For my mother and father

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29.7)


This book emerges in large part out of reflecting on the neighborhood in which I grew up and close to which I still live. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s in West London. My neighborhood was variously described as North Kensington, Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, and Holland Park. Each term had a different social, economic, and political nuance. The first denoted an oppositional identity, with its unspoken assertion “I don’t live in Chelsea”; the second made a claim for bohemian and literary color; the third for street solidarity and multicultural credibility; and the last accented class and good manners. As an insecure teenager I would make use of each of these descriptions so as to recalibrate my identity according to context and to whom I was talking. In addition to a sense of place, issues of class and ethnicity had to be negotiated: I was white and middle class in an area with a large Afro-Caribbean population. The Notting Hill Carnival went past the bottom of my street and in those days it was not perceived as a celebration of multicultural Britain but as a threat of violent disorder. The perception had some truth: there were a number of riots and murders and tensions always ran high. It was not until my late teens that I ventured down All Saints Road, a short walk from my house, as it was then the “frontline” between the Afro-Caribbean community and the police, and a white face was pointedly not welcome. But I had an additional identity that situated me as both an insider and an outsider simultaneously.

My parents are Evangelical Christians. To most of my school friends and neighbors, being this kind of Christian was a mark of weirdness and slightly suspect. For me, it meant that I felt I was supposed to disapprove of things everyone else seemed to find perfectly acceptable, namely sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet while it marked me out from my social class, looking back, I realize that it brought me closer to the world around me. We worshiped at a local Anglican church where black and white, rich and poor, old and young came together Sunday by Sunday and many times in between. In 1963, through the church, my parents helped set up and run Latimer Housing Association which provided good quality housing to low income families. It had been established as they began to see first hand the impact of the slum landlord Peter Rackman on members of their congregation. Rackman’s henchmen would violently evict sitting tenants of properties he purchased (as they had statutory protection against high rent increases) and then pack the properties with recent immigrants. New tenants did not have the same protection under the law as the sitting tenants had possessed following the relaxation of rent controls by the Conservative government in 1957. This meant that they could be charged any amount Rackman wished. Most of the new tenants were Afro-Caribbeans who had no choice but to accept the high rents as it was difficult for them to obtain housing in London at the time because of racism. Notting Hill was the main area in which Rackman operated. In response to his activities a number of housing associations were initiated. They raised money from friends, jumble sales, and taking out loans in order to buy properties to refurbish and rent out. It was a form of community self-organization that only later on was helped and supported by state-led initiatives. For many years Latimer’s office was the front half of our sitting room. I had to spend interminable amounts of time accompanying my parents to sort out various problems in the flats they administered, or waiting while my mother talked to some passer-by on the street about their rent situation.

Two events drew all the different Christian denominations in the area together, including the large black majority Pentecostal church, Kensington Temple. The first was the communion services before Carnival where we would pray for peace and joy during the event. The second was the “Way of the Cross,” a Good Friday stational liturgy that reenacted the Passion through the streets and culminated in staging the crucifixion in one of the large council housing estates. A particularly memorable one involved Cardinal Basil Hume, the then Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, leading a meditation surrounded by the tower blocks of the Lancaster West estate after David, who was black, had played the role of Jesus and hung on a cross in the middle of the estate. This was at a time of intense racial conflict and unrest.

It was the churches that were central to the civic life of my neighborhood and the vector through which the different and otherwise unrelated communities intersected. Differences were not denied or overcome but did, at the very least, come into relationship and a common world of action and shared responsibility was forged. My parents’ relationship with Fr David Randall and Robin Tuck illustrates this. My parents were North Kensington Conservatives - a kind of Victorian civic conservatism that was very different to what my father viewed as the somewhat decadent, self-serving Conservatives who lived around Chelsea and South Kensington. Mrs Thatcher was a hero to him and he would fulminate against left-wing liberals who were, in his view, destroying the country. My parents are also very morally conservative. Fr Randall was a gay Anglo-Catholic and Christian Socialist priest who was much influenced by Liberation theology. Mr Tuck was an active member of the Liberal Party. Yet they all worked closely together in relation to the local Church of England primary school of which my mother is still a governor. Mr Tuck was the chair of governors, my mother the vice-chair, and it was Fr Randall’s church to which the school was attached. When the school was destroyed in 1983 as result of a fire their relationship was crucial to building a new one and amalgamating the school with another local Church of England primary school, in order to create a stronger and better institution. Theirs was not simply a professional or civic relationship, but an ecclesial friendship that interlaced the public and private, oikos and polis, and common worship. As well as committee meetings and signing contracts, they enjoyed each other’s hospitality and prayed and worshiped together.

The world I grew up in has been all but swept away by rising house prices, processes of gentrification, and the local impact of the City of London becoming the clearinghouse of global capitalism. There is little left of the conflicted yet common world that once existed. Notting Hill is now a homogenous if picturesque dormitory for plutocrats and their entourage. Most of its current immigrants are wealthy cosmopolitans from across the globe. Understandably they have little sense of place or involvement in the fabric of their neighborhood as they are only passing through. Of course, the irony is that when my parents moved into the area in 1961 they were the vanguard of these processes of gentrification. And gentrification has made the area safer, cleaner, and more prosperous.

What has all this to do with a book on Christianity and contemporary politics? Embedded in the home I grew up in was a particular understanding of the relationship between church, civil society, the market, and the state. In my parents’ response to the world around them the market had a place but it must know its place. Vulnerable strangers were not to be treated as commodities to be exploited for monetary gain, but potential neighbors to be hosted. The state had a role but neither law nor central government was either the best or first place to turn to in order to address social, economic, and political problems. In the first instance neighborhoods could organize themselves to address issues of poverty or racial and religious conflict. One’s identity, beliefs, and practices were to be hallowed and formed the deepest level of motivation, yet it was recognized that one’s own primary community, be it based on religion, class, or ethnicity, was never all encompassing and never sufficient in itself to sustain a life of human flourishing. Rather, a shared life based around goods in common - for example, the good of education, health, or family - must be forged in order that the welfare of both you and your neighbor might be met. As the recent history of Notting Hill suggests, if the power of either the state or the market or of one particular community becomes too dominant, the fragile ecology that sustains a common world of action and responsibility amid difference and difficulty will collapse under the stress.

Luke Bretherton Easter, 2009


Latimer Housing Association was eventually merged with Octavia Hill Housing Association in 1985. My father is still a trustee.


I would like to thank Michael Banner, Stanley Hauerwas, Charles Mathewes, Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, Oliver O’Donovan, and Paul Janz for their comments on and critique of different aspects of this book; their insights were invaluable. I owe a huge debt to Maurice Glasman for the ongoing conversation, friendship, and perspective he has given me and without whom some of the key political insights could not have been developed. I am also greatly indebted to Neil Jamieson, Jonathan Lange, Jane Wills, Leo Penta, and all the many organizers and leaders of London Citizens and the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) for their trust, inspiration, and for opening out a world and a work to me that has provoked many of the reflections set out here. In relation to this I must thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the grant that sponsored some of the research for Chapter 2 and David Perry and the Great Cities Institute, University of Illinois in Chicago for their generous hospitality during my use of the IAF archive. The AHRC grant is related to a three-year qualitative, historical, and theoretical study of the relationship between the churches and community organizing. A particular word of thanks is owed to my immediate colleagues at King’s College London, Alister McGrath, Andrew Walker, Pete Ward, and James Steven, all of whom have supported and enabled me to undertake this research in innumerable ways and whose conversation and encouragement have been key in its development. I would also like to thank my PhD students and the many students on the DMin and Theology, Politics, and Faith-Based Organizations MA who have interacted with various parts of this work. Their insights and responses, drawn as these students are from ongoing leadership in congregations and Christian ministries, have helped keep the work honest and engaged with their questions and struggles in negotiating faithfully the contemporary context. From another angle, I am grateful to John Casson and the participants in the Roundtable on Political Theology and Public Policy, which included representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil servants, politicians, and party activists, who kept asking how current debates among Christian theologians related to the policy issues they faced on a daily basis. I am not sure if this book goes any way to answering their question, but I hope it clears some of the ground. I must thank Ashley Meany for his prayerful support of this work. My greatest thanks go to my wife, Caroline, and my children, Gabriel and Isaac, for sustaining and abiding with me amid the vicissitudes of the writing process. Lastly, I would like to thank Rebecca Harkin and all those at Wiley-Blackwell who have contributed to the production of this book.

Parts of Chapter 1 have been taken, with revisions, from an article that appeared in Political Theology, volume 7, number 3 (2007) under the title of “A New Establishment? Theological Politics and the Emerging Shape of Church–State Relations.” This is reprinted by permission of Equinox Publications Ltd.

Parts of Chapter 5 have been taken, with revisions, from an article that appeared in Studies in Christian Ethics, volume 19, number 1 (2006) under the title of “The Duty of Care to Refugees, Christian Cosmopolitanism, and the Hallowing of Bare Life.” This is reprinted by permission of Sage Publications Ltd.

The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.