“The homeless? Aren’t they the people you step over when you come out of the opera?” – politics and rough sleeping

homelessI left school in 1990 and got a job as a cleaner in central London. This involved being on the Strand, by Charing Cross Station, at 7.00am.  The extent of the rough sleeping at that time was truly incredible. There were 3-4 people sleeping under almost every doorway. Walking down a road like Villiers Street, which runs down to the Embankment, felt like going through a homeless village.  For an 18 year old from the suburbs, it was both shocking and scary.

I later went onto study Social Work at Hull University, and volunteered each week at The Hull Homeless and Rootless Project. I wrote my dissertation on the Government’s Rough Sleeper’s Initiative, the first major policy initiative focused on addressing street homelessness.  After graduation I worked in a 140-bed homeless hostel in Hackney and then went to the charity Centrepoint to manage emergency hostels for young homeless people in Soho.  Today it is my privilege to be Director of Social Work for West London Mission.

So I have engaged with this issue primarily from a practical perspective. But, I have always been interested in the political and theological issues that are connected up with homelessness.

An icon of poverty

The image of a rough sleeper is powerful and moving.   It often creates strong feelings of distress, anger, sympathy and bewilderment.  Homelessness captures something raw and fundamental about social breakdown – this is why the numbers of rough sleepers are a kind of social barometer, an indicator of wider levels of poverty and exclusion.

The rough sleeper could be described as an icon of poverty: because of the powerful way it brings together political failure and personal tragedy.

Highly political

Rough sleeping is undoubtedly highly political.  Back in the late 1980s, the Tory minister, Sir George Young reputedly said:

‘The homeless?  Aren’t they the people you step over when you came out of the opera?’

But the scale of rough sleeping in that era could not be ignored – it’s important to remember that the first Rough Sleeper Initiative was started by Margaret Thatcher’s government because of the pressure created by the sheer numbers sleeping rough around Westminster and Whitehall.  For the many critics of the government, it was an easy indicator to point to about the social outcomes of Thatcherism.

But the problem did not go away and 7 years later, Tony Blair established a Social Exclusion Unit when he became PM with one of the key targets being to cut rough sleeping by two-thirds. Then when he became Mayor, Boris Johnson pledged to eliminate rough sleeping completely by 2012. Officially, Blair was successful in reaching this target; Johnson did not get anywhere near. Despite new initiatives, the numbers sleeping rough has steadily increased year on year since 2010.

In recent days, there has been a furore surrounding Hackney council’s initiative to tackle rough sleeping which involves fining homeless people up to a £1000. An online petition against the initiative gathered over 80,000 signatories and just last week the council backed down from their proposals.

Material or relational?

3 Faces of PovertyThe issues of material poverty and a poverty of relationships are at the core of homelessness – and politics cannot be divorced from either. The diagram on the right is adapted from Jim Wallis’ analysis in Faith Works (SPCK 2002). I have not positioned or coloured these two issues by chance. It’s because of the political significance of how we view these issues.

Commentators and think tanks on the right of centre – such as the Centre for Social Justice set up by Iain Duncan Smith – place a strong emphasis on family breakdown as a cause of poverty.

Left of centre organisations, such as Church Action on Poverty, tend to focus is on material poverty, such as benefits and financial inequality.

Of course one the relationship between these two forms of poverty is dynamic – relationship breakdown creates material poverty. And we know that material poverty and financial insecurity worries are one of the key causes of relationship breakdown.  But which aspect is emphasized is strongly linked to political perspective.

Material poverty is easier to directly blame on the government – on the structures of society which create social injustice. Whereas relationship breakdown is more the realm of individual decisions and personal responsibility.  Its far more challenging to speak out about and far harder to address…

This is an excerpt from a lecture, which can be read in full here: ‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty’.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Greenbelt needs to rediscover it’s spiritual confidence

Greenbelt 2015For some people the annual Greenbelt festival, with its blend of music, arts, justice and spirituality, is an article of their faith.  It provokes a fierce devotion in those who would never dream of being anywhere else on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

But as the trustees of the festival have made clear, Greenbelt faces serious challenges.  It moved to a new site last year, costs rose and the event lost money which has meant using up their reserves. They are looking at a smaller festival this year and the future seems uncertain.

I have written before on R&R that Greenbelt has been my favourite Christian festival because of its outward focus and commitment to justice. I have been many times and cherish great memories of inspirational seminars from people like Jim Wallis, Dave Andrews and John Smith.

