The Passion behind the Book: God's People and the Seduction of Empire

Added about 5 years ago by Graham Turner

GUEST BLOG: For over thirty years, Graham Turner has served in a variety of parishes, mostly in urban neighbourhoods. Through community enterprises and businesses he has worked tirelessly to help overcome social injustice while also exploring a range of Christian traditions to help deepen his own faith as well as that of others. Here, he explains how this background provided him with the passion to write God’s People and the Seduction of Empire, our September #BookOfTheMonth.

My book did not emerge from a curious intellectual enquiry, but from my experience of being immersed in pockets of British culture that felt they had been left behind. These were not my home culture, this was not where I was nurtured. This is where my ordination took me to as I sought to follow the call of God on my life and exercise my ministry.

Spending five years at the centre of a Yorkshire council estate as a curate reminded me of the words of my New Testament lecturer at college who talked of Luke’s gospel as being a gospel orientated to the poor. I guess I was expecting to see the sweet humble poor who would be grateful for anything I could do for them. But this was not what I encountered. First there was their silence and disinterest.

The home that my wife and I made there was in a flat-roofed bungalow attached to a much-neglected, 1960s, cheaply-erected, multi-use church building. Our house was different to any other on the estate and the church was battled-scarred and lonesome looking.

A small group of young people from those who attended the council-run youth group in the building would damage its doors, windows and roof during the week as they became bored. Occasionally, some would run across the roof of our bungalow while we were trying to get our babies to bed in the early evening. There was a large, neglected Alsatian dog that would bark endlessly in a garden behind ours that would make me angry.

On the whole, though, most people on the estate ignored the church, and us. Hence the silence and disinterest. The church meant nothing to them. It was not part of their “narrative”, as we say nowadays. They perceived, probably rightly so, that what the church was looking for was for them to attend its services and activities, and become an adherent. My neighbours though had come from generations for whom the church had been silent and disinterested towards them. They were, of course, only returning the favour.

It was not just my church, the Church of England, which had failed such people. Virtually all the denominations had in end served the needs and aspirations of those more wealthy (even though many had begun amongst the poor). The only church that has remained alongside the poor is the Salvation Army. I take my hat off to them.

I have spent all of my ministry in the uncomfortable gap between what I believe the Bible expects of the faith community, a bias to the poor, and the reality of denominational church life, a preference for the rich. This gap continues to challenge and disturb me. It disturbs me deeply because of I know that people like me have benefited greatly from established arrangement. It is the discomfort of this gap that has kept me enquiring of my faith over the decades and acting to help disrupt our assumed beliefs and overcome the injustice.

When our time came to an end on the estate, I moved on to become vicar of a parish in an increasingly Muslim inner-city community. The mood there was different. There was a growing sense of resentment among the long-established residents that “others” were taking over. So those with the get-up-and-go got up and went.

A gospel asking folk to come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ just did not wash with disempowered people who had few options. It also did not wash with my increasing understanding of the Bible that dealt with a community of faith, not a collection of individuals unconnected with their local reality. Nor did it make sense in a multi-faith context.

The more I looked around for answers the more I found others immersed in the same struggle, feeling the pain of the same gap. In my own church, the Faith in the City report was a marvellous expression of this. Similar initiatives were taking place in other denominations. I came across the writing of amazing people from all the different continents who were themselves grappling with the same issues. I have never felt alone in my quest.

I see my book as my part in the effort to help Christians see the story of the Bible on a much larger canvas. It is my contribution to the cause. I want spirituality and justice to be recognised as being at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and therefore central to what we are about.

My fear is that we are becoming a much more pragmatic and managerial church. We seem more focused on doing “what works” at the expense of following our calling. In this there is a major focus on getting church congregations to grow because, “if we do not do this, they’ll be nothing left”. We have not just lost our nerve, we have lost our faith in the God who acts in history and creation as witnessed throughout our Biblical story.

This is the passion of my book and I pray that I do not lose heart and settle for anything less.


Graham Turner is the author of two books with Sacristy Press, God’s People and the Seduction of Empire (our September #BookOfTheMonth) and Alternative Collects. Why not order both together to qualify for free economy delivery?

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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