Ed Walker reflects on Why the church should care about Housing, a book by Dr Graham Tomlin. Dr Tomlin is Bishop of Kensington and vice-chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commission on housing, church and community which has launched its report this week. Based on five core values that make for good homes, Ed sees these at work through Hope into Action.

Why the church should care about Housing’

Graham Tomlin. Bishop of Kensington. Grove Books

The Gospel may have a lot more to say about housing than we think’ (page 7). YES!

This work was triggered by the Grenfell Tower disaster which occurred in Bishop Graham Tomlins diocese and so is a real response to so much that is wrong in housing in this country.

I’ve spent the past 11 years+ thinking, reading and discussing (and even a bit of preaching and writing) on ‘housing’ and ‘homelessness’ in the Christian context. By now, the proud part of me is tempted to think I’ve heard most things there is to say on the subject. So it was a complete delight to read this booklet from someone so esteemed in theology and Anglicanism as Bishop of Kensington, formerly Principle and Dean of prominent theological colleges.  

He framed the whole book in a way I’d not appreciated before. I first heard him speak about it, in a zoominar, in June 2020. In his 2 minute slot he got my ears to prick-up: ‘wow – that is an interesting take’  - I thought.

Tomlin frames ‘housing and home’ in the arc of the biblical narrative: starting from Eden – a perfect home; through the lost Israelites, wandering homeless; to the radical good news that God and Jesus make their home in us and we in them.[i] Then ending in Revelation with various God-given visions of housing being based around home alongside inter-communion with God and each other in a glorious city. 

He then upacks this with his 5 ‘S’s’:

  • Creation: the need for Sustainability. Homes and land are given by God for us to steward, not as investment vehicles but ‘to create community in fellowship with God and each other.’
  • Fallenness: the need for Safety: From Leviticus we hear ‘Denying some people access to land was to sever their relationship to God’
  • Incarnation: the need for Stability. ‘Homes and houses are the primary context in which we grow into maturity.’
  • The New Community: the need for Sociability. From the New Testament injunctions to practise hospitality we read the Greek word for hospitality, literally means: ‘to love the stranger.’
  • Resurrection: the need for Satisfaction. ‘People flourish and mature well in spaces that they enjoy.’

When reading this, one is tempted to think: ‘Yes and so what?’ But we are not left there. Firstly this book is part of a wider commission brimming with practical advise, models and ideas for churches.

Secondly Bishop Tomlin moves us to Chapters 3 and 4 which are nothing if not prophetic. And we should take heed. The text, dense as it is, drawing from all corners of the Bible, is filled with power, urging us to sacrifice, take risks, reject greed, shun the accumulation of wealth, assets, land and houses. I’ve included a few of my favourite lines below:

  • ‘Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field.’ (Isaiah 5, vs 8) Ouch!
  • ‘The eschatological vision cannot be achieved without a sense of sacrifice – the sacrifice of privilege, of power, and potential profits that could be made.’ (page 18) Amen!
  • [We must]: ‘accept less immediate profit,…putting the needs of others (and the poorest in particular) above the maximisation of short-term financial gain.’ Yes!
  • ‘The true test of compassion is whether we are willing to sacrifice our own interests for the interests of others as Christ did, especially for those at the receiving end of housing injustice. Justice is never achieved without it!’
  • ‘Now, there may be plenty of good reasons to be a NIMBY. Precisely none of them are open to followers of the way of Jesus.’ Uncompromising.
  • ‘The housing crisis can not be solved without pain, this is true. It is already causing pain and suffering to many.’ Quite!
  • ‘The path to salvation lies through, not around, sacrifice.’
  • ‘The housing crisis will not be solved without taking big risks.’
  • ‘The hope is that organisations made up of people following the way of Jesus will embrace risk, even (especially) when it means reforming their institutions and using their inherited resources to serve people well.’
  • ‘An aversion to risk become diabolical when it preserves the institution because it is the institution!’

These are powerful words. Much of them aimed at Christians.  Let's hope they are taken seriously! At times they can feel vague but remember this is a short book, aiming to capture some principles to guide a wide scope of issues.


Finally, while the scope of the book is much broader than the work of Hope into Action, allow me to (boastfully?) to draw some prideful attention to how our policies and principles align with the above:

  • We have a strict rent policy. No one in our network can put their rents above a certain level we deem ‘fair’. These rents are not set by how much we need, but by what is affordable for the disinherited. I know of no other large housing charity which adopts this approach.
  • We are clear to our investors that ‘their return’ must be based on mutuality. Mutuality between them and the poor. In other words, we deliberately give lower returns than others. Our investors are motivated by sharing their wealth with the poor, not by financial gain. There comes a point where higher returns are no longer ‘social investments’ or ‘ethical investments’. If the investor is making a very good gain and doing so on the backs of the poor, then your adding your name to 1000’s before you exploiting the poor for your gain, with the difference that your deeds are masquerading behind a veil of good.

If you want to explore more, click here to find out more and sign up to our 'A House Built on Love' Book Club. 

[i] Various verses come to mind:

John 14, 23: ‘……and we will come to him and make our abode with him.’

Hebrews 3: 6: ‘but Christ was faithful as a Son over his house – whose house we are.’

Ephesians 3: ‘So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’