But the disappointing side of Greenbelt is it’s tendency to be too right-on and predictably liberal in both its politics and theology.  In terms of who is invited to speak, it definitely pushes the envelope, but only in one direction. Too often, in my experience, more conservative perspectives are sneered at rather than engaged with.

‘Guardian-reading echo chamber’

I didn’t go to last year’s festival but I saw a panel of people they had assembled to discuss poverty. From the make-up of the panel, it was hard to see where much disagreement would come from.  A friend of my mine who did attend the discussion, confirmed my concerns: ‘It was like being stuck in a Guardian-reading echo chamber.’ However worthy, no one ever finds a panel of nodding heads very exciting.

Also, the youth work I have seen, and participated in, at Greenbelt lacks the kind of conviction which brings energy and vibrancy.  In contrast to the approach of an event like Soul Survivor, there was a timidity and uncertainty about the core Christian basis of what was being shared. There needs to be more than a commitment to ‘inclusion’ to inspire and excite young people.

Fundamental questions

The Chair of the Greenbelt Trustees, Andy Turner has written honestly about the challenges facing the festival and asks some fundamental questions, including:

  1. Is there a big enough audience in the UK for a progressive festival of arts, faith and justice? Do the wider demographics of religious institutions suggest Greenbelt’s audience is disappearing? Or is a Festival like this now more necessary than ever?
  2. Is Greenbelt still needed? (10,500 people who bought tickets in 2014 think so… but are they enough?)
  3. We love the young people who attend the Festival but there’s not enough of them so how can Greenbelt become more their thing again?

Spiritual confidence

I think that fundamental to answering all these questions is the core issue of spiritual confidence. In my opinion, Greenbelt needs to re-discover its spiritual mojo. The Christian faith has been a huge part of Greenbelt’s story, and it will be fundamental to its vision going forward.

Greenbelt needs to rediscover it spiritual nerve: to be prepared to be properly radical by getting back to the roots from which it was birthed.  In many ways, the church is more than ever committed to social justice – but often the new initiatives are not coming from liberal and traditional churches. It should have more contributions from charismatic churches and learn from the spiritual vibrancy of other events like New Wine and Big Church Day Out.

The source of inclusion

Greenbelt cherishes its inclusivity. But, this inclusion comes from a divine source – it is not simply self-generated.

Christians believe that God created the abundant diversity of humanity. That each and every person is made in God’s image. And that this God continues to reach out to everyone with grace and the most inclusive love possible.

We worship a God who is radically inclusive.  But we don’t worship inclusion itself. There is a big difference: the unearned grace of God must always remain central and not be replaced by a celebration of human tolerance.  This means talking confidently about Jesus, as well as justice.

There are many examples of institutional Christianity that are dying across the country – but there are also forms of faith which are flourishing. I hope Greenbelt can re-discover its spiritual confidence and continue to be a gathering which inspires engaged, Christ-centred spirituality that makes a real difference in the world.

See Greenbelt’s website for more details about the 2015 festival.

Posted in Theology & Church | Tagged | 6 Comments

Social action, or gospel-centred mission? A story of GrowTH – by Tony Uddin

growTHYesterday in a church in East London, a cross section of the community gathered to celebrate the 5th anniversary of GrowTH, the Tower Hamlets Churches night shelter for homeless people. The place was packed, literally standing room only. The crowd diverse. Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths and those of none. The marginalised celebrating alongside those with much. All gathered in a church to give thanks to God for a project that has changed the lives of many.

Over these past 5 years GrowTH has offered shelter, hospitality, friendship and the good news of Jesus to over 630 men and women. Of these, around half have been helped into further temporary or more permanent accommodation. This is all the more remarkable because many of the people we help have no recourse to public funds so cannot claim any benefits.

In a borough that has repeatedly been in the headlines for corruption, cronyism and racial division, this is a compelling story of the Church of Jesus in action, working for the benefit of others. Here are five things that have contributed to its success:

1) GrowTH is primarily a gospel centred mission initiative and not a social action project. Whilst even making this distinction may seem odd to some and even theologically incorrect to others, to us as an organisation it is a key part of our story. In setting up GrowTH we wanted to ensure that the spoken and demonstrated Gospel, the good news of Jesus, runs right through the life of the project. We make no secret of the fact that we want people to come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

We have run Alpha and Christianity Explored courses at the shelter and actively encourage guests to attend local Churches. We keep records of those who make a commitment to follow Jesus and who become part of a church. Why? Because projects count what matters – and people encountering Jesus is something we care deeply about.

