the economic, technological, political and other drivers of Earth system change, and ensure access for the poor through reductions and reallocations of resource use.”
Leaping into the Path of Transformation
The report ends by saying that the path to transformation “will not be a linear journey; it requires a leap in our understanding of how justice, economics, technology and global cooperation can be furthered in the service of a safe and just future.” Two other recent news stories might give some insight into what that leap is like.
Leaping beyond growth?
First, the EU’s Beyond Growth conference at the European Parliament was attended by 2,500 people. It was described from day one as the Woodstock of Beyond Growth for two reasons: firstly, because it felt more like a festival than a conference; and secondly, because it attracted the rock stars of the beyond growth movement, and the halls of the European Parliament rang with rowdy ovations. The conference briefing paper provides many insights into possible futures beyond growth, and the fictional newspaper from May 2033 anticipates the news in a world of transformed policy making focussed entirely on the well-being of people and planet. Of course, as some commentators suggest, the conference outcomes do not yet offer a complete vision of an alternative future. Nevertheless, they give insight into what type of leap we need to take.
Artificially Intelligent Leaps
Secondly, debates about the role of Artificial Intelligence in managing our future continue to pepper the news. Will it save us or destroy us? If we humans cannot change course, will AI step in to curb our unsustainable behaviours and what are the associated ethics. These are the key questions that are considered by the William Temple Foundation’s Ethical Futures Network.
The signals that we must stop unsustainable behaviours and practices are overwhelmingly clear, whether from natural systems, or society or from specialists in technology. The William Temple Foundation is planning to convene interested parties from diverse disciplines to consider the contribution that faith-based organisations can play in crafting viable alternatives to current unsustainable practices and details will be forthcoming. Maybe we will get 10,000 participants, in a way that is reminiscent of how Archbishop William Temple attracted a large assembly of people in 1942 when he tackled the social issues of the day. It won’t be easy, but the signals clearly mean that our only choice now is to dig in and feel the fear of the leap into the unknown… It is best that we do it together.
Lois Tarbet is is also a Trustee of the William Temple Foundation.
The William Temple Foundation is a broad church. The first of these Temple Takes by fellow trustee, Dr David Shaw, anticipated the Coronation with a pre-emptive strike against the monarchy. Now it is my turn to offer a different take.
This Foundation explores faith in the public square. Coronations have been a prime example of this in action, over a thousand years. This month’s Coronation was more inclusive than its predecessors of diverse denominations and faiths.
While conceding that the monarchy is ‘a good show’, David Shaw notes ‘that ermine and gold braid costs an awful lot of money’. He was not alone in this approach. The Coronation was dismissed as a ‘pantomime’ of ‘obscene lavishness’ by the journalist Suzanne Breen, writing in the Belfast Telegraph.
Yet the Guardian’s exhaustive investigations concluded that the Coronation cost each UK taxpayer about £1.50. If we had been saving up since the previous Coronation, that would have been just over two pence each per year or, if we think instead of creating a sinking fund for the next one, perhaps ten pence each per year.
Since the last Coronation seventy years ago, the USA has held 19 inaugurations for 13 Presidents. These too have an oath, a ceremony, a prayer, a cathedral service the next day, and there are many inauguration balls. Some of the funding in the USA comes from individual supporters, which might be welcomed here, but some of those donors become ambassadors, which would not be. I would like the Prince of Wales, when his time comes, to adopt the model of Edward VII’s Coronation instead, for which the King opened and personally contributed to an appeal which funded a free Coronation Dinner for half a million of the poorest Londoners. William V would ideally extend its reach throughout the UK, realms and territories. The meals went ahead that summer, in hundreds of locations, when the Coronation itself had to be delayed because of the King’s poor health.
William Temple attended that 1902 Coronation as a gentleman-in-waiting to his father, who was then the Archbishop of Canterbury, and played his own part as the Archbishop of York in the 1937 Coronation of George VI. Temple enjoyed three enthronements of his own at Manchester, York and Canterbury, or four if you count the double enthronement in Canterbury as bishop of that diocese and as Primate of All England. Despite it being in wartime, the Canterbury enthronements saw him in what the Church Times described as a ‘magnificent cope and mitre’. There was gold aplenty. None of this stopped him being one of the founders of the Welfare State.
The other point where I beg to differ from David Shaw is when he imagines that defenders of the monarchy would argue that it only has a ceremonial role whereas it is more than that. The second part of his claim is correct, although he only gives examples of what he sees as self-interested interference by the royal family in the political sphere. There are many positive and practical (as opposed here to ‘ceremonial’) contributions by the contemporary constitutional monarchy which celebrate our charities and the arts, which have been prophetic in warning of the climate crisis, which give voice and opportunities to some of the otherwise voiceless on the margins of society, as in the work of the Prince’s Trust, and which bring all faiths into the public square.
