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The Editorial

Football, integrity and church

FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter finally resigned.

John Benton, Editor

Figure Image

The dominant news story as May turned into June was that officials of the governing body for world football were facing investigations of bribery and vote fixing. Both the US FBI and the Swiss authorities are looking into the matter.

This adds to the sorry list of recent scandals that say so much about our society. We have had greedy bankers wrecking Western economies, MPs fiddling their expenses, journalists hacking phones, policemen involved in racism and cover-ups, household name broadcasters convicted of historic sexual abuse and parts of the NHS mistreating the elderly. The church is not exempt. The Methodists recently ‘fessed up’ to the mistreatment of minors among them. And yet we are too ‘grown up’ and self-confident as a society to see any need for God or his grace.


Were votes bought in the contests to hold the 2018 and 2022 world cup finals? FIFA, like most Western institutions, is meant to be a democratic organisation. But, good though it is, democracy can be manipulated.

Democracy, especially in the UK, has roots in the history of dissenting evangelical churches. In his seminal book The Making of the English Working Class E. P. Thompson quotes the 19th-century historian Robert Southey as saying: ‘Methodism has familiarised the lower classes to the work of combining in associations, making rules for their own governance, raising funds and communicating from one part of the kingdom to another.’ Even George Eliot saw that dissent had the value of obliging its members to take responsibility, and supply initiative. Beatrice Webb concluded that the Co-operative Societies and the Labour Party owed everything to the training that the chapel form of worship provided for the working class1.

The New Testament church was a kind of democratic theocracy. The Lord rules the church through his Word and his Spirit. But his Word is loved and his Spirit is present in the hearts of all believers – every member of the church. No part of the body can say ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Corinthians 12.21). The Council of Jerusalem concludes with a letter which ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ to send.

Church decisions

As we suspect democracy is being corrupted in the world, let us be careful that it does not happen in the church.

Church members must take participation in church meetings seriously. And church leaders have especial responsibility. It may be from sincere motives that church or missionary reports accentuate the positive and suppress the negatives – we want to encourage people. It may seem like good management not to share all the facts because we are a growing church with many decisions to take and time is pressing. It might appear wise not to allow discussion on a given topic because we do not want disagreement in the church meeting. But in the end it won’t do. We are straying towards worldly and perhaps even FIFA’s territory. The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to the truth and not to be manipulators.

Good leadership is not about forcing through pre-conceived plans, but it is about sharing the whole situation with God’s people and, by the wisdom that is from above which is peaceable and without partiality, the church being persuaded together as to what is the Lord’s will.

1 Footnote 7 in Silas Marner by George Eliot, Penguin.