“You can’t teach the Bible or preach here”

“You can’t teach the Bible or preach here”


The first in a series of inter-generational conversations between young missionaries and those who have gone before them.

‘Give up!’ was the advice given to 35 year old Rose Dowsett when she, her husband, Dick, and her family were relocated to Scotland after nearly eight years in ministry among students in the Philippines.

Rose, now retired, is a former missionary with OMF International (previously the China Inland Mission and Overseas Missionary Fellowship). She is an author, formerly an international convention speaker, and Vice Chairman of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Mission Commission.

Along the way, she also taught Church History and Missiology at the Bible Training Institute (BTI) and then Glasgow Bible College (GBC) for about 18 years. Today, those words – ‘You can’t teach the Bible or preach here’ – have the capacity to shock, but in 1978 there was strong resistance in many Scottish evangelical circles to women in public Bible teaching. It hadn’t been a problem in Rose’s experience up to that point, in Asia or in the UK. With a young family, and running a mission guest home, there was plenty to do, but she believed God had called her to be a Bible teacher.

God’s answer came through Geoff Grogan, Principal of BTI, who needed temporary teacher cover. One day he fell into conversation with Rose’s husband, Dick, who immediately suggested Rose might help. Rose says, ‘When Geoff appointed me voices were raised in protest, “You can’t have a woman teaching!” Geoff told them, ‘She already is teaching.’

Rose’s career could be summed up by the mantra “But she persisted”. When asked about the position of women leaders within the evangelical church Rose’s response was, ‘Actually, biblical leadership is not just about position and structure. I think the Lord can open up many ways in which you can quietly set about influencing other people and learning from other people. But there are many forms of leadership that are nothing to do with being an organisational leader…I think you look to the Lord to open up the areas of ministry that are right for you and that there are always ways in which you can serve God, whether or not some things are shut off from you.’ Her persistence is following her conviction that she was to serve.

It really is amazing how God weaves one’s life together

Tell me about a time when you knew you had a calling?

We are in Rose’s sitting room on an early spring day. Outside the street is quiet, the gardens blooming with spring flowers. I’ve brought Jen Clarke to meet her. Jen is in her twenties, studying at Scottish School of Christian Mission for a Certificate of Higher Education in Theology (Pioneer Ministry). She trained as a professional dancer, she has an interest in performance and above all, she wants to dedicate her life to serving God. However, she is not sure yet what form this will take. Jen says, ‘All I know is that I am a creative person and I want to use my gifts.’

Rose remembers how she was called. She portrays her teenage self as a blue-stocking, captivated by Marxism, and proud of her erudition. She was challenged by a friend to learn about the Bible with the words, “You are really quite ignorant about Christian matters!”. Rose, more than a little annoyed, flew to the New Testament, and read it three times in two weeks. At the end of that time she was convinced that the Lord is alive and truly God. ‘The Lord asks for radical disciple-ship. This realisation was built into the point I was converted. I also quite soon had a sense that I must work in Asia. A few years later in the Philippines I was discipling students who were surrounded by committed Marxists, some being converted out of that, and, you know, it really is amazing how God weaves one’s life together because, due to my early experiences, I understood Marxist logic and I was able to talk to them about what they believed.’

I felt very alone

After you heard a call, what did you do next?

Jen says, ‘Next? I cried even more! I felt very alone. I knew I needed to seek out other people, but many people do not answer the call, so there were few I could talk to. Our church runs a school in Africa and I felt pressed to go. I was a youth worker, running bible clubs, and teaching for a month. I returned again to Africa, to Kenya and Ghana. When I finally came home I learned about a place in Brazil where they work with young girls using dance and performance skills. I emailed them and ended up there for 6 months. Later, I travelled to Amsterdam and Cambodia. At the time it was hard watching my friends lead lives surrounded by boyfriends, family and friends; but I knew my path was different.’
When she thinks of her next steps Rose seems astonished by the nerve of her younger self. ‘I was not initially part of any church and I was fairly isolated. I started a small Bible group with no training. I dread to think of what I made of it. Later, I spotted a notice while I was studying English in Bristol University. It was for an evening class to help lay people become non-stipendiary ministers and I asked if I could join the class. It was a brilliant theological training, but hard work studying for a Diploma and a degree at the same time. After three years in student ministry in England, I joined OMF and went to Manila, where Dick and I married and worked together. I was training national staff-workers and students. Together with them we also planted two churches. We also ran evening courses for young graduates to help them, in a very young society, lead their churches better. When I was abroad I was accepted as a woman teacher; the difficulties arose when I came home. Since then, I have found God constantly weaving together experience from all down the years, in many countries, and through many strands of ministry. He doesn’t waste things!’

I ask Jen if she feels that she had met with resistance to her calling. She thinks carefully, at first she says, ‘I don’t think so. I am privileged to be living in a more enlightened time,’ but then she reflects, ‘I was at a pioneer ministry conference recently and I was amazed at how many older men were there! Not many young women.’ Jen says, ‘I try to keep in mind those things that first called out to me, and I try not to get distracted by people.’ Jen and Rose exchange smiles as they talk perhaps realising that they have more in common than they first thought. They both have been called to persist and to serve.

Blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen

Tell me about studying the bible and how you made practical use of your theological learning?

Rose suddenly remembers something: ‘There is a lovely mistranslation in the King James Bible “and I, being in the way, the Lord led me…” Genesis 24:27. ‘It’s quite wrong of course, but I love the wisdom of learning by being, and the way the Lord builds our lives step by step.’ Jen agrees, ‘I think it’s important not just to learn but live out your faith.’ Rose says, ‘Sometimes you only see the pattern of God’s calling looking back. While you are in the middle it can seem like chaos, but you learn by being in a situation as well as thinking about it, and you go from there.’
Rose continues, ‘I think sometimes, in the modern church, that we are in danger of making faith virtually a spectator sport. We have to prove ourselves before we are entrusted with actually doing anything. We are looking for people with experience but not allowing people to become experienced.’ Jen responds, ‘Faith is not just to be studied: faith is life. It’s so important to bring together the practice of living out your faith together with theological study.’

Jen describes her course. ‘My course is for a year but I would love it to go on longer. I’m encouraged by the fact that, the more I learn, the more I know I am doing the right thing. I like the story of Bezalel in Exodus.’ Jen refers to, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel… and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver— by any sort of workman or skilled designer” (Ex 35:30-35 ESV). Jen continues, ‘Studying solidified my conviction that I don’t have to force myself into the conventional mould of being a minister, and yet my creative gifts can be of real use.’

We cannot wait for them to come to us

Tell me about the challenges you face now?

Jen: ‘The walls of the church have grown too thick. I chose to study pioneer ministry because faith is lived out nine to five, not just Sundays.’ Rose responds ‘One of my sons is an ordained Anglican minister in Sunderland. He spends a day every fortnight in the place of work of someone in his congregation. He describes this as some of the best work he has done, both for himself and others. Worship does not have to be in a familiar church building.’ Jen agrees: ‘Our challenge is to go to where people are. We cannot wait for them to come to us.’
Rose: ‘Children brought up on Bible stories may reach 12 or 13 years and overnight find themselves in an aggressively secular setting in secondary school. The mainstream churches are out of touch with younger generations, how their lives are being shaped, their world view, their thought system. We have to grapple with faithfulness and scripture in a way that makes sense to them. If ever there was a need for deep teenage apologetics, it is now. Also we need to understand why some churches, like the ethnic churches, some reformed churches, the charismatic and the Pentecostal churches are growing, while others are not.’
Jen: ‘I think we put missionaries and pastors into a box and they can be forced to become someone they are not. If that happens they will burn out. Instead we should be looking at the talents every individual has to offer. That’s what matters.’