Nevertheless, there is nothing necessarily wrong with ceremonial roles and nor is there anything necessarily wrong with ceremonies. Ceremony itself has its place in the public square. Religious ceremonies in particular merit serious study. Yet a pillar of the British establishment, former editor of The Times, Sir Simon Jenkins, now writing for The Guardian, is more outspoken than David Shaw: ‘Is Britain completely mad? Trying to read meaning into such events is completely hopeless.’
In contrast, Juliet Samuel in The Times, writing in the week before the Coronation, had argued that critics of King Charles III miss the point: ‘What they don’t grasp is why the institution at the centre of this weird ritual, the monarchy, has lasted on and off for more than a thousand years… Where the sceptics see a fuddy-duddy infatuated by new-age nonsense, I see traditional religion informed by modern pluralism.’
Rachel Cooke, in The Observer, could see the pageantry as a ‘preposterous vision’ but considered that, ‘Only a stone-hearted person could fail to have been moved by the multifaith parts of the service, and if you felt nothing when the choir sang Handel’s Zadok the Priest at the king’s anointment, you are either an algorithm or half dead.’
She was also impressed by the military processions’ ‘precision that was unbelievable in a country where nothing works.’ A question for a faith foundation is whether the religious ceremony worked that well. Was it sacramental or quasi-sacramental? Did the anointing bring grace? The sacred music was varied, plentiful and uplifting. Does that make a difference? Was the ritual right? Was the emphasis on service authentic or was it, so to speak, lip-service? Almost nobody approved of the formula in the oath, perhaps not even the King. Nor was the attempt to inveigle us into paying homage well received. When asked if that was his idea, the Archbishop of Canterbury claimed he honestly could not remember. When asked about the gold robes and coach, he did remember that the former were borrowed and that the latter was paid for centuries earlier. He told his interviewer, Julie Etchingham, that there was no need to be miserable about all this.
In all its aspects, each Coronation needs to be reviewed in timely fashion. Meanwhile, if you cannot bring yourself to ponder the faith dimensions of what we have just witnessed, then there are secular rites of passage which have some instructive parallels, such as university graduations. When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, fewer than 4% of the UK’s school-leavers had the opportunity of university education. Nowadays, the figure is more than 50%. With their family members in attendance, this means that more than half the country experience graduation ceremonies. Some of these are in sacred spaces and others also draw on religious liturgies and forms but even the most secular have lessons in understanding the religious Coronation. Some staff might remain, or affect to be, miserable when asked to dress up or otherwise attend but nowadays almost all students, their families and friends find joy in graduations.
It does not need a degree in pageantry to understand the significance in graduations of the medieval gowns, the hoods, the headgear, the university regalia, the music, the formalities of wording, the processions, even in some cases the ermine on a hood or gown or the gold braid on a Chancellor’s gown. Students are burdened by the cost of the degree but only marginally more by any extra cost of graduation tickets for family and friends. They know that gowns and hoods are mostly recycled, as at the Coronation. Those attending can readily understand the concept of a Chancellor, a university’s equivalent to a constitutional monarch, even though they know that the executive power lies elsewhere. Families appreciate the effort to respect a university’s place in the history of education and all their students’ contributions to that community. They value the chance to meet staff, to give thanks and to be thanked for their support.
A Coronation is not just a graduation for the monarch. In a sense, we are all graduands as one era gives way to another. The Coronation was a rite of passage but it was also a leap of faith. Far from it being ‘hopeless’ to read meaning into the Coronation, the meaning was already there. A more charitable reading of our shared experience is that the Coronation extolled the virtue of hope for faith in the public square.
Simon Lee is Professor of Law & Director of Research, Aston Law School; Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence, Queen’s University Belfast; and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the William Temple Foundation
‘Doing God is often messy and controversial, but the social benefits far outweigh the negatives’ would seem to be the gist of this much-anticipated review by Colin Bloom into how Government engages with faith which was published this week. The delay (three years in the writing) is partly explained by COVID but also in fairness, to the sheer amount of data the report received. Over 22,000 submissions and a million pieces of data later suggests that the issues surrounding religion and belief and its practice is still incredibly live and important. As the review correctly observes:
Faith in England and Wales is alive and well, and the abundance of detailed and passionate responses to this review across many faith and belief communities highlights the importance of the topic to many in contemporary British society. Faith is a diverse and evolving force which government cannot afford to ignore. (p. 30)
It is also the first review of its kind ever undertaken and is linked to the government’s Levelling Up agenda. The connection between religion and levelling up is not developed in report (perhaps because there is little consensus on what is meant by Levelling Up in the first place). But it perhaps betrays a sublimated wish on the part of Government for religion to act as both a moral legitimator for a rudderless policy term, and the hope that the activities and motivation of faith groups in upholding and developing their local communities (often the poorest and the most deprived) will give much needed meaningful content to the idea.
