The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Jordan Henderson and the goal of integrity

As a football fan, it feels like there is an ever-lengthening list of reasons to feel conflicted about the sport. This summer, it’s been the Saudi Pro League, which has made headlines as a growing number of top international male players have signed lucrative deals to play in Saudi Arabia next season.

One of the most prominent of these is Liverpool and England midfielder Jordan Henderson, who last week announced he was joining Saudi Pro team Al-Ettifaq, to much dismay. Henderson has previously put social causes ahead of money, having led the drive for footballers to donate their salaries to frontline NHS workers during Covid.

Ahead of last year’s World Cup in Qatar, Henderson described the country’s record on human rights as ‘shocking, disappointing and horrendous’, and he’s repeatedly demonstrated his concern for LGBT+ rights by wearing a rainbow armband, even personally contacting fans to offer them his backing.

It has come as a surprise to many, then, that Henderson would choose to move to a country with an equally equivocal human rights record to Qatar. It makes his activism and personal commitment seem somewhat empty.

The outrage and disappointment this has prompted stem not primarily from disloyalty but from the failure to match word and action, a perceived lack of integrity. It shows that ethical principles, religious or otherwise, cannot be held cheaply. There is often a cost, a higher standard, expected of those of those who have expressed deeply held beliefs, and it feels unpalatable that the offer of £700,000 a week is the price of compromise.

Faith without deeds, James 2 points out, is useless. Faith is often what compels us to action, but it is also right that our faith should match our actions. Society expects integrity of faith and deed, of principles and practice, and is right to do so.

It is also a reminder that, as Matthew 5:37 puts it, we should ‘simply let our yes be yes and our no be no’. We should seek to reconcile our words with our actions, in a world which notices when this isn’t the case. If Jordan Henderson’s commitment to human rights is called into question by his move to Saudi Arabia, so too might the value of Christian faith be questioned if our ‘yes’ is not seen to be yes unambiguously. In work, sport, life, wherever, if our faith and principles matter at all, integrity has to be the goal.

Hannah Rich
Hannah is senior researcher at Theos Think Tank and tweets at @hannahmerich



  1. The love of money… 🙁

    By Greg  -  4 Aug 2023
  2. I support Liverpool and I know the players earn more than enough so it makes me sad when these young men (inn this case) chase after even more. Unless there’s a higher purpose for their higher earnings which we know nothing about.
    Personal integrity is so important for the church’s testimony to be effective. We must live what we speak and it’s not always easy.
    I hope Jordan has good reason for uprooting his family and I hope he doesn’t live to regret it but somehow finds true meaning in life through the experience.

    By Bev Grove  -  4 Aug 2023
  3. I wonder if Jordan Henderson is a good man who will actually stand up for peoples rights in Saudi .. I think he will also continue giving his time and money to the last, least and lost at more than a tithe… (as he always did at Liverpool)..

    My car runs on Saudi petrol and oil and my electricity comes from questionable gas sources too, so I’m conscious we can challenge wrongness while still using their products …

    Jesus was in and amongst the perceived bad people, simply to love us and to then speak up, and we need to be too.. let’s do what we can together..

    By john myers  -  4 Aug 2023
    • Thank you for your challenge – it’s easy to be indignant about people we don’t know – let’s hope that Jordan continues to be a force for good wherever he is. And let our generosity increase – time, money and spirit.

      By Ruth Murray-Webster  -  5 Aug 2023
  4. God can use this for good. Planting Christians among the lost is not a new concept; perhaps we should pray this young man will cling to his faith and be able to use this new venture as a platform to share the love of Jesus. As countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to open their doors to the outside world, let’s pray that God will use this opportunity to spread the gospel within these borders.

    By Kathy  -  4 Aug 2023
    • Thanks for the challenge to be people of integrity. Way too easy to be hard on Henderson and fail to see our own failings.

      I was wondering if there might be more to explore than just integrity… maybe like faithfulness- how do we stay true to our convictions over time? Why are we so prone to change.

      Or as suggested above, an exploration of possible positive impacts of the move. Is it naive to think it could be anything other than a money move or could this be a way of extending grace and exploring the nuances of living in a complex world?

      By Colin  -  4 Aug 2023
  5. Although I feel dismay at Jordan’s actions, I agree that the right response is to pray for him and his family. It is true that all places, including Saudi, needs people with integrity and a concern for the marginalised in society.

    By Steve Williams  -  4 Aug 2023
  6. I think this is quite unfair! You don’t know Jordan’s reasons for going to Saudi, or what his alternatives were if he didn’t.
    He hasn’t abandoned his belief system just because he’s gone over there (to a club NOT owned by the state by the way).
    To only look at it from our own perspectives and make it about us and how we feel is to completely ignore the truth.
    He didn’t persuade Prem footballers to donate money to frontline NHS staff, it was for NHS Charities Together and ALL NHS staff benefitted.
    He has only ever spoken about LGBT issues in the context of going to watch a football match and said he never wanted to be praised for it, yet people were determined to put him on a pedestal then tear him down at the first opportunity.
    I see your tweets and re-tweets about this subject and it’s clear you haven’t understood the bigger picture. He’s never openly professed a faith in God and yet you are judging him as though he has.
    On the other hand, Roberto Firmino has repeatedly posted about his faith, put a video of his baptism on social media and is constantly posting bible verses and what they mean to him, and yet nobody has thought to question his morals or motives.
    To write a piece like this without having the first clue about why he moved or how he feels is very narrow minded, and hurtful to those who know him best.
    I suggest we stop making things about us and how we feel and admit that we don’t know enough about Saudi or how LGBT people live over there to even pass the slightest bit of judgement.

    By Esther L  -  14 Aug 2023

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