A fully-orbed, faith-growing training

What can a training college do that will help people on their mission?

Rose: I think the best training is always one that engages the whole person: mind, heart, all the senses, and that constantly comes back to seeking to shape students for godly living and spiritual growth and effectiveness. It is important to stretch every fibre of intellect – ignorant or slipshod Christians will easily be led astray into error or foolish behaviour – and good training will instil a love of life-long learning and study. But if it stops with the intellect, it can easily become detached and more like philosophy than faith, so good training always presses the student to apply that study and to see how one’s life is to be changed and refined by it, and how it interprets and weighs up the surrounding culture so that one can speak and live gospel truth into it. In my experience, the very best forms of training combine study with active ministry, bathed in worship and prayer. Training places are under huge pressure to conform to academic standards set by secular authorities, and they of course are not at all interested in anything spiritual and transformational or faith-based. So I hope SSCM will hold its nerve and insist on fully-orbed, faith-growing, training. And because our discipleship and growth in faith and ministry should be progressive all our lives long, I hope SSCM will encourage people to dip back in at regular intervals to study some more. In particular we need to work very hard in understanding how the Scriptures speak into our changing culture, and thus equipping us for effective evangelism and living out robust faith in every dimension of life – family, workplace, neighbourhood, wider society, etc, not just in safe church circles. SSCM needs to ensure students have experienced mentors who are also themselves learning and growing, and exploring fresh ways of communicating God’s truth.
Jen: They can accept people as they are, offering opportunities to help them discover and grow into who God intended them to be.
As our interview draws to a close and night falls we say goodbye. On the way back in the car Jen and I talk about all the things that have been discussed, particularly the Mystery Plays, that bring the Gospel into people’s lives, through humour and drama. I am reminded of what Jen said earlier that day. “There was a time that the church led the way to recreate Bible stories that people could understand. We need to be leading that way again to reach hearts”.
Preparing for Adoption

Preparing for Adoption


For those who know me well, you will know that I am part of a church that has recently welcomed adopted children into its midst.  The charity Home for Good (launched by the Evangelical Alliance) has labelled this Sunday ‘Adoption Sunday’.  Therefore this post aims to provide a theological rationale for why Christians might be involved in adoption and how churches can prepare for welcoming adopted children into the wider church family.

There are many reasons why children may enter our care system. For some it may be due to the death of parents, for others they may be the victims of abuse, and for others the birth parents or other family members may not have the skills or ability to provide a safe environment.  In any of these cases, the child is essentially orphaned (often translated in the Bible as fatherless) as there is no-one deemed able to provide the appropriate environment of safety, care and wellbeing for the child.

Throughout both testaments in our scriptures we see the care of widows and orphans as a recurring theme.  These include:

  • Their care as a form of religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27)
  • Looking after orphans as a reason to be respected by others (Job 29:12 & 31:6-8)
  • We are commanded not to take advantage of them (Exodus 22:22) but rather to provide for them (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), defend them and uphold their cause (Psalm 82:3)

In addition, we are given an image of God as a father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) who sustains them (Psalm 146:9 & 10:14).  Likewise, we are also given examples of people like Mordecai whom, “when [Esther’s] father and mother died, Mordecai had raised her as if she were his own daughter.” (Esther 2:7)

Given such an emphasis, you might assume that adoption is endorsed, if not encouraged, within the scriptures.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  Within the Jewish tradition, legal adoption, the legal process by which adoptive parents become as if the child was born to them as birth parents, is not recognised[1].  Such a legal process is thought to separate the children from their genetic familial ties, whereas Jewish law states that that the status of birth parents is permanent.  In contrast long-term fostering, which still acknowledges biological parenthood but enables others to be the primary caregiver, is both recognised and honoured and may even be classed as “special, sacred, a manifestation of holiness, and covenantal.[2]

Whilst the Christian and Jewish traditions are clearly linked and share a number of similarities, Christians take a different approach.  If we read the birth accounts in the gospels, the most extensive of which are in Matthew and Luke, we encounter Mary who “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).  Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife and to take on all the parental rights and responsibilities of the child (Jesus), including naming him and raising him as his own.  In essence, Joseph adopts Jesus.

Also in the New Testament, we ourselves are given the designation of children of God[3] with all the associated rights and responsibilities[4] as if we are born of God[5].  Given this, Christians might be expected to have some empathy with those who are adopted and to care for them, in much the same way as those who are Jewish are expected to have empathy for foreigners in their land as they were once foreigners exiled in other lands.

Due to our own adopted status and being followers of Jesus, Christians have good grounds to both endorse and encourage adoption, but the question begs how we might do this practically in our congregations.  The following are a number of suggestions from the experience of one congregation, to which many more could be added:

  1. Release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities

It may be obvious to state that adoptive parents are going through significant life adjustments; in practice the rest of the congregation also needs to adapt in order to release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities.  Even before the children arrive, the new parents have a lot of their time taken up with preparation groups, meetings (e.g. with social workers, health professionals, educational professionals, foster parents and perhaps even birth parents) and even decorating bedrooms etc.  Therefore it is important to speak with them well in advance of any adoption and be realistic about what Church responsibilities need to be taken on by others at the different stages of the adoption process.

  1. Offer practical support

Throughout the process there are lots of opportunities to offer practical support; however the prospective adoptive parents may be too shy or reserved to ask.  In adoption, children might arrive with an array of toys and clothes, whilst others could arrive with virtually nothing.  As a result, such practical support might include financial support, providing second hand furniture, clothes or toys, assistance in decorating or building flat-packed furniture, or even providing a haven with a cup of tea.  As each situation is very different, it is worthwhile the church asking someone who is close to the family to be a liaison for them in order to establish what is needed and then on their behalf mobilise others.

  1. Avoid the tilted heads and cheesy grins

The church may have known about, and been praying for, the family’s adoption journey for many months, if not years.  Therefore the church shares in the joys of the forming of this new family, but this needs to be done sensitively.  It is often inappropriate to make announcements from the pulpit welcoming this new adopted family as this may make the family feel more awkward (especially if they are not used to attending church).  Likewise, there is a tendency for members of the congregation to stare at the family with their heads tilted to one side and a cheesy grin (often accompanied with a silent ‘Awww’).  Whilst in one sense the family may be delighted that the church are sharing in this journey, it can also make them feel very self-conscious.

  1. Flexibility in children’s work

Children who are adopted may come from a range of backgrounds and have just undergone significant trauma, even if it is simply in moving from foster care to new adoptive parents.  Such trauma can mean that their social, emotional or cognitive skills might not be at the same level as their age peers.  As most churches divide their children’s work into different age categories, this means that the child might not actually be at the same stage as others their age and flexibility needs to be exercised.  After some time with the children, the adoptive parents will have a sense of what they can cope with or not and therefore it is worth asking them which level may be best for the children, if indeed it is appropriate for them to participate at all.