The report frames its understanding with a typology of true-believers, no-believers and make-believers. Increasing numbers of people in this society may baulk at such a simplistic binary narrative as true believer or no believer on the grounds that their religious and spiritual beliefs are deeply felt but complex and nuanced in their public expression. Make-believers refers to those who distort religious ideas into fundamentalist national and identity politics. The report is at pains to stress that these are a minority but that their activity needs to be more tightly regulated by government for the sake of safeguarding and freedom of speech.
This typology is necessary for understanding the rest of the report; i.e. that government needs to support and understand religion and belief in the round, and strategically support good religion and belief as a vital resource for promoting social wellbeing, equality and participation. To this end the report advocates firm policies on religious literacy for all public sector bodies, increased resourcing for RE in education and for those key areas where religion intersects with public provision in prison and health care, and the appointment of a national independent Faiths Champion.
But the report is equally clear that it is the role of the state to crack down on bad (or make-believe) religions linked to forms of nationalist and religious extremism. All the main religious faith traditions in the UK (including Christianity and its co-option by some far-right groups) have clear links with banned international and domestic terrorist organisations. Bad religion also rightly includes the practices of forced marriage and spiritual abuse in its list of things that Government needs to actively prescribe. However, the uneven and disproportionate way these sections are treated – issues outlining Sikh extremism occupies twice the length of discussion than all the other faith groups out together – is likely to raise accusations of potential tarring whole communities in ways that the Prevent programme has done for the Muslim community. The repeated observation that freedom to practice Christianity in the UK is now perceived to be under threat (perhaps the point could have been made just once or twice) is likely to fuel the toxic culture wars rhetoric of right-wing media and far-right groups.
Ultimately, the Bloom Review, is something of a missed opportunity to move the debate on religion and belief in England in a ground-breaking way. The research I undertook for the APPG on Faith and Society analysed the pandemic as a ‘permission space’ that allowed us to talk about religion and belief in a new way that also led to innovative and effective partnerships with secular agencies. The anxieties that secular groups usually feel about working with faith groups (for example, proselytization safeguarding, a lack of accountability etc) were suspended for the sake of effective working together. Stereotypes were largely disproved in the relationships forged in the crucible of the pandemic. Instead of difference this crucible highlighted shared values and therefore the possibility of achieving shared outcomes through co-creation of policies rather than co-production.
I hope the Bloom Review will be a landmark document that brings about lasting and positive change to faith and secular relations. What is missing is a step-change in re-imagining the role of religion and belief in British society that is commensurate with the unprecedented nature of the challenges facing this country. Most of the report’s recommendations see religion more as a problem to be managed, rather than highlighting, for example, the potential of religious ideas to profoundly shape the overall policy framework that delivers the sort of society we want to create. There is a reference to round tables. Where, however, are the structural opportunities to devise and shape policy, as well as deliver policy? William Temple did that 80 years ago from a Judeo-Christian perspective in his book report – Christianity and Social Order, which was published in1942 and paved the way for the post-war Welfare State. Levelling Up is a policy in desperate need of that sort of envisioning now, and it would be a multifaith and postsecular endeavour, not purely a Christian one.
As we negotiate the legacy of the pandemic, the ongoing cost of living crisis and the horror of climate disaster, religion and belief could – indeed should – be a real force for social renewal through this re-envisioning of levelling up, rather than applying sticking plasters and bandages to systems and policy plans that are already deeply broken.
Anthony A.J. Williams, The Christian Left: An Introduction to Radical and Socialist Christian Thought (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2022), 211 pages ; 23 cm; ISBN: 9781509542819.
Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation
As a Temple scholar and research fellow, my position is informed by and shaped by the Temple Tradition, that is, the deployment of Temple’s ‘consultative methodology’ as a means of brokering across difference (Spencer, 2017). So my view is not limited only to the historical references made by Williams. This is a blessing in terms of drawing on the wisdom and prophetic impact of a giant of the 20th-Century, but also a hindrance, in that Temple offers us only one way to examine the relationship between Christianity and politics. With this consideration in mind, I am grateful to Anthony A. J. Williams for his survey of 150 years of the Christian Left, which takes us on a journey from the Guild of Saint Matthew in Bethnal Green (1877), through the emergence of Christian socialism in the early 20th-Century, through an exploration of the different political and theological facets to the contemporary Christian Left and the challenge going forward.
The opening pages challenge us to consider how contemporary politics is related to Christianity. An image is used of Donald Trump holding a Bible whilst appealing to his political base in the United States. Although a few years old now, this image speaks to the zeitgeist in terms of polarisation, extremism and division, often inspired by, some claim to Christian faith. Is this coercive and controlling behaviour characteristic of Christianity? Williams does not think so. And if not, is there a coherent alternative on offer? This is the challenge Williams sets out, and which he seeks to find answers in The Christian Left.
