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/ 14 June 2018

Bishop Graham on rebuilding communities after Grenfell

Bishop Graham of Kensington delivered the annual Premier lecture last Wednesday, reflecting on new attitudes to power and communities in light of the Grenfell Tower fire.

He invoked Christian ideas of anthropology and society to argue for “a radical look at the way we live together in our society.”

He said:

“Grenfell is such an opportunity that we dare not let pass. If we were to carry on as normal, with our social attitudes, our economy, our institutional life, our approach to housing and community unchanged, we would be missing a huge opportunity to address some of the deeper issues in our life together.”

The Bishop advised patience as we await the results of the public inquiry. He commended that progress which, he said, has already been made, such as the decision to hear the testimonies of survivors and bereaved before the inquiry.

However, he critiqued an atmosphere of libertarian individualism which he said could allow institutions and citizens to view people as means, rather than ends in themselves.

Applying this argument to housing, he said:

“If the primary purpose of housing is to generate profit, or to ensure secure investments, then it is inevitable that other priorities will slip down the list. The experience of those living in social housing, such as Grenfell Tower, is often frustrating.”

Instead, Bishop Graham drew on material from his new book Bound to be Free to argue that:

“The purpose of human life is not to follow your dreams, to discover yourself, or to be yourself: is it to turn outwards from yourself in relationship to God and your neighbour.”

He added that some of the evil consequences and causes of disasters, such as corner-cutting in regard to construction regulations, were not the result of malice, but the careless pursuit of individual gains without thought for the consequences for other people.

He said:

“These days we hear a great deal about mindfulness. I wonder if we need to hear more about thoughtfulness, that habit of mind that always thinks about how we can bless and enrich the lives of our neighbours or the consequences of our actions upon our neighbours.”

While he acknowledged that he did not have all the answers to the housing crisis, the Bishop concluded his talk with a call to action, saying:

“We need a new vision of life that sees us as those not made to pursue self-interest, our own dreams, and only to connect with others when it suits us, but as those who are fundamentally connected to one another, made to care for one another, and to find happiness in doing precisely that.”

Bishop Graham delivered his remarks at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering as part of an annual lecture hosted by Premier Christian Media, one of the world’s largest providers of Christian media.

The full text of the lecture is available here.

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