  1. Don’t expect to the family to regularly attend

Having journeyed with the adoptive parents on the adoption journey, there is an implicit expectation for the family to attend regularly at church.  Whilst the family may wish to, there may be a host of reasons why this may not be helpful.  It may be that the children are not used to large gatherings such as church.  The children may have social, emotional or behavioural challenges which might mean they are a distraction to others.  If a parent is employed during the week then the weekends become a very precious time to be spent bonding with the child and church services may not be conducive to this.

  1. Pray for them

Adoption is a significant life change for parents and children alike and can be a trying and difficult time.  It is important then that the congregation is encouraged to pray for them privately and, if appropriate, in prayer meetings.

These are just some suggestions in order to start the thought process. This Adoption Sunday, it is worth asking what changes your church has to make in order to welcome adoptive families into your midst.

Graeme McMeekin

[1] Broyde, M J, ‘Adoption, Personal Status, and Jewish Law’ in Jackson TP (Ed.), 2005 The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological Theological, and Legal perspectives. Cambridge: Eerdmaans. p129
[2] Broyde, 2005: 139
[3] John 1:12; Romans 8:14-19 & 9:8; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2
[4] Galatians 4:5-7; Romans 8: 14-19
[5] 1 John 3:9

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Part 2: The Church & Her Witness

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Part 2: The Church & Her Witness


My last blog post was based on the small book by the Reformed/Pentecostal scholar James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.[1] In this I outlined his analysis of three major philosophers who have shaped Western culture in the 21st Century. Once properly understood, Smith contends, they become allies of and not obstacles to Christian witness. I want to summarise Smith’s arguments for the Church’s opportunities in postmodernity.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) is considered the father of deconstructionism, a term often understood negatively. Smith maintains however that Derrida’s intention is not destructive; rather it is to make the case for interpretation as the means by which we all – including scientists – perceive and understand the world. Derrida thus challenges the claims of empirical objectivity which have dominated Western Enlightenment culture from the 17th Century (Descartes and Hume) until the 20th Century (Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer).
This opens a space for us to question all those current assertions which claim to be universal facts, not interpretations, and allows for the possibility of other constructions, including that of the Christian narrative. The postmodern loss of objectivity, says Smith, “does not entail a loss of boldness about the truth of the gospel” (p51), for our knowledge of God does not come from ‘proofs’, but from His self-giving (revelation) to us. Furthermore our witness does not rest on rationalistic persuasion, but on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit.
Derrida argues – in the light of deconstruction – that genuine interpretation comes from corporate sources, i.e it is something done in community, with others. This chimes with the Bible’s emphasis on that ‘host of witnesses’ (Heb 12:1) past and present, local as well as global, who continue to shape the Christian confession in conjunction with our prophetic voice.

The scepticism of François Lyotard (1924-1988) was aimed at the widely-accepted rationalistic/humanistic metanarratives of social progress (Kant and Marx), as well as those of the scientific enterprise which have dominated modernity. Smith cites the work of the American physicist/philosopher Thomas Kuhn (1922 – 1996), who argued that scientific knowledge depends on ‘paradigms’ which in themselves are forms of belief; a “matter of faith” (p71).[2]
Smith suggests that the suspicion of rationalistic metanarratives presents a unique opportunity for Christian witness (p70). The postmodern scepticism of autonomous reason allows us to promote the ancient Augustinian contention for “faith preceding reason” (p72). In other words, faith is the ground or basis of all comprehension, including that of scientific discovery.
Following Lyotard’s  argument for the narrative construct of knowledge, Smith reminds us of the narrative character of Christian revelation which should be repeated with joy in a ‘story-telling church’ in worship and in lives lived together; this in turn becomes a dynamic aspect of our witness.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984), in his study of prison discipline, aims a general critique at all structures – prisons, schools, hospitals, churches – in which privileged knowledge functions primarily as a means of power. Smith argues passionately that the 21st Century Christian church, so often the perpetrator of abusive manipulation, should strive to display the servant image of Christ: the “renewed image bearers of God” (p106).

I end with an illustrative story. A number of years ago I had the privilege of baptising a lady of 86. A member of the Communist Party in her youth and a convinced atheist all of her days, she came under the influence of a caring Christian house-group in her later years.  One day, looking around at her beloved small garden, she mused to herself “there must be a God: this beauty cannot be an accident”! At that moment “everything fell into place”, and was the beginning of a journey to Christ. It was not, as some might suggest, that she had capitulated to the irrational, but that by conviction of the Holy Spirit she realised another more plausible narrative was possible. The Christian narrative is one we can continue to tell and gain a hearing for in our postmodern society.

Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry

[1] James K.A. Smith (2006), Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic
[2] See also the writings of the Hungarian-British polymath/philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), e.g. Knowing and Being (1969), who argued that all knowing takes place within the context of personal commitment.

The upwardly-mobile, syncretistic city

The upwardly-mobile, syncretistic city


Urban environments present their own unique challenges to the purposes of the gospel in bringing about lasting transformation. One of those is undoubtedly a syncretistic tendency that is particularly, and sometimes peculiarly, framed, shaped and nuanced by factors that make a city a city. They are usually quite subtle in their presentation, much more than the kind of blatant religious-tradition mixing that has no intent of camouflaging its agenda of social and theological blending for the purposes of easing caustic tensions or rendering a less demanding template of discipleship. Rather, they rear their head in the form of compliance with a form of liberal democracy that exonerates the wealthy and excuses them from more holistic social responsibility.

It is for this very reason that David Smith reminds us of the praxis orientation of some of the more noteworthy of the non-Pauline contributors to the New Testament (David Smith, Liberating the Gospel: Translating the Message of Jesus in a Globalised World, 109-115).[i] Smith approaches it with the urgent question as to “what saving faith in Christ crucified actually does”. The Letter of James, for example, does not hesitate to raise the economic stakes of gospel application by confronting the urban gentrification problems that follow in the wake of business purposes that blend in with the city and its culture, but in ways that leave the poor humiliated to an even greater degree (4:13). James decries this as an unacceptable mode of syncretistic mixing for those whose loyalties are to “the Lord of Sabaoth” (5:4).

John’s apocalyptic emphasis in Revelation, as Smith further and rightly suggests, has much of the same in view. Cultural blending in the Christian community, while John dwelt in exile on the isle of Patmos, had become not only commonplace, but was of such an insidious nature that it was not always easily detected, even though it was not any less extreme because of it. It took the form of accommodation to the necessary idols of a distorted capitalistic vision that was zealously caricatured as the fruit of the blessing of God, while at the same time giving scant attention to, much less critique of, the imperial motivations of Roman power that was its true beneficiary. This state of affairs was, in fact, the likely reason that John felt the necessity of resorting to an apocalyptic genre in the first place. It is not without significance, therefore, that John incorporates a serious note of stridency when he repeatedly refers to ‘Babylon’ in terms of her enticing (and money-exchanging) harlotries (Rev 17:5).

It is, in fact, the capitalistic susceptibility of urban modes of conflation that predisposes them, I suggest, to a type of mixing and matching that challenges a more rigorous understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ and its capacity to provoke transformation. Cities inherently promote the possibilities of entrepreneurial agendas that are rife with hopes of a better future. These hopes, however, are not always well placed and are certainly not always altruistic. They very easily deteriorate into solipsistic ventures that reap collective disparity in terms of rights, advantages, and the various factors that end up being determinative of who and who is not important. Pursuits of this kind require assessment, therefore, that does not hesitate to question both social and individual criteria of value.