There is, Williams’ suggests, no one single tradition that can be categorised as the Christian Left. Rather, there are multiple different influences on a movement characterised by concepts of brotherhood, justice, liberty, equality and cooperation. Of these, I found the concept of brotherhood to be most prominent. The foundational influence of the brotherhood of F. D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley and John Ludlow (1848 onwards) on Christian Socialism, was set out at the beginning of Chapter One. With the final words being given to brothers from Balliol College, R, H. Tawney, and William Temple (culminating in 1944). The influence of Stewart Headlam, the founder of the Guild of St Matthew, is used to good affect.
Although, I did not know of his impact, Headlam is given credit for carrying the message of Maurice et. al., and influencing those who shaped the vision for the post-war Labour Government. Through Headlam’s activism, the concept of brotherhood becomes rooted in both a high Anglo-Catholic Christian, and a Socialist worldview. William’s analysis is helpful in understanding that whilst Headlam and his contemporaries are a driving force, they are also deemed to be somewhat esoteric in their approach. It appears that the Christian Social Union (CSU) was set up by Scott Holland and Charles Gore in part at least to avoid Headlam. These details are interesting historically, and become pertinent later in the book, as part of the overarching challenge facing the Christian Left. How are differences dealt with and what does this mean for the Christian Left as a whole? I am left with the understanding that the concept of brotherhood underpins, but this does not mean that it is easy to adhere to.
Williams’ develops his account by exploring the oscillation between questioning of what the Christian Left is and the context of ideological milieu. Following the impact of the post-war Labour Government, building on the vision of Temple and Tawney, groups within the Labour Party and the Christian Left took divergent paths. Different groups later emerged: Christian Socialist Movement (now Christian on the Left), William Temple Foundation, Ekklesia, Jubilee, and latterly Blue Labour and others. Williams account suggests that the boundaries between these groups had been blurred. On the one hand this allowed for the movement of prominent leaders between the groups, which galvanised support, but on the other hand led to confusion around what it meant to be on the Christian Left and indeed a Christian on the left.
The chapters that follow share informed accounts of the different camps that we can understand as being part of the Christian Left, from the Social Gospel, to Catholic Social Teaching, to Lutheran, Reformed or Methodist traditions, to a plethora of liberation theologies, including Black, Womanist, LGBT+, Feminist, and others. There is not space here to engage with these in a way that does them justice, so do pick up a copy for Williams chapters on these topics. However, I will flag the helpful theological question mark that Williams offers in the final chapter. In terms of the positions that different parts of the Christian Left take up, and in terms of the views that underpin those positions. Does the worldview inform the theology or the theology inform the worldview? This question is present in the early movement, highlighted by the focus on Headlam and returns as a constituent theme throughout the movement.
Foundational to the Christian Left and therefore to this volume is the concept of brotherhood. Williams makes clear that brotherhood is contested at least in terms of its foundations, its grammar, and therefore its universalism. Williams’ use of the term allows for exploration of the Christian Left historically and ideologically and also allows for recognition of the imperfections of the movement. However, Williams’ conclusion leaves me with mixed feelings. This is not due to Williams’ writing, but rather his realistic critique of the Christian Left as things stand: the Christian Left is in danger of experiencing alienation from others within the Christian faith and, it appears, also from other none Christian actors on the left. I hope this does not transpire, but Williams volume leaves me with an understanding of how and why it could.
The Trumpian imagery used to open the volume shows that there is a challenge that the Christian Left can meet. The political trajectory in the UK in 2023 indicates the rise of the Labour Party – the removal of the Labour Party from special measures by the EHRC is the latest sign of this. The danger presented by Williams is that the Christian Left might maintain the milieu and it’s alienation from itself in a way that hastens the hopeless descent heralded by Trump. We may hope instead is that the Christian Left can manoeuvre itself into an altogether more hopeful movement characterised by lucid clarity seen previously on the Christian Left. Time will tell. With this in mind Williams’ work has helped to set out the precedence that exists for this oscillation toward opportunity.
Nonviolence, Just War, or Peacebuilding? Catholic Ethics and the Russia-Ukraine War
2023 is a year of notable anniversaries in the Roman Catholic Church. April sees the 60th Anniversary of the promulgation of John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris written as the Cuban Missile Crisis terrified the world, whilst May brings the 40th Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace published by the United States Bishops’ Conference in response to the continuing threat of nuclear war that overshadowed the years before 1989.
One would hope that in commemorating the anniversaries of these publications, we would be living in a very different context – a context in which nuclear arms were no longer a threat but rather a topic that allowed people the chance to reminisce about nuclear warning drills at school and the relief they felt at the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sadly, we do not. In the past year, whenever people have heard that I am a Christian ethicist who works on matters relating to war and peace, they inevitably ask me in worried tones: ‘do you think that Putin will launch a nuclear missile attack on the West?’ To which my usual reply is ‘probably not, but there’s no point in worrying about it because if it happens, we’ll all be dead anyway.’
