Ranters of Mow Cop

Ranters of Mow Cop

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Friday, 20 November 2015

Woe to the Rich

Warning to rich oppressors - James 5 (NIVUK)

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

This week our church home group tried to tackle this passage. It is indeed fiery stuff, though it's not the only place in the Bible such thoughts are written. (e.g. Amos 4;1 5;10-15 Isaiah 3;12-17  Luke 6;24-25).  And even this weeks SU Word Alive Bible notes  dealt with the rich young ruler and Jesus' one-liner about camels and the eye of a needle.


So how do we apply this stuff today. Indeed who are the rich and oppressors we may encounter today. Here's a possible list:


  • The Saudi Princes wallowing in their oilfields
  • The Russian oligarchs buying up the Premier League and half of Mayfair
  • The merchant banker gamblers who were responsible for the great crash of 2008
  • The arms traders who sponsor war and terror
  • The people traffickers who profit from human misery
  • The politicians with mansions and duck houses funded at public expense
  • The employers who put their staff on zero hours contracts and fail to pay the living and often the minimum wage
  • The petty loan sharks and pay day lenders who profit from the desperate poor
  • The DWP job centres who sanction desperate benefit claimants for trivial reasons
  • The consumers who want a bargain regardless of who has been exploited in the process
  • The affluent pensioners who rely on investments in less than ethical funds
  • Every reasonably comfortable family who benefits from the global economic system
  • and not least chiefly ourselves


We discussed in our home group whether, since James was speaking to "you rich" whether there were any rich oppressors in his audience in the early church. We didn't come to a conclusion about that, but we agreed it is clear that just being a Christian does not in itself protect you from the possibility of behaving like this. There is actually and potential sin in each one of us - perhaps it takes the commandment "Thou shalt not covet" to make it clear. And as James wrote in 2;10 whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it .


However, if James and Amos and Jesus were divinely inspired to cry out against the rich who oppressed "the least of these" then it seems obvious that we too have a right, and probably a duty, to denounce and warn the perpetrators when we see injustice and oppression in the church and the world around us. We may be less than perfect and less than pure ourselves, and as long as we are humble enough to admit that and rely on God's grace and forgiveness we are still called to cry loudly for justice anf freedom from oppression.


That of course may lead to denial, opposition and even martyrdom, but we are called to speak truth to power, and to pray that oppressors might repent and change their evil ways.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

On not keeping pure....

A while ago I blogged on the issues currently shaping the activities of

Our Second-Rate Third Sector? Charity in the Age of Austerity  

I endorsed the view of

National Commission for Independent Action (NCIA) (that) , voluntary services face a bleak future as 'servants of the Government'. The NCIA challenges voluntary groups to take urgent action to fight for the rights of the people they serve, protect their independence and resist the privatisation of public services.
Subsequently there has been an extended discussion in the mailing list of the network that emerged from NCIA about the reality that
that mainstream think tanks and 'sector leaders' are slowly 'waking from their dogmatic slumbers' about the fundamental shift that appears to have overtaken the voluntary sector in the welfare field
and debates about how radical practitioners and academics should deal with this mainstreaming of concern
and the blog articles on the theme at
I wonder if the elephant in the room is that all of us who work in the sector (whether as service delivery practitioners, academics or agitators/connectors) actually have vested interests in that we need to find a livelihood - unless of course we have private means such as a pension or a fortune... or unless we are willing to earn a tiny living by a minimum wage job... gone are the days when you could finance your subversive activity by being on the dole...
That means that most of us are beholden to funders (be they statutory, charitable or private sector) if we want to keep and fulfill the roles we have in our jobs. That means that it's impossible to be totally pure and uncompromised...though we can all make some attempt to stand up and be guided by the fundamental values we believe in..and shape our work activities according to them. But it's a familiar problem as Jermy Corbyn among others has discoverered... Not everybody will agree with you...and people are going to take different stances... some are going to be more opportunistic in taking funding or power when it comes...
Yes, it is very frustrating when those in the vanguard of a movement find late arrivals at the ball, better resourced and either reinventing the wheel without acknowledging the previous work or domesticating the issue with mild reformist rather than radical measures.. But in a sense that's just life and politics and we need to get on with it...
And some of the getting on with it is about organizing and trying to built a movement.. I've been dipping in and out as an observer rather than a convinced follower to the broad based Community organizing movement over the years.. and recently been reading Luke Bretherton's book

Resurrecting Democracy
Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life


It's quite deep and academic in political theory and theology but it covers a lot of relevant issues.. What I like about the BBCO approach is that it works out a way to be confrontational on issues yet relational with the enemy at the same time... What I find frustrating is that by building a movement by consensus it can lose the radical cutting edge and fail to see or make use of the clear analysis that shows the hegemoniuc system is rotten...and you end up in reformist mode.. just chipping away at winnable issues
Ther is an interesting reflection on this in this blog...
Have read and see what you think...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

It's Not Easy Being British

My New blog for the William Temple Foundation


In a new post, our Associate Research Fellow Greg Smith considers Christian responses to immigration, the British values project and religious freedom.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

My latest Blog on Immigration

Multi-layered and informative: the latest blog from Greg Smith for the William Temple Foundation on some of the political, economic, ethical and theological responses to immigration - attempting to bring some light to the heat and as ever, based on extensive personal experience in the field.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

First steps in a 50 year struggle

I couldn't agree more... Lets buckle down to the 50 year long task of rebuilding a broad based progressive left movement...I won't be here to see its fruition but let's start by sowing some seeds now...
George Monbiot's article sums up what I've been thinking over the last week.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The feebleness of our Christian involvement with politics


Reactions to today's shock election results among the Christians I know personally, or through social media are mainly screams of disbelief and dismay. The future for people living or serving in less affluent appears exceedingly grim as the interests of the super-rich have won the day. Our food banks, money advice centres, job clubs and homeless drop ins are likely to be busier than ever.


There is a plethora of  Christian comment in the blogosphere today asking what next?  Most of it seems to be gentle and conciliatory, as if the default position is to be like Mr Cameron a one nation Tory.  Some contains good sense grounded in a Biblically shaped world view such as Antony Billington's piece 


not just the world of politics, but of education, business, economics, media, arts, law, health, family – spheres which can be influenced by the presence of Christians within them, more than we might imagine, as we build relationships, seek justice, make a gracious stand for the truth, be a messenger of the gospel.


Let's inform MPs of matters that concern us – not simply the narrow range of topics where people expect us to speak out, but on other things too – austerity, education, health, unemployment, environment, immigration. Let's get involved where we're able to do so.


There are pieces that encourage us to look at politics with a long view in the light of God's eternal plan such as Steve Latham's blog


To follow the Anabaptist understanding, we must build the church as an alternative community of God's kingdom, his future breaking into the present.


A piece from the Evangelical Alliance follows a traditionally conservative reading of Romans 13 and rightly stresses


that relationship be at the heart of our political engagement. .... so get to know your MP and local councillors.


It advocates, following the ideas promoted in the Show Up Campaign that Christians should be engaging in the world of politics though it then seems to make this rather instrumental, suggesting


our engagement with politics should first and foremost be about sharing the gospel so that others can be in relationship with God. This is after all the Great Commission.


It's rare however to read much about the practicalities of community politics by which other people in our churches and communities can become more fully engaged with the democratic process and become more politically literate. This sort of local involvement seems to have paid off well for some of the leading politicians in the Christians on the Left group, such as Stephen Timms, Gavin Shuker and newly elected Cat Smith.  The Citizens UK General Election Assembly was another good example of this practical engagement build on the foundations of two decades of community organizing in London faith communities.


Nor is there sufficient serious Christian engagement with the hard intellectual work of political theory, and translating it for ordinary believers so they can unmask the powers and principalities behind the ideologies of neo-liberalism that drive contemporary global capitalism and the dark path of fundamentalist secularism. The rediscovery of the theology and politics of the common good are perhaps the best attempt on offer. However, in the end this tends to boil down to a middle way of consensus loving social democracy, with lots of  motherhood and apple pie values that rarely lead to radical social transformation.


For me what is missing above all is the crucial dimension of prophetic rage. The rage that I and many others feel that

·       five years of austerity politics and welfare reform that have made thousands destitute and sent over a million to food bank queues, issues which were largely ignored in the campaigns

·       that once again it's clear that our democracy is overlaid on a general acceptance of inequality based on money and power.

·       a dishonest media campaign where perfect fear drove out love including the demonization of the Scottish National Party, and the scapegoating of migrant communitiesby almost all parties

·       incompetent or misleading polls, mainly paid for by the Tory press where the supposed poll equality suited the "Terror: Labour and SNP Coalition" narrative

·       the political illiteracy and mean spirit of so many voters in England shown by so many people punishing the junior partner of the coalition government by transferring votes to the dominant party

·       the electoral system which delivered an overall majority to a party with only 37% of the votes, one with 5% getting 56 seats and one with 13% gaining only one.

·       Britain seems to have voted for £12bn additional cuts to benefits.

·       Katie Hopkins will be staying in the UK!


As Christians our integrity demands that we name and own that rage. We need to recognize the feebleness of a Christian response that denies the anger and ignores the injustice and the pain and our fears for the future. It will not do simply to honour, befriend and pray for our elected authorities.  We cannot say "Shalom, Shalom" where there is no shalom, or just whitewash over the cracks in the system.


for when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked: Where is the coat of whitewash that you put on it? (Ezekiel 13.12)


So where there is evil, confrontation will need to continue.


But then comes the more difficult task of dealing with these emotions and seeking to engage effectively, and as far as possible constructively, and graciously and in the Spirit of Jesus.


a depressing day after the election night before draws to a close ... But politics doesn't just happen once every five years, it happens every day: in creative action, in voices speaking out about what they believe, in changing hearts and minds.


How long O lord, how long?

A digest of Laments from Christian Friends in my Facebook Network Today


speechless.... knowing that the work we do among the poor and the vulnerable is just going to grow! This is not a good thing.


Gutted Katie Hopkins is staying in the UK!


'The British election is still more proof that the problem with government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the people'. (Tweet of God)


how on earth do we respond to what has happened in this country...


The Lib Dems have got exactly what they deserved. Now we can look forward to another 5 years of food-banks and austerity.


I despair of our so called democracy...maybe local organising of communities, local economies and welfare support is the best way forward..."politics" seems to have failed those on the margins... there are lessons from Scotland and it's new style of politics


Struggling to find an explanation as to why those who voted Lib Dem last time would now vote for the Conservatives in huge numbers - they have nothing in common!


I suspect the young people who we work with who may now be made homeless if changes to housing benefit for young people go through, may need a bit of hope just to survive. The future for them looks very bleak ...


So, those of us who can need to dig a little deeper in order feed, house, clothe those who the government have overlooked and will continue to overlook


Britain seems to have voted for £12bn additional cuts to benefits. Basically a pound of flesh from every person in need. All completely avoidable and unnecessary pain.


The news this morning is even worse than it was looking when I went to bed at 2.00. Labour wiped out in Scotland and losing a lot of seats in England, apart from in London. At least Caroline Lucas won in Brighton, and it looks like Farrage didn't succeed. It is not looking good for the poor, the vulnerable, the unemployed, disabled or homeless under this next "One Nation" Conservative Govt. It feels even worse than the second Thatcher victory following the Falklands.


The election result demonstrates for me that the Westminster establishment is no longer trusted in terms of its moral authority to lead a nation. I suspect the conservative success has a lot to do with the return to the Conservatives of LIberal defectors last time having lost confidence in Nick Clegg's leadership, and the poor Labour showing of the same problem with Ed Milliband. Cameron towers above them as a natural leader. Then there is the fact that what people seem to want for the time being is financial success in government on behalf of the successful in the electorate. What else would you expect in a society devoted to self and materialism? The social vision of Britain is in rags.


Farage fails to win his seat. I know it's a low bar, but I can safely say that it's the best news I've had all day.


The NHS, Education, Working Benefits, A Safety Net. Yesterday 58% of the UK voted against these priorities. A lot to ponder


Tough night for Labour but glad to have increased our voter numbers in East Surrey by 33%


Maybe now the church will rise up, speak up & be the radical, subversive, dissenting, advocating voice for the poor & excluded. Please?


Today should be a day of much rejoicing. And we will celebrate ******'s birthday and thank God for him. But in the midst of it all, we will also pause to reflect on the growing realisation that our country is becoming ever more divided and torn apart by social inequality and an access to opportunity only afforded to people by consequence of their social class and status. Watch the exponential growth of food banks, waiting lists for hospital treatment and the numbers of those in extreme poverty in our land, over the next five years. May God have mercy on us - heaven knows we'll need it......


"So a depressing election night draws to a close ... But politics doesn't just happen once every five years, it happens every day: in creative action, in voices speaking out about what they believe, in changing hearts and minds. So I will not cry into my morning cup of tea, I will aspire to go out and continue with the real politics I and others can believe in. Because boy will there be work to be done!"


There are things to celebrate election wise, great news in Lancaster, and the green vote is up. Mainly tho I can't quite believe so many people do not seem to care about the destruction of the nhs or the rise in food banks. So whilst I will today be despairing at the thought of yet more conservatives, I shall be grateful for all the amazing people I know who despite those "in power" will continue to do the powerful work of being alongside those struggling.


God help us all now! Foodbanks, poverty, inequality, demonising diversity, detaining asylum seekers > Where now for progressive politics?


Oh dear I can't believe it


Not Ed Balls

Reasons to be depressed this morning: Tory majority, Murdoch victory, likelihood of Scottish independence, boundary changes & further shifting of BBC towards right-wing agenda making it even more difficult for other voices to be heard or prevail. Oh, and 5 years more of nasty, divisive scapegoating, marginalising the most vulnerable and cuts like we haven't seen.

Reasons to be hopeful: passion, compassion, solidarity and real politics start local, between neighbours; truth and justice, mercy and love *will* have the last word.

Now, as friends of mine have already said this morning, time to roll up sleeves and get stuck in. The politicians won't do it. We need to.

Can any of my friends tell me where one fills out emigration forms.....?


If you're moving to Scotland we're coming too........Isle of Mull is really nice, so I've heard!!


more years of government murders then?


My picture is one of mourning for our country and the impact this result will have on the most vulnerable. For the fact the Tory party have gained support despite what they have done for the last five years. For the disappointment of people voting to benefit the individual rather than the community. Devastating.


Whatever political landscape we find ourselves in, we all have the capacity to inspire and work out a soulful politics from below. Shalom.


A more hopeful message, "Politics is about far, far more than parties, elections and polling days. We need to resist the plans for a massive extra £12bn in welfare cuts, the privatisation of the National Health Service, the ongoing attacks on education and the welfare state, the fuelling of climate change, the sale of arms to tyrants and the plans to throw £100 bn into a new generation of weapons of mass destruction... We can resist such policies in Parliament, through fresh ideas, in the media, on the streets, in our workplaces, in our communities and faith groups and places of education, through strikes, through protests, through nonviolent direct action and in our daily lives."


Retweeted Polly Toynbee (@pollytoynbee): So much to fear - for the NHS, for the BBC, for the low paid and the sick

Labour seat in Lancaster & Fleetwood just announced!! a small piece of good news.. Congratulations Cat Smith.

I'm conflicted by the fact that despite getting 12.4% of the vote, UKIP has one seat. Glad we were protected, devastated that it can happen in a 'democracy'

Its a long way up this bloody hill !

I am tired of politics... I wish I was stood here again watching the sun go down over Derwentwater & Keswick. In fact - If I get my way, I might just do that tonight!

Pray, pray pray for our best beloved community- it's gonna get a lot worse

getting the Blues; feeling so sad; wish i were asleep...

Moment of silence please, for all those trying to make it in the arts industry for the next 5 years under a Tory-led UK.

What a disaster

Perfect fear casts out love. I cannot believe the political illiteracy and mean spirit of so many voters in England. More years of increased suffering for the poor and vulnerable looms. Those who voted Tory and hid their intentions from the pollsters should be ashamed.

Shame on you who voted Tory !

PR is a fairer system

Something has gone horribly wrong when the best bit of news all night is that George Galloway and Tim Aker have failed to win.