2) We believe in the power of Christian hospitality. We don’t talk of clients or service users, but call those who stay in the shelter guests. We treat them with dignity and respect and the centre piece of our evenings is a shared table. Eating together reminds all of us, staff, volunteers and guests of what we have in common.

3) We will not side with power against the powerless. We have challenged the local authority where some of its policies and practices have been too narrow, focusing on geographical boundaries and criteria that have effectively excluded many vulnerable people at their times of greatest need. We do seek to complement the local authority’s work, but we are also honest with them about our different priorities.

4) We seek to enable transformation and refuse to help people remain homeless. By only accommodating people for 28 days we place the emphasis on helping people to progress rather than simply returning to the streets once it gets warmer. Our staff and volunteers seek to blend grace and truth to help guests change their circumstances. If people are not looking to help themselves then we may ask them to leave the shelter, as there are others in need who do wish to do so.

5) GrowTH is about the Church working together in gospel work. We have progressed from seven churches running a 3 month shelter to twenty churches running a shelter for seven months. This past year we had over 300 different volunteers, many of whom are former guests, who use their experience and insight to help others.

Confidence in the gospel

Christian social activists need to have confidence in the gospel’s relevance and power.  It is legitimate for us to run projects that are purely social action, serving the local community without any sense of evangelism (in fact I serve as a trustee of one of them). The trouble comes when we think of these projects as mission.  By making everything mission we are in danger of making nothing mission.

Too often woolly theological notions of the Kingdom of God allow us to neglect any clear presentation of the Christian Gospel.  Whilst this may be good work, it is not the kind of integrated mission that helps people find hope in Jesus.

My passion is to see more Christian projects combine a sense of service with a commitment to helping people come to Christ – and GrowTH has given me a glimpse of what is possible.

Tony UddinTony Uddin is pastor of Tower Hamlets Community Church and Chair of GrowTHFollow him on twitter @tonyuddin. These are his personal reflections and do not necessarily represent GrowTH.

Posted in Homelessness, Social action | Tagged , | 1 Comment

‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty': HPH lecture on 9th June, central London

Hugh_Price_HughesHugh Price Hughes was an energetic and enterprising Methodist Minister who founded the West London Mission in 1887. He was a proponent of what he called ‘Social Christianity’ which was in contrast to the Christianity he saw around him, which in his words has ‘been too speculative, too sentimental, too individualistic.’

His founding of the West London Mission embodied his desire to see the Christian faith have a social and political impact and to be ‘applied to all aspects of life’. Right from its start, as well as having thousands come to its weekly services, WLM established a soup kitchen, a food depot, a clothing store as well as a labour exchange for the unemployed and a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’.  Later they would establish the first ever Creche for working mothers and open hostels for unmarried mothers who had to leave home.

Today, WLM employs over 70 people in a wide ranging work with people affected by homelessness, addictions and offending.  It is my privilege to lead this work.

Three faces of poverty

3 Faces of PovertyEvery year, a series of lectures is held in memory of Hugh Price Hughes at Hinde Street Methodist Church, where WLM is now based.

I will be giving the closing lecture in this year’s series on Tuesday 9th June. I will be speaking on ‘Homelessness and the three faces of poverty’.  I will be talking about how homelessness in the UK embodies the fusion of these three faces of poverty and how this needs to inform our practical, political and theological response.

The lecture starts at 7.30pm on Tuesday 9th June and is at Hinde Street Methodist Church, London W1U 2QJ which is 5 minutes walk from Bond Street tube.

Entrance is free and everyone (but especially R&R readers) are very welcome!

See here for all details.

Posted in Homelessness | Leave a comment

All right-thinking people should now boycott The Daily Mail

Last year, I wrote a post arguing that Christians should lead the way in a boycott The Daily Mail due to its campaign against overseas aid.

Today, The Mail has descended further into the pit of the worst type of journalism with this incredible election headline:

Daily Mail - RIchard Littlejohn

It is simply incredible that any newspaper could use the tragic suffering of innocent children abused by a criminal as the basis for such a cheap headline.  It is barbarically insensitive.

I have today tried to log a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Association (IPSA) but the Editor’s Code of Practice is so restrictive that there are no categories under which a complaint could be filed.  Like the Advertising Standards Authority, it is another example of the toothless agencies which we end up with in this country because we believe in self-regulation.  It seems nothing has been learnt from the hacking scandals and the press remain free to do whatever they want.

I think The Daily Mail is the most dangerous newspaper in the country, because it spreads a toxic brand of pious-sounding poison.  I do not write this because of its political perspective but because of the repugnant and hypocritical way it points the finger at everyone else whilst behaving so poorly itself.

I simply do not understand people who continue to buy it, especially those who profess to be Christians. We can make complaints, but the best decision is for right-thinking people (in both senses of the word) to commit to no longer buying this odious publication.

Know a Mail reader? Share this article with them and see what they think…

On a more light-hearted note, they may enjoy The Daily Mail Song:

Posted in Politics | Tagged | 16 Comments

‘Understanding theology is to understand God, who is Love’

Pope Francis1Across the broad spectrum of Christian culture, one characteristic is shared by almost all traditions: the church uses a lot of words.

Hymns, Bible readings, sermons, liturgy and prayers are saturated in words. And the internet is crammed full of blogs (like the one you are reading).

And so often, it is those most prolific at shaping and expressing words – preachers, writers and theologians – who are the most esteemed. Often, they will be promoted at events with phrases like ‘Author of over 20 books’.

Becoming real

But of course, the Christian message cannot be limited to words.  They need to be embodied – to come to life and become real.  Our words need to be in sync with Jesus who ‘became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1:14)

Therefore sermons, books, theology, conferences and websites should never be seen as ends in themselves. They are means that should equip people for action.  All Christian reflection and writing ultimately counts for nothing unless it contributes to making a difference in our unjust and fractured world.

As Shane Claiborne has wisely said:

“Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.”

Strong roots

I think books and learning are important: to carry God’s message we have to understand the message and what it means for today. Strong roots are vital for a healthy tree. But they are not the tree itself. Good theology does far more than enhance reputations and sells books – it helps produce the fruit of love.

This is why Christian knowledge should never puff us up, make us proud or give us delusions of grandeur. For knowledge must simply oil the works of love, equipping us to live and work for God’s purposes.

‘Do not settle for a desktop theology’

This emphasis is captured by Pope Francis in a recent letter to the Catholic University of Argentina as they celebrate their 100th Anniversary:

We must guard against a theology that is exhausted in academic dispute or watching humanity from a glass castle. 

Do not settle for a desktop theology. Your place for reflection are the boundaries. And do not fall into the temptation to paint, to perfume, to adjust them a bit and tame them. Even good theologians, as good shepherds, smell of the people and of the road and, with their reflection, pour oil and wine on the wounds of men.

Theology is an expression of a Church which is a “field hospital”, which lives its mission of salvation and healing in the world. Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude but it is the very substance of the Gospel of Jesus…Without mercy our theology, our right, our pastoral care runs the risk of collapsing into bureaucratic pettiness or ideology, which of itself wants to tame the mystery. Understanding theology is to understand God, who is Love.”

Posted in Theology & Church | Tagged | 2 Comments

Beach-body ready or not, the real winners are the advertising industry

Each body's beach body readyProtein World’s ‘Are you Beach Body Ready?’ adverts have created a massive row. In among the countless adverts that commuters are pummeled by, these posters immediately struck me as unusually crass and objectionable.

So I was not that surprised to see the furore that has developed this week in response. There has been widespread vandalism of the posters and a whole array of online spoofs in response.  Today there is even a protest rally against the adverts organised in Hyde Park.

Campaigning against adverts

There is already enough words written about the adverts, both in favour of the protests and in defending them.  What I want to focus on is the peculiar challenge of campaigning against adverts because it’s a subject I have some experience of.

About 5 years ago, I started a campaign against billboards promoting a website which facilitates and encourages married people to have affairs.  I saw the advert after my son (who was 5 at the time) asked me while I was driving ‘Daddy, what’s a marital affair?’ when he saw the advert.

I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and they wrote back to me saying that the adverts in their opinion the advert ‘did not offend against widely held moral or cultural standards’.

So I set up a facebook group to support my complaint which over the course of a few days gathered over 4000 members. This led to many people joining in a series of simple, non-violent direct actions against the company who ran the website.  After just a few days, this led to the withdrawing of the advert.  (You can read more about it here: Marital affairs, facebook and non-violent protest)

Creating more publicity

Although ‘successful’ in having the advert withdrawn, there was an obvious problem that was continually pointed out to me – that our campaign in effect gave the company exactly what it wanted from the adverts: publicity.