My dark sense of humour aside, the events in Ukraine over the last year have been a sobering reminder that we are, as Pope Francis frequently reminds us, ‘fighting a third world war piecemeal’ and there is something about the invasion of Ukraine that has really brought this home to us, in a way that the fighting in Yemen and Syria for instance hasn’t. Whether this is a result of the renewal of Cold War hostilities or collective guilt regarding the West’s role in destabilising the Middle East and colonisation, remains to be seen and I’m sure will be endlessly debated in the years to come.
Responses within the Roman Catholic Church, the tradition from which I write, have been similarly intense. This is particularly because, as paragraph 2309 of the Catechism teaches, self-defence is one of the few categories of Just War teaching remaining and it rapidly became apparent that both Ukrainian forces and society would be able to withstand this invasion. A Temple Tract written with Professor Tobias Winright of St Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, explores these debates in the light of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In it, we show how the concepts of just war, just peace, and peacebuilding have been brought to bear in moral analyses of this war, as well as how the war has impacted these ethical perspectives.
Debates on matters relating to war and peace have been a key feature of the so-called ‘culture wars’ that dominate Roman Catholicism in the US, and which sadly seem to be making their way over to the UK. In broad brush strokes this means that conservatives advocate for ‘just war theory’ and liberals are ‘absolute pacifists’. Pope Francis’s advocacy of nonviolence (which is not the definitive declaration campaigned for by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative) is seen as either dangerous or something to be celebrated rather than for what it is: a continuation of the past 60 years of papal teaching. Neither side are as bad or as naïve as the other side likes to think, but, in public at least, they aren’t conversing with one another.
This form of either/or thinking is damaging. It allows for the maintenance of a state of negative peace in which the threat of violence is always present and sees positive peace as utopian rather than the hope offered to us by Christ’s kenosis. The nature and form of the debate allows Roman Catholics to abdicate responsibility for peace, because, so the logic goes, war and peace are matters of international relations and are something that we can’t do anything about. Most worryingly though, it leaves no space in between for the kind of thinking that comes from ethicists, such as Tobias Winright, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and myself, and activists, such as women religious working in conflict zones, who seek to reconcile the two into a position which accepts that violence can and will happen, but that it should be mitigated, and that we all ought to be working towards creating a state of positive peace both globally and locally.
We have a saying in Irish ‘leagfaidh tua bheag crann mór’ literally ‘a small axe can fell a big tree’ which is helpful when one is overwhelmed by the scale of the task facing us. We can build peace in a myriad of ways, we can as Cardinal Matteo Zuppi suggests create a zone of ceasefires around our hearts which will ripple outwards like a pebble thrown into water; we can pray for peace; we can educate ourselves on the ways in which nonviolent activism works and implement its teachings into our everyday lives; we can campaign for as much money to be spent on humanitarian assistance as on arms. What we can’t do is remain silent in the face of the suffering caused by war.
A post-Elizabethan era begins, and with it an existential shift unlike anything experienced, certainly since World War Two, maybe in our history. When the pandemic hit, Her Majesty said that ‘we will meet again’ and so it was, but in so doing we note the depths of uncertainty surrounding us.
Something has changed; deep, intangible, fundamental. Life is more fragile than it was. The cost-of-living crisis bites, catalysed by Brexit. The Climate Crisis continues, exemplified by catastrophic floods in Pakistan and temperatures in the UK over 40degrees for the first time. The war in Ukraine rages, displacing millions and rupturing the geopolitical terrain. These concerns are shaping our lives in different ways at personal, communal, societal, and global levels.
With Her Majesty’s passing, tributes centred on her leadership, noting the depth of commitment she offered:
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
(Speech on her 21st birthday, April 21, 1947, broadcast on the radio from Cape Town)
In hearing this and in seeing the global response to this profound loss, I was challenged to ask, how might we all embody leadership for uncertain times?
In my paper to the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology, conference on 13th July 2022, I explored this question, which has now been given fresh significance and momentum, by looking through the lens of Curating Spaces of Hope. Curating Spaces of Hope emerged from lived experience of contexts of uncertainty from 2010-2020, a decade bookended by the global financial crash and the global pandemic. It was rooted in experiences of unemployment, poor mental health, social isolation, coercive and controlling behaviour, blackmail, abuse and discrimination. As time moved on, it was shaped by a social movement, public dialogues, and ethnographic research into organisational approaches, physically engaging circa 1000 people in urban spaces in north west England.
In terms of what emerged, the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in England described Curating Spaces of Hope as:
“bringing together innovative mixes of civil society actors – from professional community practitioners through to individual community activists – to ‘meaning-make’ as a response to experiences of pointlessness and emptiness in personal, community and professional life.”