The good news of the kingdom, among other things, is a hopeful enquiry into and an eventual declaration of ultimate value; where it lies and what is its source. It cannot concede, then, to the levelling effect of any form of syncretism, whether overt and programmatic, or to more sly versions that come in the guise of the reasonability of upward mobility that determines value solely on the basis of productivity. Concession of this sort may appear conciliatory and therefore advantageous. But it colludes with culture in such a way that robs the gospel of its central place in advocating for urban health and broader, more equitable happiness. The gospel, in fact, is emancipative in nature, freeing the imaginative capacity that continually seeks expression in the even nobler objective of the shalom purposes of God. It is a gospel, in other words, that rejects syncretistic temptations not in spite of, but in the interest of and for the sake of the city.

Dr Wesley White

Learn how to act bibically, theologically and reflectively in mission in the city by studying for our MA in Theology (Urban Mission).

[i] Use the code “SSCM” at the checkout for a 25% discount

Is there a Christian perspective on immigration?

Is there a Christian perspective on immigration?


Over a million Polish people have moved to the UK since 2004. European cities like London, Paris and Madrid have 60-70 nationalities living in single neighbourhoods. Jesus himself was an asylum seeker, and Abraham (the father of all who have faith) was an economic migrant. How (and why) should Christians ‘welcome the stranger’?

The population mix of the UK, along with almost every other European country, has changed dramatically in the space of two generations. Mass immigration began shortly after World War Two and really took off in the 1960s. In the UK, immigrants came first from Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Trinidad, later from the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and more recently from East and West African countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Ghana and Nigeria. Spain has received huge immigration from all across Latin America, as has France from its former colonies in North and Central Africa and the Caribbean. There are an estimated 3½ million people of Turkish origin living in Germany. Around 150,000 (mainly white) South Africans have moved to the UK in the last 15 years, and since 2004 almost 1 million Polish people have joined them. The 2011 census indicated that 13% of the population of England and Wales was born outside the country, with over one third of London’s population (3 million out of 8.1 million) having done so.[i]

This kind of migration is not new, of course, and has been going on for the whole of human history. In the last two centuries, millions of inhabitants of the British Isles emigrated to live in what we now call the United States of America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and more recently to the south of France and coastal Spain.

And such migration is not without its opponents. Immigration controls are frequently discussed and occasionally implemented by European governments, as we saw in 2015 after the massive influx of Syrian refugees into Europe through Greece. The electoral success of right-wing parties like UKIP, and the success of the Leave campaign in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in June 2016, reflects the disquiet of many who consider themselves to be disadvantaged by such inward migration.

As we reflect on this and consider what our response should be as Christians to this reality, it is important for us to be clear in our minds about the difference types of migration that exist. Not every immigrant is the same as the other.

The first group, which sometimes stir up the ire of certain parts of the media, are refugees and asylum seekers. Not that they are really one group. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things. Refugees are clearly defined by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (further extended in 1967) as those who leave their country or are unwilling to return because of “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. It does not apply to those who move within their own country for the same reasons, nor to those who leave their country because of armed conflict or famine. Refugee status is a legally-defined and protected status, for good reason. An asylum seeker, by contrast, is someone who has left their country for one or more of the above reasons and whose claim for refugee status is currently being assessed. Vulnerable and less-protected in law, yet making a journey to another country because of threats to their wellbeing, it is hard to understand why they are sometimes so vilified.

A second type of migrant is the person who has moved within their own country. Such people are sometimes referred to as Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs. The term is usually used to refer to those who have moved against their will, for reasons of war or famine, for example. As well as the 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq[ii] as a result of the ongoing civil war, there are an estimated 6.6 million IDPs within Syria itself [iii]. Other forms of internal migration might be freely chosen. There are an estimated 130-140 million Chinese people who have moved from rural areas to work in the booming industrial cities and who return home each February for the two-week New Year celebrations (and we complain about Bank Holiday traffic in our country!). Long-term internal migration in the British Isles is evident from the number of people who moved from the English regions or Scotland, Wales and Ireland to London and the southeast of England, mainly for employment reasons. As someone from the north of England who has lived both near London and in Scotland, I can confirm that I have felt like a migrant in both places.

This relates to a third form of migration, people who are usually called economic migrants. And there are several versions of this. These can be skilled professionals (such as the many doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in the UK’s National Health Service); they may be unskilled, temporary or seasonal workers (the UK’s agricultural industry would grind to a halt without the annual influx of workers from Eastern Europe and Portugal to pick our potatoes, sugar beet and strawberries); or they may be irregular migrants (the much-vilified “illegal immigrants”), who frequently end up in low-paid demeaning jobs on the margins of the ‘black economy’, with all the associated personal vulnerability and risk, and yet who endure this in order to earn money to send back home to their families.

In the modern nation state, ideas of citizenship divide people into ‘friends’ (us, on our side of the border) and ‘enemies’ (them, on the other side of the border). But migrants are ‘strangers’, because they cross the (border)line. So are they friends, or are they enemies? There have usually been two responses to this dilemma; assimilation or ghettoization. With assimilation, the migrant/stranger is invited to become “one of us”. In the 17th century, tens of thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants) fled persecution in France and settled in the UK[iv]. But today we do not have a large, indigenous, settled French-speaking minority in our country[v]. They have been thoroughly assimilated and integrated, becoming part of British society. In the 19th century, a similar number of Jewish people moved to the UK from central and Eastern Europe and a similar degree of integration has since taken place. Ghettoization, by contrast, is a form of quarantine, whereby migrants live closely together and there is less integration with wider society. The large and visible Pakistani and Indian populations in towns and cities like Southall, Hounslow, Leicester and Bradford would suggest that, on the whole, these migrants have ghettoised rather than assimilated. The very wide geographical distribution of recent Polish migrants to the UK indicates they may be more likely to assimilate over time. However, they are also likely to retain close links with family back in Poland, and so neither ghettoisation nor assimilation is likely to be successful. The ‘stranger’, it would seem, is here to stay.

The political, sociological and economic arguments around migration are complex, diverse and sometimes heated. So what does the Bible have to say to us about the responsibility of God’s people towards foreigners and other outsiders in their midst?


Abraham, the father of all who have faith (Gal 3:7) was a migrant himself, firstly from Ur to Harran, and later down into Canaan and Egypt. Much later, as Moses prepared the people of Israel to enter the promised land of Canaan, he told then to recite the following, “my father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5). It may seem odd that Jacob is referred to as such, but as Abraham’s grandson he had family links in Harran (or Paddam Aram, as the region was called at the time). Both his wives, Leah and Rachel, were his cousins on his mother’s side from that area (Gen 28:1-5; 29:1-30). The people of Israel were themselves a hybrid, mixed, multi-ethnic group and not all of them could claim direct descent from Jacob and his sons (Ex 12:37-38). They were instructed to remember their origins as immigrants in Egypt and nomads in the desert, and to treat immigrants among them accordingly (Lev 19:33-34; 23:33-43). When they would in future bring the firstfruits of the harvest to God, they were to remember their origins and ensure that foreigners among them shared in that blessing (Deut 26:1-11).

The Old Testament seems to make a distinction between different types of foreigner within Israel and allows for some kind of differential response, within limits. There were foreigners (nokrim), temporary workers (toshav), and those who came to stay (gerim), usually translated as ‘resident alien’ or ‘the foreigner residing among you’.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal. No foreigner (nokri) may eat it. Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident (toshav) or a hired worker may not eat it …… A foreigner residing among you (ger) who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you”. (Ex 12:43-45,48-49)

Other distinctions could be made on historical grounds.  Deut 23:3-8 makes a sharp distinction between Moabites and Ammonites on the one hand, and Egyptians and Edomites on the other, largely on the basis of their behaviour towards Israel but also because of ethnic affinity.

Among the Hebrew words used for outsiders, nokrim refers to those who had no link to the land or people of Israel and who were generally regarded with fear and loathing (the Moabites and Ammonites being a case in point). They could not participate in Israel’s worship (Ex 12:43), they could be charged interest on loans (Deut 23:20), and these loans were not cancelled during Sabbath years (Deut 15:2-3). But they were not always viewed in the negative, as Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple indicates:

“As for the foreigner (nokri) who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name – for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner (nokri) asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name”. (1 Ki 8:41-43)

The gerim, by contrast, were those who came to stay. Perhaps best translated as ‘resident aliens’, these were the outsiders who were committed to the social life of Israel and who are usually mentioned alongside the poor, the widow and orphan as being deserving of special care, perhaps because of their vulnerable place in society. They were included in Israel’s worship (Ex 12:48), were given equal rights to justice (Deut 24:17), were protected from economic exploitation (Ex 20:9-10), and were expected to conduct themselves in the same way as native Israelites (Num 15:29-30). Mistreatment of these ‘resident aliens’ is one of the reasons given for Israel’s exile (Ezek 22:6-7,29; Jer 7:4-7), and matters did not seem to improve in this regard after the return from exile (Zech 7:8-10; Mal 3:5).

These and other nuances are illustrated by the story of Ruth who, although a Moabite, was accepted into Israel (notwithstanding Moses’ command in Deut 23:3-8), and who ultimately became one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ (Matt 1:5). Her first husband Mahlon was an Israelite economic migrant from Bethlehem to Moab (Ruth 1:1-5) (showing that care of foreigners can work both ways). Once widowed, Ruth’s decision to join her mother-in-law in Bethlehem suggests a degree of cultural integration (“your people will be my people and your God my God”, Ruth 1:15-17). But this attempt at integration was not wholly successful (Ruth 2:6,10) until her second marriage to Boaz (Ruth 4:11-12). Perhaps immigration and social cohesion issues were as complex and varied in ancient Israel as they are for us today.

What can take from all this, for our thinking and actions as Christians in response to the issues around migration in the UK (and across Europe) today? Old Testament laws are not binding upon Christians, and still less upon the modern secular nation state. But those laws do reflect the first ever contextual attempt to live in obedience to God (by the people of Israel) and they also reflect something of God’s character. And so they can inform advocacy by Christians towards government policy, as well as action by churches. There is a concern for social cohesion and for the integration of the outsider, as well as for the social protection of the vulnerable migrant. There is however no obvious awareness of multiculturalism in the modern sense.

The New Testament

At first glance, the New Testament doesn’t appear to provide us with much help. Jesus’ short three-year ministry stands in stark contrast to the centuries of history we read about in the Old Testament. The apostolic letters to the churches scattered across the Roman Empire address the concerns of small and nascent Christian communities afloat in a sea of empire, rather than issues relating to national governance or civic community relations.

However, we could note that Jesus had his own early life experience as an asylum seeker (Matt 2:13-21), when his parents fled to Egypt from Bethlehem to escape Herod’s murderous paranoid rage. We don’t know if he was granted full refugee status, but on balance it seems unlikely. In his teaching, in the well-known parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46), he commends those who welcome the stranger. We use this Greek word xenos in our word xenophobia, and the inference in clear. Jesus expects us to welcome the foreigner, not to reject him or her.

“As citizens of heaven, live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Php 1:27)
“Our citizenship is in heaven” (Php 3:20)

These two brief statements come from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In the first century AD, Philippi was a Roman colony near Thessalonica. It was populated by Roman ex-legionaries who on retirement had been given land around the city and who served as army reservists on the imperial frontier. Few, if any, Jewish people lived there. There was no synagogue for Paul to speak in (his usual practice) and there are few allusions to the Old Testament in his letter (since it would be unknown and meaningless to Paul’s readers). The language of the city was Latin, not Greek, and it was proud of its Roman identity. Just how important this Roman identity was can be illustrated by the consequences of Paul and Silas’ first visit there (Acts 16:12-24). Following the conversion of Lydia, Paul performs an exorcism on a fortune-telling slave. Distressed at their loss of a profitable income stream, her owners protested; “these men are Jews and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (v20-21). On both this occasion and later, Paul used his Roman citizenship to good effect. Imprisoned on a public order offence as a consequence of the above riot, the magistrate has to appease Paul when he learns that both Paul and Silas are both Roman citizens (Acts 16:35-39). This same citizenship later allowed him to escape a public flogging (and probable summary execution) in Jerusalem (Acts 22:22-29).

The power of Paul’s injunction to the Philippian believers thus becomes apparent. Loyal citizens who had been rewarded well for their service to Rome, Paul twice reminds them not to be too tightly bound to their national and local loyalties. This seems to me that it can sum up what is foundational to a Christian response to the kind of contemporary migration described above. Israel, as a migrant nation, was to show kindness to migrants. Jesus, whom we follow, was an asylum seeker himself. And Paul, the Roman citizen, recognised that he had bigger loyalties.

What then should we do?

God’s people are those who, like Abraham, are on the move, not rooted to this earth (Heb 11:8-10,14-16). We are expected to show kindness and compassion to the vulnerable, including the foreigner among us. In the light of this, how should Christians and churches respond?

Acceptance and friendship would seem to be a priority. I used to live near London, and had two Polish families among my near neighbours. They were keen to chat, to improve their English, and to accept hospitality when offered. Research indicates that what recent Polish migrants to the UK want among other things is acceptance by and friendship with the natives (that’s us, by the way). At the same time, a significant number of Pakistani families lived nearby and I coached a number of their children at football at a local primary school. This helped to establish relationships that continued with those boys for many years. Hospitality, it would seem, is an underappreciated and yet vital Christian ministry for those who wish to welcome the stranger. Churches can also provide help with English classes, as well as advice and guidance on access to welfare and housing services. Many migrants are very vulnerable in the event of personal setbacks, as they do not always have the knowledge or the social networks to support them through such times.

Perhaps our attitude and our behaviour can be summarised by Mathetes (“A Disciple”), the writer of the second-century AD Letter to Diognetus;

“(Christians) live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers” (Ep. Diog. 5).

As I read numerous calls on social media for us to pull together and work, post-Brexit, to make Britain ‘great’ again[vi], my reading of the New Testament and of early Christian writings suggests that such forms of nationalism are ill-becoming of us as Christians. Mathetes summarises in three short sentences an attitude, drawn from Old and New Testaments alike, which can inform, guide and correct us as we try, in the words of Gandalf[vii], to live well in the times we have been given.

Richard Tiplady

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/dec/11/2011-census-data-key-points
[ii] http://syrianrefugees.eu/
[iii] http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/figures-analysis
[iv] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-week-the-huguenots-count-among-the-most-successful-of-britains-immigrants-10330066.html
[v] The quarter million French people living and working in London, mainly in financial services, do not count because they are neither indigenous or settled http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26823489
[vi] Not only do the unconscious echoes of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric make this unsettling, it draws on a common misunderstanding of the meaning of the term ‘Great Britain’. It’s a geographical term (referring to the largest of the British Isles), not a qualitative one. I blame the parents. And the teachers. And the media (probably).
[vii] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/12357-i-wish-it-need-not-have-happened-in-my-time

Is post-Brexit reconciliation even a possibility?