 Exit poll looks like UK could be on way out of EU and Scotland out of UK. Disaster all round then.

I can't bear the thought of another Tory government. They will destroy everything. I cannot believe so many people have opted for such an uncaring, selfish, arrogant, bunch of blockheads.

I am without hope !

 Would you please join me in hoping that those exit polls are wrong, I fear the people I love and work with simply won't last another five years. Especially with the threat that 'we will finish the job'.


Woke to find I live in a country where the desire and greed of the well off and rich few is put before the needs of the many

Shocking number of people in ‪#England who lied to the pollsters about their voting intentions..

I dread to think what will happen to the poorest areas now. It will signal the death knell of Local Government as central government funding is decimated.

I'm going to be having to work even harder for disabled people

Cameron's victory speech. Horrible, cruel drama tonight. Some bewildering losses. Expectation raised by polls & lost. So sorry. Knackered...

Looks like Conservatives will govern the Union, but have laid the foundations for destroying that Union in the process.

Reading Facebook posts, I don't seem to know any Tories . Do they just keep their heads down more than gobby lefties?

One consolation is that the lib dems are being destroyed (given how much they sold their supporters short of their 2010 manifesto, they deserve it!)

My former home, Nuneaton, stays Tory. Feel sorry for friends there.

Wow, scary looks as if the tories may have a majority, umm ukips getting some votes

Sorry to see Douglas Alexander go. One of the good guys, with a world-wide perspective on the common good.

Get Boris off the air!!!

Retweeted Milton Jones (@themiltonjones): Think tonight all returning officers should start with 'it's great to be back

Hey ho. The great British public have bottled it and voted in favour of another 5 years of Katie Hopkins. Self-interest once again looks like trumping the common good, but that's democracy for you (or at least what passes for democracy in a first-past-the-post system).

Tories taking Nuneaton with increased majority is bad news. Outcome is becoming clear. Sickening. The implications for the vulnerable and weak in our society are grim.

It just hit me and I sobbed my heart out. I am genuinely frightened for the sick, young, poor, disabled, all of us.

I think that I'll be re-discovering my Scottish Roots. I think that the Australian ones are less attractive at the moment ...

cannot tell you how sick the election results are making me feel



Friday, 24 April 2015

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue Appreciation Society


I think I've become addicted to the Facebook Group of the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue Appreciation Society  https://www.facebook.com/groups/ISIHAC/


Here are my contributions to the late arrivals at the Londoners' Ball


  • From North London.. she's a real bruiser Tough Nell Park    
  • Bowling along there the Irish cricketer Ken Ington O'val   
  • And the noble batsman Lord Stjohn Wood        
  • Mr Neymarshes and his journalist son known as Hack          
  • The rodent operative from old Chinatown.. Chou En Limehouse       
  • Mr n Mrs N Treeheath n their daughter Becca
  • From docklands please welcome Mr & Mrs Ertown and their daughter Silv with her imaginary friend the Wool Witch Fairy          
  • With their medical bags in hand Victoria, Albert and Sir Rey.. they must be some of the Royal docs
  • I don't know who those three are ..Ah yes one's Ted Park
  • And the other two must be his conjoined twin brothers Wes-Tam     


my contributions to the beauty queens at various carnivals


  • the embezzlers' carnival had Miss Appropriate         

  • the French translators/ carnival had Miss De Meaner
  • the pessimists carnival queen was always Miss E Rable       

  • At the Coroners' Carnival 
  • spectators suffered death by Miss Adventure. This the police found a complete Miss Teree  
  • the catholic priests carnival had Miss Al (though the Vatican covered it up for years)
  • and the ornithologists (or Itchy Twitchers) had Miss Le Thrush




Aches and Kale

Brie Then in a Moat.

Our van in Oman Ah!

Rigid Bones Dairy

The Mystery Han

The Tray of the Dyffydds

Chic Blouse by D'arles Chickens

A sad mummers dream night



News headlines from 1536


Tenpin News -- Last strike spells end of the Boleyn Annie

Blackpool Gazzette ... Bloody end to Hen Party




Dangerous sports with insects


  • Pond skaters
  • Golf caddies flies lava
  • Jolly hockey stick insects
  • Rugby leech
  • Gymnas ticks
  • Whore Netball



Late arrivals at the medical ball


Mr and Mrs Beticcoma and their Welsh son Dai

Followed by his Chinese friend In Su Lin

From the judge's bench M'lud Transfusion. He'll send you to the red cells

Ms N marrow - transplant and her latest Beau

And her cousins Kia and Mo Therapy

From France via Ireland Mrs De O'therapy and her husband Ray

Seven members of the Boat race crew with their Cox Yx who has suffered a stroke

Master Ramedic and his aged Pa

Mr Urgency and his ward Emma

Ms. NColagist and her favourite Guy

Ms Greenstick-Fracture and her ex Ray

The ostomy bag regiment and their senior officer Col. etc..

Mr & Mrs Neystone and their little kid



Late arrivals at the USA ball


  • It may be hot in Texas but gal keep that vest on for decency's sake
  • From north of 49th parallel.. Mr Pegg and his poohy wife Winnie
  • Chief Native American B... in an earlier state known as Indian A
  • and now the Pitts (elder and younger) both munching burgers
  • Here come the Getty's .and the Burgers.. but they are late because we gave the wrong address

Thursday, 16 April 2015

My new paper Faith, Progressive Localism & the Hol(e)y Welfare Safety

New e-book series takes on key debates on religion in public life
What role does religion play in modern British society? What are the key debates in religion and public life? How should we begin to explore them? Temple Tracts is a series of seven short and accessible e-books offering engaging analysis, case studies and discussions on contemporary concerns for religion and society.
Researcher Greg Smith has spent 40 years working in urban mission and community development. Launching the series, Smith's pre-election analysis of the British welfare system takes a candid look at the role of faith-based organisations, asking how and why these groups have tried to plug service gaps. Faith, Progressive Localism & the Hol(e)y Welfare Safety Net explores the relationship between Local Authorities and faith-based service providers, combining revealing case studies from the North West of England with strong theoretical analysis.

Find out more and download for just £2.99 from williamtemplefoundation.org.uk/temple-tracts

Sign-up for the William Temple Foundation newsletter and be the first to know when each new book in the series is published.

Coming Soon

Mapping the Material: Religious Practices in Changing Times By John Atherton and John Reader

No Faith in Equality & Diversity: Church, Sexuality & Gender By Hayley Matthews

God and MoneyBy Eve Poole

Christian-Muslim Relations in the UK By Philip Lewis and Charlotte Dando

Work, Leisure & The Good Life: A Trying Triangle By Ian Steedman and Arrigo Opocher

Religion, Social Policy and the Body By Tina Hearn

Friday, 10 April 2015

The hierarchy of needs and the web of provision.... where churches fit in..

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a familiar theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in Psychological Review.[2]

While this model is open to question as
  1. it is individualistic based on psychology and ignores the social and political
  2. it may not work in practice as a ladder or pyramid up which people progress
  3. it seems rather "new agey" and about personal fulfilment rather than rooted in a Christian or Biblical theology of the human condition
  4. it focuses on need and has little recognition of assets which every human being brings into the world

Yet it does give us some useful categories and fits into the mission strategy put forward by William Booth, the first General of the Salvation Army “But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?”  However it should be noted the same Booth is quoted as saying.. “To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labour. You must in some way or other graft upon the man's nature a new nature, which has in it the element of the Divine.”

Until recently it was assumed that the British welfare state had the base of the triangle well covered, that no one would be left without basic needs being met. The church and it's mission was therefore to work higher up the hierarchy offering belonging through the fellowship of the church, and salvation through the gospel of Christ. There would be a measure at least of personal transformation, which Anna Ruddick in her study of incarnational urban mission suggests is the added value brought through faith in terms of a new sense of human significance even if personal circumstances are not greatly changed.