This came home to me when a widely-read online blog claimed that ‘Jon Kuhrt is probably a brilliant marketing expert working on behalf of the affairs website’.  I remember reading it with incredulity and realising the trap that I had fallen into.  Our campaign meant that this particular advert was the 4th most controversial advert of 2010 – but I am sure the website company and their advertising agency were delighted.

Different approach

When similar adverts re-appeared a year or so later, I adopted a different approach and deliberately did not use the advert itself as a basis for the campaign. Instead, working with many others, we formed a coalition called ‘Faithfulness Matters’ which worked far more behind the scenes.

Instead of seeking the superficial generation of publicity, we focused on the key points where our pressure could make a difference.  It was far harder work, a lot less fun and also included some nasty legal threats made against me personally. But it was also more effective.  Our work led to a formal meeting with the company (along with their lawyers) where they agreed to not to advertise these websites on billboards anymore.

Generate publicity

We have already seen the CEO of Protein World say that the controversy has been great for his business. This means that the real battle will be won by ensuring that such adverts are stopped before they generate the publicity they are designed to create.  We need an ASA with more teeth and we need the billboard companies and London Transport to commit to refuse to carry adverts which harm and warp people’s perspectives.

One thing is for sure – we cannot expect too much of an advertising industry which is committed to feed off the greed and insecurity of the public.  George Orwell wrote:

‘Advertising is the dirtiest ramp that capitalism has yet produced…They have their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket.’

Campaigning against adverts is not straight-forward.  But it needs to be done. We need to stand up against public statements which demean and damage society. The challenge is how we do so in a way which does not give the companies the publicity they crave.

Posted in Faithfulness Matters, Social commentary | 4 Comments

Making the world a better place, one commuter at a time

Free High FiveAnyone who commutes into central London can bear testimony to the daily struggle it brings.

Packed trains, late cancellations and staff specially trained to make announcements as confusing as possible all contribute to the challenges.  My no.1 gripe is passengers who can’t be bothered to move further up into the train which means that others can’t even get on. Grrrr…

This daily grind creates a large amount of miserable individuals, keeping themselves to themselves, grimly making their way to work. Heads down, headphones in and only interacting with each other only when absolutely necessary (for more on this issue see When good people do nothing).

But yesterday I met someone doing something positive to make a difference.

‘Free High Fives’

I was standing (it had been a hard day) on the escalator going up to Victoria station. I noticed many of the people coming down the escalator the other way were smiling and laughing and slapping high-fives on a man standing a few steps further up the escalator from me.  He was holding up a sign which the people coming down towards him could read, but as he had his back to me I couldn’t see what was on it.

Whatever was on the sign it was having an impact on people. Even those who chose not to high five seemed to enjoy the fun. I travel that way every day and I have never experienced a happier escalator.

Making people smile

When we got to the top I spoke with him and he showed me what was on the sign. It turned out he was Kiwi who worked as a handyman during the day and who did stand up comedy in the evenings. I asked what his motivation was and he said:

‘It’s purely about making the commute better – nothing more’

He went onto to say more:

‘Coming to the UK and London, you can tell people are reserved and keep themselves to themselves on the tube. At first you think they are being rude but it’s really because there are no reasons to interact. So I was thinking of a simple thing that I could do and I came up with this. It makes the commute more interesting – a high-five is not really threatening is it? It doesn’t involve much commitment, but can make people smile.’

The impact of negativity

The world has plenty of apathy and negativity comes easily to most of us. It is easy to feel powerless and that we cannot do anything to improve situations – like the state of our transport system. But its important to consider the impact that sustained negativity can have on us and those around us. If we let it, moaning can become our default setting.

But yesterday, through the gloom of self-pity and the tired frustration of a long day, I experienced a bright example of someone doing something – however silly and frivolous – which made a difference. And it made me smile.

Want to know more about the Victoria Line High-Fiver, you can follow him on twitter @TJ_mcdonald

Posted in Social commentary | 3 Comments

Pushy parents and competitive dads: when children behave better than adults

competiitve dadEvery Saturday, my 10 year old son plays in a football team in a south London league. He is part of a great club, with dedicated coaches and he loves it.

It is a very competitive league but over the course of the season, I have seen hardly any aggressive behaviour, bad language or arguing with the referee from the children on the pitch.