Is post-Brexit reconciliation even a possibility?


The immediate aftershocks of the success of the Leave campaign in the EU referendum in the UK have been wide-ranging and surprising. Political careers have been ruined, intergenerational tensions have been stirred, and there has been an upsurge in reports of racist incidents.

The closeness of the referendum result (51.9% to 48.1%) has revealed deep fractures in opinion across every part of society, including within the Church. There have been calls for reconciliation between and by Christians on different sides of the Leave/Remain chasm, and I have seen numerous references on social media to Christians having the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ or being ‘peacemakers’. I have also seen comments by friends on social media who have advised Remain supporters to ‘get over it’ (unhelpful) or ‘to accept the result and work together to make a better Britain’ (more constructive, but not taking full account of the loss and grief felt by many Remainers).

Anyone who has read my recent blog posts or Facebook feed will know that I am a convinced Remainer. I don’t fully understand or agree with the reasons for my Leaver friends’ views, just as they don’t fully understand or agree with mine. The mere fact of the referendum has revealed very deep differences in our country (including within the Church and between Christians, many of whom have been lifelong friends), differences which have been exacerbated by the way in which much of the campaigning was fought. And the Remainers are not going to be able to ‘shake it off’ easily. Even as I write these words, a huge demonstration is taking place in London against Brexit.

So what do we do about this? Do we have anything to say to this as Christians, or are we just as involved as everyone else in the debate, with nothing distinctive to add? What does it even mean to be a peacemaker, or to have a ministry of reconciliation, when we’re just as divided on this matter as everyone else?

A model of reconciliation developed by American Mennonite Christian and Professor of International Peacebuilding, John-Paul Lederach, might help us. In the 1980s he worked on peace-making projects in Central America, and his work was used in reconciliation initiatives between Israel and the PLO, and also in Northern Ireland. He based his model on Psalm 85, which can be read as a cry to God by a people in distress, and specifically using v10, “truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed”. [i]

In situations of conflict and resolution, Lederach argued, all four of these are necessary. Truth is needed in order to establish (as far as possible) what exactly happened, and who did what to whom. But on its own, it leaves people vulnerable and accused. Mercy, with its associated ideas of compassion and grace, brings the possibility of forgiveness and restored relationships. On its own, mercy might cover things up for the sake of a quiet life, so it needs the truth to come out, but similarly it prevents truth simply being about ‘getting even’. No wonder they need to ‘meet together’. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wherein people were pardoned as they told the truth about what they had done, is a good example of this. In the same way, justice is concerned for human rights, equality and removing the sources of the conflict, along with restitution. But it could lead to further disputes and conflict if it is not accompanied by peace, that is, a commitment to working it out together without again resorting to violence. They truly need to ‘kiss and make up’. Lederach suggests that all four are necessary for long-term reconciliation in conflict situations. One has to deal with the past, through truth and mercy, exposing what has happened and letting go in favour of renewed relationships. And one also has to look to a hopeful, alternative future (as in Psalm 85:11-13), through justice and peace, righting wrongs alongside a vision for a common, shared future.

So what could post-Brexit reconciliation look like, if we used Lederach’s model? Bearing in mind that I write this as a Remainer, and a Leaver reader might object to my reading of the situation, here’s a suggestion. [ii]

Truth gets bent during political campaigns. Each side tries to make the best case for its position and to undermine the opposition. Spin and selectivity are taken for granted. But for many, the egregious misrepresentation of Brexit leading to £350m per week becoming available for the NHS and the (hastily-withdrawn) promise that Brexit would lead to drops in immigration rankle within the Remain camp and with many beyond it. Unless and until these are owned and admitted by Leavers as falsehoods, and their perpetrators held to account in the court of public opinion, truth is not being done.

This one is tricky. We all want to be the merciful ones. It makes us feel good about ourselves. If all that Remainers do is offer to be merciful to Leavers who admit to the lies I list above, this will rankle and come across as patronising. And that will not do. But if we recognise that our English word ‘mercy’ is used to translate the Hebrew word hesed, which has also been translated as ‘loving-kindness’, then maybe we have a starting point. Passions and frustrations are still inflamed; but maybe a bit more kindness, a bit more of an attempt at mutual understanding, will get us somewhere.

A sense of injustice seems to have motivated many in the post-industrial heartlands of Wales and Northern England to have voted to Leave. Whether one thinks they were right or wrong to do so, it’s what they did. What the referendum result has done is highlight the sense of impotence and neglect felt by many in these communities. A sense of injustice breeds all kinds of resentments and grievances. Whatever else we do, the UK church can unite behind a mission to bring dignity and purpose to people in these communities, to work alongside those whom we so often overlook. The very recent death of Bob Holman, whose faith motivated him to do just this in Glasgow’s neglected Easterhouse estate, serves to highlight a life that is an example and rebuke to many of us.

Peace is the goal, the end point. But it is also a starting point. The ‘peace process’ began in Northern Ireland with a ceasefire. Peace gives space for truth, mercy and justice to grow. I have not been peaceful this week. I have been angry and upset by the result of the referendum, and by the mendacity that (it seems to me) did so much to produce that result. I have expressed this anger and frustration on social media. It needed to get out; but now it needs to go away. I am cross (understatement!) with those political leaders who produced this outcome. But I recognise that others are happy with it (just as they must recognise that I am not). And so, now I need to be a person of peace. Recognising that I may be about to make myself a hostage to fortune, I will now seek to speak peace, not anger and frustration. Not because it’s all over, but because I need to play my part in bringing truth, mercy and justice to the foreground.

And maybe then we can begin to talk about reconciliation.

Richard Tiplady

[i] This reads differently to the NIV because Lederach used a Spanish Bible (as he was in Central America). The Douay-Rheims translation (Roman Catholic) has this translation in English.
[ii] If you do object, please feel free to come up with your own suggestions. Reconciliation will only be possible if you do. We need to hear each other on these matters.

The last thing we need right now is ‘strong leadership’

The last thing we need right now is ‘strong leadership’


“So long as the people of any country place their hopes of political salvation in leadership of any description, so long will disappointment attend them” (William Lovett, Chartist leader)

Harold Wilson is famously supposed to have said that “a week is a long time in politics”. Well, in less than a week, the UK has lost a Prime Minister, Labour have lost half their front bench, Nicola Sturgeon has fired the first shots in ScottishIndyRef Two:The ReMatch, and the leading lights of the Leave campaign have admitted that they might have been a little “economical with the actualité” during the campaign and that no extra cash can be found from under the bed for the NHS and those annoying immigrants are still going to keep on coming.

Some good, clear political leadership has been shown. Nicola Sturgeon gave an open and generous speech on Friday to reassure EU citizens that they would still be welcome in Scotland, and Angela Merkel has said that she sees no need to ‘punish’ the UK by insisting on a rapid triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Long may calmer heads prevail. [i]

Now would seem to be the time for such calm and wise leadership. I have seen WB Yeats poem The Second Coming quoted on social media in the last few days; “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. And it has been quoted with good reason, for it is a common sentiment, and fear haunts our social landscape. I have also seen laments for the absence of leadership at this crucial time. But this longing for leadership is a double-edged sword. As David Sims, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, noted, “the reign of ‘leadership’ as the new alchemy continues. If there is a problem and you cannot work out what to do about it, it gets labelled a leadership problem”. All we need is the right leader to sort us out, and everything will be fine.