With the growing inequality that has resulted from the global neo-liberal project or recent decades, which has culminated in the new destitution of recent austerity programmes, churches have responded with a new emphasis on meeting basic needs.  Food Banks are the most obvious example; in Lancashire alone we have over thirty handing out over 30,000 parcels a year, almost all started up and managed by churches. There are also numerous soup kitchens and community cafes, homelessness ministries, street pastors and charitable handouts of blankets and clothing all designed to address basic needs of those who are destitute and vulnerable.  Some of these ministries also offer genuine love and belonging, and address the highest level spiritual needs by providing opportunities for prayer and worship, albeit sometimes in a rather full on, clumsy and heavy handed way.

My observation of church linked social action programmes is that they are often not so good at offering esteem and a feeling of accomplishment to their "service users". Indeed this label itself often sets customers apart from providers as people who need to have good done onto rather than fellow human beings with talents and gifts to share with the wider community. Nor are they always good at offering a hand up rather than a handout; sometimes it feels as though the primary need is for the good Christian volunteers to feel needed, that they are helping those in real need, and that it is convenient to keep the recipients in permanent childlike dependency. For some activities this is justified by the "unique Christian ethos" of the project and the assertion that only through the truth and power of the Gospel can the highest level spiritual need for salvation be properly addressed. At the extreme this becomes arrogance which ill behoves followers of the one who  "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;" (Phil 2;6)"  and breeds a rugged independence which prevents collaboration with other services that remain invisible from the depths of one's own silo.

In reality, even in the much reduced remnants of the welfare state, a wide variety of  services remain, some statutory, some secular and not for profit, some in the form of social enterprises or private businesses working under contract, and some operating to professional standards but inspired by religious faith.  The best of these, because of their professionalism and specialist expertise, can be much better than the churches at a holistic approach which leads to overcoming dependency and offering the hope of personal and community development and empowerment; while the worst can be dire, chaotic, coercive or conditional and entangled in red tape.  Surely Christian social activists have much to gain by engaging with due diligence in this wider web of provision. I'm not totally sure that this is what Chris Baker of the William Temple Foundation means when talking about "entangled fidelities"  . However, the potential gains range from economies of scale to better signposting and referral processes, to opening new paths to funding and resources and a seat at the table where policies are shaped, where we might use some power for the blessing of the weak and the promotion of the common good. In the messiness of such involvement sometimes we will find allies and a warm welcome, sometimes indifference or misunderstanding, and occasionally at least hostility and hatred.

The challenge of course is an old one, to remain realistically involved in the world as it is, while remaining faithful to the heavenly vision of the world that is to be. Or as Jesus himself put it “not of the world, but sent into it.”

Friday, 20 March 2015

Public leadership - a vacuum at the top and a load of suckers at the bottom?

As someone who has been involved in Church activities for over 40 years I should have known the ninth Beatitude. “Blessed is s/he that doth not immediately refuse to volunteer, for s/he will be lumbered with doing it”.  But a few weeks ago, as a result of forgetting the golden rule, that one should keep eyes focussed on the floor, when nominations are asked for in an AGM, I found myself appointed to the office of chair of the local Voluntary Community and Faith Sector forum. While one can see this new personal role as stepping up to the plate in an act of Public Leadership and an opportunity as a Christian to serve the local community and influence the life of our city for good, I doubt it is going to be a smooth road or an easy task.

With the General Election pending, the public seems perplexed and cynical about the political leadership of the UK, and fragmented over their voting intentions. Part of  this results from the growing sense of disillusion with politicians and party leaders. The public at large has a very negative view,  which has real underlying causes such as the expenses scandals, the failed look-alike policies of the main parties, and the distance of Oxbridge educated elites  of Westminster based career politicians from the ordinary provincial voter. Contempt for politicians is probably further fuelled by satirists and the media focus on stories such as Dave and Georges exploits with the Bullingdon Club, Ed's kitchen and his bacon sandwiches, and Farage's flagon of ale well described  in Laurie Penny's piece  on the far-right:

Orwell was wrong, the English will accept a far-right government, so long as it’s dressed up in silliness and accompanied by a farting trombone.

The British political class does not understand how badly it has alienated its voter base. It does not understand the rage against a democratic system that has failed to provide any coherent, liveable alternatives to falling wages, rising rents and persistent unemployment. From within Westminster, it is impossible to comprehend how out-of touch politicians look, how much the expenses scandal meant, and continues to mean, for people who do not drink in the taxpayer-subsidised Commons bars.

