Connecting with Culture
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It is hard to know what to think about Cressida Dick’s resignation. After a long and steady campaign against her, she was finally forced out by Sadiq Khan’s public statement of his lack of confidence. Such public humiliation is painful to watch. However, she has presided over a number of scandals and there’s persistent evidence of racism and misogyny in the Met.
Toppling leaders can be a swift and decisive way to bring about change. But it can risk setting up the next leader to fail equally publicly unless we ask the real questions: how do you reform culture? Whose responsibility is it when the problem is located in so many different people? What is the responsibility of our wider culture and its expectations of the police?
The quandary is hardly new. For centuries, philosophers have considered how to understand the responsibilities of people, structures, and leaders. The Bible has much to say about it too. The book of Judges, for instance, examines a succession of leaders. They all ‘judge’ Israel, but the shape of their leadership differs: some are elected, some chosen by different size groups, some emerge gradually, some come to leadership through birth or family connections.
The structures of leadership differ, but in every case, both people and leader struggle. To ‘judge’ is to bring justice, and to foster the flourishing of every person, particularly the most vulnerable, and that is the responsibility of a whole people, not just leaders. But Judges tells us that however good the ‘system’, the real problem is the human heart: both people and systems need converting, otherwise their efforts will fail.
How can things change then? Scripture’s answer is unexpected. There is evaluation and therefore judgement, and consequences. However, what transforms Israel repeatedly is not judgement, but grace. It is when God reaches out, when God has compassion, when God does not wait for perfection but works with flawed human beings, that things change.
Thinking about Cressida Dick, and the Met, can we, as Christians, offer a different way to speak about failure and transformation? Can we model grace and accountability in words and actions, speaking up for truth and justice, yet keeping sight of the person we criticise as a fellow human being – vulnerable, and loved by God?
If we cannot speak of both grace and responsibility, we are doomed to repeat the cycle, because whoever comes next will, also, only be human.
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops