Over 8 million people in Britain currently live in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable housing – something that is completely unacceptable. To respond to that challenge, the Archbishop of Canterbury has set up a Commission on Housing, Church and Community. It is publishing its report this month and launching a campaign around the theme of ‘Coming Home'.
Justin Welby explains, ‘It’s not enough that the Church gets involved in the business of building a better society; Christians need to be clear about the source of their concern and the mandate for their actions.’ This resonates with our own mission at Jubilee Centre to develop biblical thinking to inform Christian engagement in public life.
Before the main report is published on 21st February, the Commission has set out a theology of housing which it has developed to provide a foundation for its approach. It’s published in a book edited by Graham Tomlin and Malcolm Brown entitled 'Coming Home,' as well as in a shorter Grove booklet entitled 'Why the Church should care about housing'.
Five Core Values
The theology is expressed through five core values, which are intended to set a new normal for what good housing should look like. They are drawn from the arc of the Christian story, which can be traced through the Bible: Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Church and the new Creation.
The authors emphasise that housing should be sustainable, because we are called to care for and nurture God’s Creation; this means housing needs to work with the grain of Creation, and not drain its resources unduly.
Because of humanity’s tendency towards sin, housing must be safe; greed and injustice can creep in, so it’s important to ensure that houses are safe and secure places for people to make their home.
Since Jesus grew up in one particular neighbourhood, Nazareth, place and belonging are important to God. Therefore, housing should be stable, enabling people to put down roots in a locality.
Housing also needs to be sociable; the new community of the church illustrates God’s purpose for breaking down barriers between people and creating a new society. Thus, housing should create space for people to gather and invite others into their homes.
Lastly, the vision of the new Creation is of a garden city with streets, trees and rivers that are all in harmony; these suggest that housing should be satisfying, rather than just functional.
The report’s authors state that the five values of safe, stable, sustainable, sociable and satisfying arise from the story of scripture as well as from their research into people’s longings and frustrations with housing conditions in Britain today. The five values are intended to resonate widely with people and yet also be infused with potential, so that they can act as touch points for deeper biblical truth.
Graham Tomlin, who as bishop of Kensington was deeply involved following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, states: ‘We can tell the story of the gospel in bricks and mortar if we create housing with these five values; it gives a foretaste of the home God invites us to, where God makes his home with us.’
In our own Cambridge Paper last year, ‘Birds have Nests: biblical reflections on the housing crisis’, author David Corbett examined the broader economic factors which have been the main driving forces behind the current UK housing crisis. The availability of cheap finance at record low interest rates over many years has been the sine qua non of the affordability problem. However, the crisis runs deeper than just the issue of affordability, which theoretically could be solved by increasing the supply of housing. The key questions are: what kind of housing do we need? how can houses become homes? and how can a collection of homes become a community? Biblical reflection offers a more holistic and searching response, so there is much common ground between our Cambridge Paper and the Commission’s report.
We see a valuable opportunity now for Churches and individual Christians to engage with this report, discuss its five values, consider the biblical vision which informs them and support the campaign which the report will launch. A website is being developed for the initiative, and the Archbishop introduces the five values for a broad audience in this video.
The Jubilee Centre will continue to engage with the Archbishop’s Commission and its ‘Coming Home’ initiative – make sure you are signed up for our monthly eNews, so that you can keep up to date!