As French philosopher Gilles Deleuze observed, in times of political and social uncertainty, populations tend to look for strong leaders to take control and bring stability and order. Less well-known than other postmodern philosophers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, Deleuze (1925-1995) was professor of philosophy at the University of Paris (Vincennes-St Denis). Writing in the late 1960s, he noted that fascism came from a forced (and false) choice between disorder and state-imposed order. Instead, he argued, reality does not need external order to be imposed upon it, to organise and calm its supposed chaos. But the self-organising capacity of all human societies and communities carries with it a “transcendental illusion”, that is, the appearance of a transcendent organising agent who comes down from ‘on high’ to organise a chaotic situation, whereas it in fact comes from within. With Nazism, he said, it looked like Hitler swooped down to save the masses from disorder. Indeed, argued Deleuze, it is what Hitler wanted it to look like, and what he himself probably thought was the case [ii].

Instead of strong leadership, what we need right now in the UK is something that has been called distributed leadership [iii]. Strong or focussed leadership occurs when power and influence are concentrated in one person, whereas distributed leadership is a term which acknowledges that different individuals will be influential at different times. It should not be taken to imply a lack of leadership, but rather that each member of a group or community has leadership abilities that will be needed by that group from time to time. Some of these groups will be formal, whereas others will be informal or even random. In any such group, network or community, ‘leadership’ emerges as people work together in joint action.

We need this kind of leadership across the UK at this time. And I am convinced that our churches are well-placed to provide it. But to what end? One common theme among many social media posts I have seen over the past few days has been the desire expressed by Christians that we overcome our country’s disunity and seek to work together for the common good. One problem with these (perfectly reasonable) sentiments is that it is disagreement and debate about the kind of country we want to be, and what constitutes the common good, which underlies the deep divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum. But, in brief, let me suggest two areas that churches ought to be working on:

  1. Love for our neighbour. There are 3 million people from elsewhere in the EU who are living and working in the UK at the moment. In recent weeks, many of them have been made to feel deeply unwelcome in our country. That is a disgrace, and it is incumbent on us as Christians to correct this.
  2. Love for our (other) neighbour. One of the surprises that unfolded overnight on Thursday, as the referendum results rolled in, was the strong vote for Leave in the neglected communities of England and Wales, those which would have historically been thought of as the ‘Labour heartland’ and which have been bypassed by the neoliberal economic experiment of recent decades. The South Wales valleys and the deindustrialised wastelands of Scotland and northern England need a deep reengagement by our churches. Welfare is not enough; how do we help to bring dignity and purpose to the lives of people in those communities?

What we need in the UK right now is this kind of leadership. My hope and prayer is that our churches will step up and provide it at this critical time in our country’s history.

Richard Tiplady

[i] Both these calm heads are women. Just saying.
[ii] R Tiplady, Is a postmodern organisation an oxymoron?”, in R Tiplady (ed.) (2002), Postmission:World Mission by a Postmodern Generation, Carlisle:Paternoster Press
[iii] See, for example, R Bolden, Distributed Leadership, in A Marturano and J Gosling (2007), Leadership: Key Concepts, Abingdon:Routledge, or P Gronn (2008), “The future of distributed leadership”, in Journal of Educational Administration 46(2), pp141-158

My name is Richard and I am an internationalist.

My name is Richard and I am an internationalist.


My name is Richard and I’m an internationalist. There, I’ve said it. From a very early age, I was determined to travel and see the world. God used that ambition to steer me into Christian mission. It’s been my privilege to visit 44 different countries (so far), and to have worked in different roles in a global Christian mission context, which has given me friends and contacts in and from many different countries. I even married a foreigner (mind you, so did she!).

Following the catastrophe of World War Two, which was nurtured in the imperial clashes of World War One and the nationalistic resurgences of the 1930s, the world turned to internationalism. The Bretton Woods Agreement (which led to the creation of the IMF and World Bank), the Marshall Plan, NATO and the European Steel and Coal Community (the forerunner of the EEC/EU) were all examples of how the Western world sought to solve its problems. And for a while, it worked well. But it’s been creaking at the seams for quite some time. Euroscepticism is not a new word (it has dogged political debate in the UK since the late 1980s). International institutions have been seen by many as increasingly remote, unaccountable, and unconcerned for the condition of the ‘ordinary person’ (even more especially so, since the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession(s) and ‘austerity’).

In 2003, I wrote the following:

“We think of globalization as an economic phenomenon. The riots at the World Trade Organization Seattle meetings in 1999 and the G8 gathering in Genoa in 2001, books like No Logo, The Silent Takeover and The Captive State, along with counter-strikes from economists and business leaders, embody a passionate debate about the nature and source of human prosperity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The opponents of economic globalization doubt the real motives of corporations that look to move production and expand their markets into Majority World countries. Its advocates argue that ‘there is no alternative’, and that economic globalization can be made to work for the benefit of the poor as well as the rich.

“There are those who advocate globalization as a (largely) unmitigated good. They tend to define globalization in economic terms and look at the expansion of global trade, the decline in protectionism and the emergence of new markets as something that will improve not just those regions currently best placed to take advantage of the new opportunities. Eventually, all parts of the world will take a share of the increased prosperity that flows along every tributary of the new interconnected world. McDonald’s represents a good example of the contemporary homogenization of culture of such a world and its associated reduction of choice and local variation, according to George Ritzer [i]. ‘McDonaldization’ is a process by which consumer choice is rationalized and predetermined according to the principles of the fast food industry. The result – we can only have the products, and the cultural options, chosen on our behalf and offered to us by a decreasing number of global corporations. And these options are closely associated with and determined by the West, so that globalization becomes simply a euphemism for continued Western dominance of the world. Empire lives on after all, in Nike trainers and Gap khakis, smoking a Marlboro Light.

“But not everyone is convinced that such deregulation, coupled with faith in the power of the market, will benefit all. Will the rising tide really raise all boats, or just the yachts and ocean-going motor-cruisers, leaving the pedalos, rowing boats, junks, sampans and outrigger canoes behind to be swamped and flooded? Global economic systems that exploit the poor and benefit the rich. Limited cultural options that create a bland uniform world in the image of the West. No wonder globalization draws such ire. In an article entitled Jihad vs McWorld [ii], Benjamin Barber outlined a similar trend in socio-cultural terms, contrasting the ‘commercially homogenous global network’ of McWorld with ‘a threatened Lebanonization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe’. Barber called this latter sectarianism ‘Jihad’, and sees it as a reaction, an escape, from McWorld’s ‘dully insistent imperatives’. In ‘Jihad’, the emphasis is on locality, community, culture and identity over against uniformity and economic efficiency. But while Barber believed that globalization would eventually defeat the retribalization of Jihad (‘Jihad may be a last deep sigh before the eternal yawn of McWorld’), others are not so sure. The article ‘The Coming Anarchy’ [iii] by Robert Kaplan presents a frightening vision of a world torn by ethnic conflicts, ungovernable and subject to criminal anarchy. But his scenario presents ethnicity simply as a source of hatred and exclusion rather than identity and meaning, and ignores the ability of diverse peoples to co-exist.