Sadly I can’t say the same for some of the adults involved.

From among the parents watching, there is often a perpetual sense of injustice similar to the attitude of fans at a premier league match.  Any decision against the team means that the ref is rubbish or biased. Or worse. The shouting directed at the referee creates a simmering level of aggression which can boil over.

Intensity

One game this season had to be abandoned before it even started. A legitimate query over the eligibility of one of the players descended into a aggressive row which involved racist abuse. The children were all patiently waiting for the game to start as the game was called off due to the behaviour of adults.

Whilst this kind of incident is not common, what is normal is the intensity with which so many parents watch as their children play and exhort them to play better. It shows how through competitive sport children can sometimes be vicariously representing their parents own aspirations and the fulfillment of their dreams.

The most important factor we have to remember is that this kind of support does not increase the enjoyment of the children who are actually playing.

Put off by parents

Yesterday a survey was published by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and cricket charity Chance to Shine which spoke to over a thousand children about this very issue.

It found that children as young as eight are being put off sport by the behaviour of their parents. Of those surveyed, 45% said the bad behaviour of parents made them feel like not wanting to take part in sport. And the parents agree with them: 84% of parents of those children agreed negative behaviour discouraged youngsters from participation.

As the BBC said:

‘The survey highlights how the pressure put on by parents, whether through shouting or continually criticising, is ruining the experience of sport for too many children.’

It has made me think as I am again managing an under 12 cricket side which my boys play in and the season is just about to start.  I prefer cricket to football, and I can recall with embarrassment a few times last season when I got a bit too passionate during tense matches.

What sport can do

Team sport can do amazing things. It can bring people together – it can turn strangers into mates and bind a group like few activities can. More deeply, it teaches us things about life – about pushing ourselves, making the most of our skills, working as a team, looking out for others and achieving something as a group.

But ultimately children’s sport should be about fun – sure it can be more fun when you play well and win – but competitiveness should never be allowed to over-shadow enjoyment.

As parents, we all want our children to listen to us. As this survey shows, when it comes to our attitudes to sport, it’s time we listened to them.

Posted in Sport | Leave a comment

‘He was so nearly a good man': Tony Blair on Pontius Pilate

pontius-pilateTony Blair’s Christian faith is most commonly associated with a comment which was not even made by him.  His press secretary, Alastair Campbell famously said ‘We don’t do God’ because of his concerns about how easily faith and religion are misconstrued in public life.  

But, in contrast to the banal nonsense that David Cameron wrote in his recent message, Blair wrote openly and substantially about his Christian faith.

The following text is taken from his article Why I am  a Christian’ published in The Sunday Telegraph at Easter in April 1996.  It is interesting that this was written a year before the General Election and at a time when he might have most to lose from speaking openly about his beliefs:

“Easter, a time of rebirth and renewal, has a special significance for me, and, in a sense, my politics. My vision of a society reflects a faith in the human spirit and its capacity to renew itself. But Easter is not only a celebration of the Resurrection: it is also a time to recall the events that led to Christ’s crucifixion and what they mean.

There are three parts to the Easter message – best described in St Matthew. First, there is Pontius Pilate, taking his decision as Jesus stood before him. One of the things that lends power to the Gospels is that the characters are so real. Pilate is fascinating because he is so obviously human and imperfect, torn between principle and political reality. Were the Gospels simply a didactic tale, his choice would be remembered as an easy one. But it is not described in this way.”

Blair’s analysis of the political dilemma facing Pontius Pilate is fascinating to read in retrospect. Blair’s legacy, despite many positive domestic achievements, is dominated by his decision to invade Iraq in partnership with the US.  In many people’s eyes, he has been guilty of the same lack of principle that Pilate showed – and to many will be judged by history in a similar way:

“The intriguing thing about Pilate is the degree to which he tried to do the good thing rather than the bad. He commands our moral attention not because he was a bad man but because he was so nearly a good man. One can imagine him agonising, seeing that Jesus had done nothing wrong, and wishing to release him. Just as easily, however, one can envisage Pilate’s advisors telling him of the risks, warning him not to cause a riot or inflame Jewish opinion.

It is possible to see Pilate as the archetypal politician, caught on the horns of an age-old political dilemma. We know he did wrong, yet his is the struggle between what is right and what is expedient that has occurred throughout history. Should we do what appears principled or what is politically expedient?”

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | 6 Comments