The Bishop of London has opened a panel event at St Paul’s Cathedral entitled ‘Who is welcome here?’ Held on Monday 18th February and organised by the St Paul’s Institute, the panel – which included the Bishop, City A.M. Editor, Christian May, Dr Adrian Pabst from the University of Kent, and Bernard Donoghue from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions – discussed the prospect of Brexit and its implications for the City of London in relation to freedom of movement and labour, drawing on St Paul’s Institute research carried out earlier this year.
Recent polling has showed that Leavers and Remainers in the city are still divided on a series of social issues and policy areas. Seven in ten Leave voters in London say it is more important to control immigration from EU countries than to admit immigrants without limit, in order to protect resources such as the NHS and housing (71%). However, only one quarter of Remain voters feel the same (26%).
Against this backdrop, and using the question ‘what kind of city do we want to be?’ as their guide, the panel considered how London’s infrastructure, employment practices, and banking systems can help everyone flourish and feel welcome.
The event formed part of the St Paul’s Institute’s Democracy and the Common Good series, which seeks to foster a national conversation to emphasise the value of the common good to arrive at a policy framework that helps address the existing anxieties facing society.
Speaking ahead of the event, The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, the Bishop of London, said:
“Division is not an easy problem to solve. We are fighting against a deeply held instinct. It has been with us, in one manifestation or another, throughout the whole of history.
“Our challenge in this time is not to pretend that we are all alike. We clearly are not. But we must recognise, and hopefully learn in some small way to overcome, our intrinsic nature which pushes away others and tries to carve out territory only for ourselves.
“The diversity of London should be our strength, and not a hindrance. A city such as ours only prospers when we work together in diverse teams, bringing together various backgrounds and cultures.”
The Bishop set the scene for the evening’s debate by opening proceedings with a speech on belonging. Read it in full below.
The Bishop of London’s speech at St Paul’s Cathedral Democracy and the Common Good debate
I have just returned from a week’s leave and on arrival into Sicily the first thing I was asked was not the purpose of my visit nor where I was staying but “What about Brexit then?”
We stand at an important moment in not just our nation’s history but in Europe’s history. There have been few others in our lifetime which have been more dramatic, polarising, or unsettling.
But, of course, division is not new.
Historically, we have found ourselves to have unbearable, seemingly irreconcilable, differences before, and no doubt we will again.
In this report “Democracy and the Common Good” produced last year by St Paul’s Institute, here at the Cathedral, we are challenged on our use of binary narratives.
Dr Adrian Pabst, in his preface, reminds us that, following the Brexit referendum and the political turmoil in the USA, the UK and many European countries: “the old opposition of left versus right seems increasingly obsolete.”
Instead, he says, “we risk substituting one binary world for another – one in which the main fault lines are cultural and generational, encapsulated by the networked metropolitan youth versus the old ‘left behind’.”
The report calls for “a politics and a broad public discourse based on a different language and a transcendent conversation – one that can address deeper discussions around questions of meaning and belonging.”
However, we all know, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Perhaps if it were, we would have done it by now.
Instead, we inevitably hunker down with our own and, in consolidating our sense of belonging within our own communities – of whatever kind – we differentiate ourselves from others, setting ourselves apart.
The church is no exception. We use language which not everyone may understand such as redemption, salvation, sinner, and as we do we draw explicit and implicit categories which indicate who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.
But we Christians, alongside other people of faith and of goodwill, live in and serve the whole of the city, and so we are not at odds with it. We are here to serve it and to bless it. To carry hope and peace, and to demonstrate the love of God to everyone. Servants and neighbours to those around us.
Our challenge in this time is not to pretend that we are all alike. We clearly are not. But to recognise, and hopefully learn in some small way to overcome, our intrinsic nature which pushes away others and tries to carve out territory only for ourselves.
Rabbi Lord Sacks charts beautifully and comprehensively the concept of sibling rivalry in the Abrahamic faiths. Right from the beginning, when two brothers – Cain and Abel – come to blows, we have been pushing away the people closest to us.
The story of Cain and Abel gives us no-one else to blame. There was no peer pressure, no-one else to impress, no money or land to claim.
Simply, one person was jealous of the other. He thought he was being overlooked by God. ‘What about me?’ might have been his thought, as envy ate him up, and he killed his brother. Scripture tells us that, from the very outset, this has been our struggle.
Again, the church experiences this tension, as do all communities and institutions. Here in the church, as everywhere else, we find ourselves at odds with each other at times.
When we gather on occasions like this to rally ourselves to live more graciously together, we are fighting against a deeply held instinct. This is not an easy problem to solve. It has been with us, in one manifestation or another, throughout the whole of history.
Jesus answers a question about the path to eternal life with an exhortation first to love God utterly and completely, and then to Love your neighbour as yourself.
We are here this evening to consider who our neighbours are, and I am looking forward to discussing with our panellists how we see this approach translating to our workplaces, our city’s infrastructure, our housing policy and our public discourse.
Jesus uses a few words to say a great deal here, as he so often did. We are called to love our neighbours AS OURSELVES.
One of the messages we must hear loud and clear from the Brexit referendum decision, and the divisions we have seen in many of our neighbouring countries, is:
‘What about me?’
In the last two years, we have heard a lot about the people, all around the UK, who have felt forgotten, left behind, overlooked by employers, public services and politicians. People who express concern that, in welcoming others, we have assumed that everyone already here will quickly be able to adjust to new neighbours, different languages spoken in our streets, unfamiliar food in our supermarkets.
Those who fear the future because of its unfamiliarity, because of low-paid and insecure employment opportunities, because of the inter-generational poverty which offers little hope of financial prosperity.
As neighbours here in London, we find ourselves to be people from many countries, religions and cultures. Among us are people whose families have always lived here, who grew up knowing everyone in their community and understanding the conversations they overheard in the street. ALL OF THESE PEOPLE are our neighbours.
As we ask ‘Who is welcome here?’ we must recognise that loving our neighbour as we love ourselves means that both parties flourish.
The diversity of London should be our strength, and not a hindrance. Living and working alongside many different kinds of people offers opportunity for us to learn, to grow, to enjoy varied and interesting ways to celebrate with each other, comfort one another, cheer each other on.
Our concept of the common good – of putting relationships and mutual benefit at the heart of our decisions and conversations – challenges us to receive as well as to give. It may be more blessed to give than to receive, but some of us need to learn that it’s OK to receive from others sometimes!
What does it feel like if we put ourselves in the place of the man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho – the one who was attacked, the one who needed help. What must it have felt like to receive help, not from the people you thought would come to your aid, but the most unlikely person? How would I react if someone who was supposed to be the ‘other’, the unacceptable person in society – if that person saw me at my most vulnerable, sore, bleeding, crying, needy? And then helped me find safety and healing?
As my colleague the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, has said recently, in responding to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower:
“The Christian view of social relations tells us that my neighbour is not so much a threat, or a limitation, but a gift. If my own individuality is constituted by my relationships, not my own inner elusive personality or choices, then without my neighbour I cannot become my full self.”
Our relationships, locally and informally as well as the big public moments, form the basis of who we are and how we live. Who is welcome here? Who welcomes you? Who do you welcome? Who shall we, together, welcome?
These are not simply high ideas or abstract questions. As work on unconscious bias indicates, a city prospers when we work together in diverse teams, bringing together various backgrounds and cultures. Work by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely to generate above average returns.
And so we consider this evening how our city’s infrastructure, our employment practices, our banking systems help all of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from, to flourish.
What does our social housing policy tell us about who is welcome here, when we move our more affordable housing out of the capital? What does that say to the people I see on the Tube early in the morning, travelling very long distances to low-paid jobs cleaning or staffing security in buildings where some of the country’s highest-paid people work?
What do our employment practices tell us about who is welcome here, when we fail to regulate employment agencies and check whether they abide by the resident labour market test? What does that say to people who grew up and were educated here, but are overlooked by employers who recruit directly from abroad, effectively contravening legal requirements to advertise domestically first?
What do our banking systems tell us about who is welcome here, when the flow of ‘hot money’ unsettles the markets and incentivises short-term speculation? What does that say to people who are saving hard for a first home but can’t afford to live in London because property prices are skewed by investors and property developers seeking quick wins?
Our discussion tonight about neighbours and welcome is not purely theological, or a comfortable rather esoteric fireside chat. We have some gritty realities to face about our economy, our infrastructure, and our policy-making. I look forward to this conversation with my guests this evening.