“Western economic and cultural dominance are undeniable realities in the world today. The superb expression ‘Jihad vs McWorld’ remind us that other forces are also in play at the same time. Western elitist hegemony is being resisted. But are we being pushed into a false antithesis, forced to decide which will ultimately ‘win’: the forces of fragmentation or the forces of uniformity? Globalization, defined earlier as increasing global interconnectedness, is changing the economic, political and sociocultural contours of modern societies. There is no longer an easy and clear distinction between what is local and what is international, or what is ‘over there’ and what is ‘over here’, since what happens ‘over there’ affects and influences ‘over here’, and vice versa. And we are less and less sure where ‘here’ ends and ‘there’ begins. Globalization represents neither the incorporation of more and more societies into a single homogenized global culture nor a fragmentation and hardening of local identities. Instead, it is about the increase in options in every locality and the power available to every locality to affect other localities elsewhere. Since this is not available to all equally, it creates new patterns of power and powerlessness, in which some in each country or region become more enmeshed in a global network, whereas others in the same country or region are increasingly marginalized.

“Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay ‘The End of History’ [iv] argued that Western liberal democracy has ‘won’ because of the absence of alternatives since the demise of communism. Perhaps we would be more accurate to argue that we are now seeing ‘The End of Geography’. Our sense of space is compressed because of the speed of communication enabled by information technology, and we are increasingly used to seeing the world as a whole. But more than this, we can now no longer equate certain cultures with certain places.  Huge migratory flows have created large and diverse population variations across the world. The flow of ideas, images and products has introduced possibilities for new identity options to dominant and marginalized cultures alike. Cultures are no longer defined by place. They are deterritorialized. Globalization is leading to ‘one world’, not because it homogenizes but because the effects of geography and of distance are decreasing. We will explore the implications of this for identity and culture in a later chapter. At present, we can note that ‘home’ is an increasingly alien concept in the fluid, mobile, pluralizing world of globalization”.[v]

(Richard Tiplady, World of Difference:Global Mission at the Pic’n’Mix Counter, Carlisle:Paternoster Press, 2003), chapter 1.

This isn’t (directly) a post about the result of yesterday’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I’m writing this for my college’s website and it would be inappropriate to take a position here on behalf of the college. My own views can be read on my Facebook page (and are probably implicit in the opening line of this post). I composed this today to remind myself (and anyone who cares to read this) that the issues and trends underlying this morning’s result (a small majority for ‘leave’, and a divided and jubilant/upset country) are not new. They are deep-rooted within European and global history, and have set and will set the context for the mission of the Church for many years to come. Whatever one’s political views (and I have friends on both sides of the debate), the EU Indyref is but one symptom of much wider historical trends and flows. Neither are going away soon. The implications are too big for one blog post (that’s why I wrote a book on it). We’ve got some hard thinking to do.

Richard Tiplady

Read more at Cain and Babel: a theology of cultural diversity (chapter 3 of World of Difference:Global Mission at the Pic’n’Mix Counter)

[i] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, 1993).
[ii] Benjamin Barber, ‘Jihad vs McWorld’, The Atlantic Monthly (March 1992), reproduced in P. O’Meara, H. Mehlinger and M. Krain (eds), Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century: A Reader (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000).
[iii] Robert Kaplan, ‘The Coming Anarchy’, The Atlantic Monthly (February 1994), reproduced in O’Meara et al, Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century.
[iv] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, The National Interest 16 (Summer 1989).
[v] An issue explored in detail by Zygmunt Bauman in Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).

Do we need libraries any more?

Do we need libraries any more?


SSCM librarian Colin Wilson writes:

The building of private prisons is a huge growth industry in the United States. The industry needs to plan for future growth: how many cells are they going to need for the prisoners there are going to be fifteen years from now? They found that they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11 year-olds couldn’t read or had never been in a Library.

In a week that has seen Birmingham City Council place a pause on funding acquisitions for its public Libraries it is important to reaffirm a few suggestions why Libraries are irreplaceable.

  1. Not everything is available on the internet: The amount of information on the web has engendered the false assumption that everything can be found online. Even if Google does successfully digitize the sum of human knowledge, it is already prohibited by law to make copyrighted books fully accessible.
  1. The internet isn’t free (or digital Libraries are not the internet): Digital Libraries include materials that have been published via rigorous editorial processes and usually contain analysis, rather than opinion. These research papers and journals are virtually inaccessible to someone seeking to pull them off the web for free. Users might use the internet to find these databases but deeper access to them requires registration. You are still online, but you are no longer on the internet. You are in a Library.
  1. Libraries are adapting to cultural change: Anyone subscribing to the theories of McLuhan might think that with changed life patterns brought on by electronic technology, knowledge that was once only in books is now being liberally disseminated, rendering obsolete the austerity of Libraries. But this cultural change pre-dates use of the internet. Society has always been seeking a deeper understanding of the world, and increased access to information. The search for new methods of organizing educational structures has long been active and there is a growing movement to maximise the social and interactive nature of physical Library space. Group study, art exhibits, food and coffee, talking not whispering…
  1. Libraries are creating cultural change: The Library that most are familiar with today is at the forefront of the democratization of knowledge. Where else can people access information regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery that is readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all Library users? Libraries have broad social responsibilities and provide free and equal access to information for all people in the community the Library serves.
  1. Wisdom of Crowds is untrustworthy: The high visibility of certain viewpoints, analysis and facts found online through social networking sites is engineered to be the result of objective group consensus. Google’s algorithm hinges on this collective principle: rather than an expert deciding what resource is the most authoritative; let the web decide. In a vacuum, crowds probably are very wise. But all too often we see the caveat to Surowiecki’s crowd wisdom in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which, in this context, explains that groups are easily influenced by their vanguard, even if what they are doing is not necessarily the best idea. The highly social nature of the internet makes it highly susceptible to sensationalized, low-quality information with the sole merit of popularity. Libraries provide quality control. Only information that is carefully vetted, but never censored, is allowed in and provides a counterpoint to the fragile populism of the web.
  1. Libraries improve student results: At the recent graduation, students received special prizes for their achievements. All were in the top five Library users in terms of items issued and the breadth of subjects read during the academic year.
Church as a transforming community (part 2)

Church as a transforming community (part 2)


In my last post, I noted that I have identified four different ways that Christians have sought to define the work of the church in social transformation, each of which can draw on biblical precedents.

1. Compassion / care for those in need (Lk 10:25-37)

This first approach draws its inspiration from stories like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a clear illustration of how one should “love your neighbour as yourself” (Lk 10:27).

There are strong Old Testament precedents for this, with injunctions such as not harvesting to the very edge of your field and not taking a second harvest of olives and grapes, leaving them instead for the socially vulnerable (the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow) (Deut 24:19-21). We see this principle operating in stories like Ruth chapter 2. We also see it reflected in the story of the rich young ruler (Lk 18:18-25), who is unwilling to obey Jesus’ instruction to sell all he has and give it to the poor, leaving him to lament that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven” (v25). However else we choose to interpret this story, Jesus seems to see our ability (or not) to give away our wealth for the sake of the needy as an indicator of spiritual health.

My experience is that, on balance, Christians are quite good at this, willing to step in and help those in need. But compassion fatigue or scepticism about real need can so easily set in. And while the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Young Ruler stand as powerful indictments of our self-excused indifference, a deeper question is raised – is it just a Band-Aid or sticking plaster, dealing with symptoms rather than causes? In effect, rather than being good Samaritans helping those who have been mugged, maybe we should install traffic police on the Jericho Road?

More next month …..