Through doctoral research at Goldsmiths University of London, Curating Spaces of Hope has been defined as a new paradigm and consultative methodology for faith-based organisation (Barber-Rowell, 2021). What is generally meant by Curating Spaces of Hope is, a means of mapping and mobilising responses to lived experiences of uncertainty, which are more than the sum of their parts.
This process begins with each of us. Curating Spaces of Hope is the task of leaders, committed to their context and drawing on all that they have, to offer to others what they can, to make the world a better place. Five principles have emerged from the Curating Spaces of Hope journey to date and are here for you to consider:
Freedom: the potential we have within us and the ability we have to make that real and tangible. Put another way, taking responsibility, and sharing the fullest possible expression of our personality.
Relationship: We are in relationship with everyone and everything, from the people we love to the places we live, to the rest of the world as we see it. Relationships help us to understand the freedom that we have positively, in terms of freedom for others, as opposed to freedom from others.
Service: expressing freedom, in relationship with others is service; the incarnation of our potential as expressions of leadership in the multitude of different ways that this manifests itself.
Affect: Expressions of service can come in a wide variety of forms, each can be both subtle and significant and are simultaneously synonymous with hope. The principle of affect is a guide to be aware of and sensitive to everything around us. As the pandemic has taught us, the smallest of sources can bring hope.
Authenticity: Finally, we should consider if the freedom we are sharing through relationship with others and expressing through service that is affective and affected by what is around us, fits within our wider story. This is not an inward sense of authenticity that we decide upon for ourselves, but rather an outward question for others to answer about whether what we are doing is truly hopeful and hope filled.
With the death of Her Majesty, we have lost a giant in history, who has exhibited for us what it means to embody leadership in uncertain times. As this era of uncertainty continues, it is over to all of us to respond. My invitation that I wish to extend will be to explore these principles for yourself and consider what embodying leadership means for you.
Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Master of Environmental Politics, Founder and Director of Spaces of Hope, and a former William Temple Scholar. Matthew has spent the last ten years working in urban contexts in the northwest of England, engaging with issues of loneliness, isolation and social connection, and applying grounded and assemblage theories to produce interventions that combat health inequalities. Matthew specialises in gathering stories, surfacing motivations, beliefs, values and worldviews and contextualising their role in shaping spaces, places and the wider environment.
Reviewed by Chris Baker, Director of Research, William Temple Foundation
This latest text from Stephen Spencer is another biography of Archbishop William Temple, who died in 1944, and joins a small but enduring list of biographies published to date. This year is an auspicious year to bring out such a volume, focussing attention as it does on the 80th anniversary of the publication of the work that Temple is perhaps still best known for, namely Christianity and Social Order. This biography, focusing on what Temple’s life says about a model of public leadership and service within a framing of servant leadership is also incredibly timely, coming at a time when political leadership in this country has been proved to be eye-wateringly corrupt and tainted by self-service, sleaze, and purposefully orchestrated division. Will public confidence in political leadership ever recover at this time of multiple crises—which range from the cost of living, poverty, and collapse in public services to environmental disaster and a new European war in Ukraine? Also, as I write this review, controversy and disunity have surfaced at the 2022 Lambeth conference over the issues of same-sex marriage and LGTBQ+ rights. I wonder how Temple’s approach to leadership and reconciliation would have played out amidst the current political and ecclesial splits shaping our public discourse? Inevitably, these thoughts were playing in my mind as I read this latest addition to the Temple oeuvre.
Spencer’s biography starts with a brief overview of the theme of servant leadership. There is a clear root to Jesus’ radically kenotic view of leadership along the lines ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all’ (Mark 10:43-44). But Spencer augments this allusion with two influential contemporary exponents of the concept (Robert Greenleaf and Kenneth Blanchard). These additional facets include providing vision and direction in ways that shape the present but define the future by having clear goals and acknowledging what others have done and offering clear and concise support when changes are needed—both of which are underpinned by a wider sense of hope and trust in what God is bringing to the world.
Spencer then cleverly moves to a description of Temple, arguably at the height of his leadership powers, caught on a news film report addressing a packed Albert Hall in September 1942 as the newly enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury on the theme of ‘The Church Looks Forward’. In the audience are leading politicians of the day, including those who will serve as ministers in the post-war Labour Government, as he lays out the principles for post-war reconstruction. Like a movie that starts at the end for dramatic effect, the rest of the book offers us the backstory as to how this pivotal point is reached.
Spencer moves with well-signposted chapters through the early stages of Temple’s life and career, suggesting a nagging desire to question and confound the easy and accepted trajectory for his life at the heart of the elite establishment, including a stellar academic career in philosophy at Oxford and becoming headmaster at an early age of a prestigious public school. Two events challenge that orthodoxy. First, is Temple’s experience of being initially rejected for the priesthood on the grounds of theological unorthodoxy, and second, his placement at Toynbee Hall and the Bermondsey Mission, sent there by Edward Caird, the master of Balliol College, Oxford. The book then becomes more gripping and intriguing. We move through to Temple’s middle and late phases of life, where a meteoric rise to being Bishop of Manchester at the time of the post-war General Strike, and his theological and political reflections on the nature of sin, evil, compassion, and social justice begin to meld into his formidable expression of public leadership.
Here, Stephen Spencer’s acuity as a theologian, as well as an historical biographer, comes to the fore as he expertly unpacks the trajectory of Temple’s thought from its Idealist roots to his Christian Realism, profoundly shaped by the influence of contemporaries such as Reinhold Niebuhr and by his calling to shape society in accordance with Christian principles. This approach required a deep pragmatism allied to a deep vision and the ability to hold together multiple perspectives in tension. Chapter 6, on the theme of ‘Changing Views of Human History’, is an expertly charted essay in philosophical thought, whilst Chapter 10, ‘From Logic to Imagination’ does the same from a theological perspective.
Spencer’s archival diligence skilfully brings Temple alive as a person, a thinker, and a leader. The structure of the book holds the interplay between life experience, its impacts on theological and political thinking, and pattens of leadership in firm view. Finding intimate, touching, and vulnerable anecdotes alongside sustained passages of deep thought as well as incisive and honest appraisals of Temple by his contemporaries is one of this book’s strengths. Spencer is not averse to presenting Temple as a work a progress, rather than the finished article. However, this merely serves to reinforce the phenomenal achievements of a person who, in the end, drove himself to an untimely death through the stress induced by the range of his work and mission. Spencer also highlights the cultural, and in some cases colonial, assumptions of Temple’s thought and idiom which may struggle to find purchase in the contemporary world
In summary, Temple’s leadership comes across as visionary and humble, confident but collaborative, and increasingly fearless in calling out God’s truth to institutional power, both within the church and the wider world. Above all, Temple allowed his personal experience of prayer and spirituality to be the touchstone for his decision making, a spiritual journey that he was also able to articulate and share as part of his leadership, and which continues to inspire others to this day. Yet at the end of this fine and engrossing book I was left with a nagging feeling. It is presented as a study in church leadership for a principally church audience, but should there not be a more ultimate purpose? I think this book has huge and important things to say to secular politicians and business leaders, because, as Spencer so skilfully draws out, Temple’s thinking and approach spilled out into the wider world and touched and shaped many from outside the church. When so much of our public leadership seems paralysed by compromise and corruption on the one hand, and timidity on the other, then here is a voice that needs to be listened to again. I hope churchy imagery and endorsements, fine as they are, do not prevent this book from reaching a properly wide audience.
Mez McConnell, The Least, the Last, and the Lost: Understanding Poverty in the UK & The Responsibility of the Local Church Published by Evangelical Press 2021 ISBN 978-178397-328-6
Reviewed by Greg Smith, Associate Research Fellow William Temple Foundation
Mez McConnell has, with some contributions from his colleagues, produced a passionate book about urban and estate ministry which should be required reading for anyone involved in the field. It is also aimed at complacent middle class evangelical Christians whom he sees to be in denial about social class in the UK.
McConnell writes as an insider who grew up in a tough unchurched environment, fell into addiction, crime and homelessness, but miraculously experienced a new birth and transformation of his life through an encounter with Jesus Christ. For the last two decades he has served as a pastor and church planter in a working-class housing scheme (council estate) in Edinburgh. He now leads a Scottish network of church planting and revitalisation called 20 Schemes.
As in Paul Keeble’s recent Urban Tract, McConnell underlines the importance of being there, and staying there long term, with a deep appreciation of yet without assimilation to local culture, and a spiritual life rooted in the deep love of Jesus and of people. He stresses above all the importance of the gospel, proclaimed in church, and in the street, in a clear evangelistic message calling for repentance and faith. He expects that some among the least, the last and the lost will respond in professions of faith, conversion and a journey of discipleship, as the church will provide personal mentoring and Biblical teaching. In his opinion, the local church is the only organisation or community that can tackle the deepest problems of such neighbourhoods.
McConnell’s work is not the first to highlight the importance of stories in urban culture and is rich with examples. The stories shared in the book are full of realism, of struggle, of disappointment, of life in a bleak environment, yet interspersed with moments of joy, strength of family and community ties and overcoming difficult circumstances.
McConnell should be commended for recognising the agency of people struggling with poverty, rather than trapping them in dependency and hopelessness. He also recognises the potential among people living on housing schemes for leadership in church and community and suggests models of training that are more appropriate and effective than traditional Bible College courses. Such training does not simply need to “dumb down” on Biblical knowledge or theology, but should rather be on an apprenticeship or in-service basis, applying the learning to real life situations.