In  a recent survey  of Evangelical Christians (mostly comfortably off. educated people who overwhelmingly value British democracy) only 6% said they think politicians can be trusted to keep their manifesto promises and half are less likely to believe what a politician says than they were five years ago.   Above all they  are looking for personal integrity. 93% say it is most or very important for the candidate to be honorable and not corrupt and two-thirds want politicians with clear and strong convictions.

Many Christians, concerned with the poverty they encounter in the food bank queues in their church halls, are longing for an alternative political narrative to any that is on offer from the main political  parties. In this context the Bishop’s pastoral letter, Who is my Neighbour?”, seeking to articulate a political theology of the common good can be seen even by some politicians such as Jon Cruddas, (and Maurice Glasman who apparently was the ghost writer of his  article) as a true act of leadership

Yet bishops and clergy are in many ways poor examples of leadership. They've come a long way since the days of the Borgia popes, yet all have their human frailties and besetting sins, some scandalously so. They are still overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of the white, male privately educated establishment elites. The long drawn out and inward looking debates about gender equality and sexuality seem to have brought the church into disrepute, especially among the young.   More significantly it is becoming less certain that leaders of religious institutions have any followers behind them, or much ability to provide the spiritual inspiration and role models that move their shrinking band of disciples to greater faith and effective mission. The Green report seems to advocate that they need training in the dark arts of corporate management, which were so evidently useful in the leadership of major banks such as HSBC.  In Weber's typology of authority the bishops as leaders have moved from that of traditional unquestioned sacred hierarchy towards a rational bureaucratic mode of control.

Evangelical Christians and their churches, which are the exception that often proves the rule in building and sustaining thriving communities of followers often have an alternative approach to leadership, which more closely fits Weber's mode of "charismatic" and personal authority.  Gifts of performance, in public speaking, music or  the seemingly miraculous of prophecy or healing ministries are what qualify a person for church leadership. This, especially in an age of global mass media and celebrity culture has many downsides and can lead to a fetishism with leaders, and with the very concept of  "leadership".  The same techniques are sometimes not far removed from the politics that in other times and languages brought us leadership personified in the "Furher", Il Duce, or  North Koreas  "dear leader". At the extreme end of the church we have examples of shepherds fleecing their gullible flocks for private gain, and numerous others where such styles of leadership have proved hollow and ended in disgrace and tears.

The Biblical traditions suggest other models of healthy leadership. Moses for example was hesitant, asked God for a spin doctor to package his message to Pharaoh, and eventually understood the benefits of delegated and widely distributed leadership. When Kingship was established in Israel it seemed that God regretted it, and with few exceptions it proved disastrous. A balance of powers, involving prophets and priests in counterpoint with rulers was required. Some of the most notable political leaders in the Old Testament, Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah were in charge not of their own people but slaves in exile or under foreign occupation. And it was into such a situation that the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth was born in humble circumstances and not in a palace. His alternative approach as a servant leader, yet speaking with authority, inspired many yet led him into conflict with, and death at the hands of the political and religious leaders of that age.  One can read the story of the early church as understanding these principles, where authority, ministries and leadership was widely distributed among the brothers and sisters of each local congregation, with the "big name" travelling apostles and overseers being above all connectors and networkers between the churches.

In our culture which distrusts institutional authority, and in which open and flexible light touch networks are critical to the function of society these types of leadership, which Roger Haydon Mitchell describes as kenarchy are surely more appropriate. Or as Mother Teresa put it  "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person."  It might be better to say "do it together".

So in developing public leadership in the UK today I doubt that the establishment coalition of bishops, large charities and benignly progressive political parties can articulate the solutions, let alone rebuild national institutions that are needed for the justice and welfare of all. Longing for celebrities or charismatic demagogues, in church or state to lead us out of the wilderness, is even more dangerous.  Rather it is going to require a struggle from below, a careful building of alliances of democratic member led independent voluntary associations, community groups, progressive local authorities, parish churches, other congregations and faith communities.

And that is going to need hope, grace, humility, patience and time.