At 527 pages, this lengthy volumedoes not say everything McConnell wanted to say (there is more online at 20schemesequip.com). The first half of the book is about poverty, class and culture in the UK and draws somewhat uncritically, on research, including government statistics, reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and published and unpublished narratives about life on urban estates.
The assumptions are largely about communities dominated by the “white British working class”, which is both increasingly difficult to define, and demographically questionable in an era of diverse intersecting identities. While McConnell repeatedly expresses his reluctance to stereotype, and his contempt for the genre of “poverty porn” media depictions, it felt difficult to finish the book without these established perceptions being confirmed or strengthened, rather than appreciating estate life in all its nuanced variety.
The second section presents an excellent basic overview of the Biblical material on poverty from the Law and Prophets in the Old Testament to the Gospel narratives and the teaching and practice of the early church. However, his reading of the texts is very much “plain sense” without exploring the contextual settings either of the writers or of today’s readers. One can sometimes detect a tendency to prioritise “the poor in spirit”, though without neglecting compassion for the materially poor.
Perhaps the biggest weakness is the limited treatment of the Kingdom of God as among us now but not yet on earth in fullness. The author is steeped in Reformed theology which stresses God’s sovereign rule over the whole universe, a doctrine which has led many Christians to redemptive involvement in art and culture, science, medicine and social care politics and business. Yet he does not promote this as within the mission of God.
This view could discourage the development of meaningful public theology, and Christian involvement in attempts to influence local decision makers or work for legislative reform to mitigate poverty, a theme very much part of the 19th Century evangelical heritage.
In the third and fourth sections, which concentrate on the life of the church, there are a number of statements that may likely be a cause of discontent. Readers from outside Reformed and Evangelical tribe will perceive a traditional gospel of exclusivity, narrowness and perhaps even arrogance.
The God McConnell offers is holy, just, and merciful, yet the vast majority of us seem destined (deservedly) for the eternal torments of hell. Church life and worship is centred on traditional expository sermons, and a ‘complementarian’ theology means that church leadership and authority is vested in men. Despite this, the book has some useful material on women’s ministries.
On the other hand, Christians within conservative Evangelical tribe may also likely to be provoked. White British Evangelicals abound in affluent suburbs, but are rarely found living and serving in inner city or estates communities. At best their churches provide occasional opportunities for urban Christians to share testimonies and stories of front-line work—and in return promise prayer, or sometimes some financial support (though large sums of money rarely trickle down to urban churches as David Robertson argues in Part 3.4).
Help in terms of long-term missionary personnel is extremely rare, while short term raids often do more harm than good. McConnell is critical without much nuance of “mercy ministries” (such as food banks and homeless shelters) especially when these are delivered by para church organisations. He argues that they tend to trap people in dependency and fail to communicate in words the gospel of salvation, simply by being too nice.
While I am in many ways enthusiastic about this clarion call to urban mission and rejoice in the work of McConnell and 20 Schemes, through which estate residents are coming to faith in Jesus and local churches are beginning to flourish, the book often appears to lack appreciation of the wider urban mission movement, its history and literature. Indeed, McConnell has little time for pluralism within Christianity: while mainline liberal denominations get some credit for being present in urban estates, they have abandoned the gospel, and charismatics and Pentecostals, (especially prosperity preachers) are seen as heretical.
I see some similarities between Mez McConell and the brilliant, if annoying General William Booth whose passion for “the Least, the Last and the Lost” of the book’s title, led to the foundation of the Salvation Army. The later development of that movement as a major charitable service provider suggests that the urban church cannot live by hellfire preaching alone.
The William Temple Foundation, in partnership with Leeds Church Institute, is delighted to launch the latest series in our ground-breaking podcast Staying with the Trouble. The series will run for the next six weeks, starting 7th June, 2022.
Entitled Perspectives on Poverty and Exclusion in Leeds and produced by Rosie Dawson, the series is anchored by Bishop James Jones, Bishop Emeritus of Liverpool. Via six interviews with key actors across the city, Bishop Jones traces the impact of the current cost of living crisis on the lives of ordinary citizens, and the relationships and practices of solidarity, care, compassion and justice that emerge to provide resilience and hope to so many facing hardship and despair.
As Bishop Jones summarises, these relationships and networks reflect ‘an organic regeneration’ that cuts deeply across religious, secular, ideological, cultural and ethnic divides.
Director of Research for the Foundation, Professor Chris Baker reflects, ‘In this Platinum Jubilee Year, with its emphasis on theme of service as exemplified by Queen Elizabeth, this series really resonates as it shows how daily acts of service and sacrificial leadership build resilience and hope across our communities in the darkest of times.’
Dr Helen Reid, Director, Leeds Church Institute says, ‘I commend the podcast series to all who love Leeds and are troubled by inequality here. The podcasts combine personal experience and local perspectives with insight, hope and action for building a fairer city.’