Posted by: rogermitchell | February 17, 2011

Forests, private property and the redistribution of land

Before proceeding any further with the exposition of John’s footwashing story, I am strongly motivated to start a conversation about the pressing need for the redistribution of land. My thoughts about the nature of true democracy, the heart of the gospel and how to pray into the recent events in Egypt, all seem to be pushing in this direction. Today’s announcement of the British government’s change of heart over its plans to sell off the English forests currently in public ownership seems like a great sign. While the multitude was mobilising in Egypt, a more modest combination of public demonstrations and the collection of half a million signatures via social networking sites here in England has proved able to change the government’s plans.  But this is just a step in the right direction. We need to mobilise for the redistribution of much more land out of the hands of major landowners and back to common stewardship.

If the creation is a gift to humankind, then it is not private property. My understanding is that it is a gift to steward. But who gets to steward the gift for the benefit of their fellow humans? I am currently exploring a mixture of personal and cooperative stewardship along the lines of everyone “under their own vine and fig tree,” in the Old Testament analogy, extending this to include larger tracts of land for farming, industrial and commercial use within defined limits that put people and the environment before profit, with the rest of the land managed cooperatively for the mutual benefit of all. This is a massive and controversial subject, and I am sure to be returning to it many times. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think that this is the time to be asking the big questions. There is no point being alive at the time when prayer and the Holy Spirit is shaking the political foundations without asking the deepest questions. Otherwise we will fail to shift the deep structures of society and simply reconstitute the old injustices. More anon …



  1. You are always a breath of fresh air as always Rog!! It is time for the people of the Kingdom to decide their role in these larger issues. Even when I go to the table with people who have been engaging with poverty for decades and been walking out the Gospel, the prophetic imaginery is still very limited. Even the most radical shifts in confronting the issue of poverty have still been a response to poverty and an attempt to help people become upwardly mobile and good capitalists. Nobody seems to be talking about how to shift the systemic issues that are creating the poverty. (like how in Canada do you deal with the Lubicon Cree who we have impoverished – google them).

    What role do we play in realizing communities and nations and a globe that reflects the parts of Scripture that are almost entirely overlooked?? Land redistribution, wealth redistribution… (yet, we opt for a king)

    We live in Nations where the opportunity to have a voice is there… Egypt has filled me with hope and passion. I need more faith though… our ‘freedom’ has made us too comfortable (I write out this in my latest blog). How do we inspire people to take up the call of Mandela who said that true freedom means “to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”?

  2. Great to have this contribution Ken. I think my relationship with Canada has been one of the more radical influences on me! Permissioned me to think even more outside the box. There is definitely something in the land there! Must get back before this year’s out if poss.

  3. Roger: I don’t know what models you are using for your thoughts – the first thing that comes to my mind is community land trusts. They are used lots in the USA, less so in Canada. There are all sorts of models for community land ownership – I share in one in my domestic life called co-housing. That is a model that is big in northern europe. Of course the theologian on all of this is Brueggemann, one of my favourites.

    My own personal experience tells me that collective ownership does not founder on ownership but rather on maintenance, especially of collective spaces. Human beings often have great intentions and poor follow-through. The way a collective deals with failures and with intentional cheating tends to be the real issues in any collective venture.

    • Not sure what models I’m using for my thoughts on this! Although as you might expect it will involve a Jesus hermeneutic. I have been impressed by Alastair McIntosh: Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power (Aurum Press, 2001, 2004) and the experience of acquiring the Scottish island of Eigg for the locals [] although he comes from a different angle to me. Your experience will be very helpful. I was part of a theological texts reading group based on Brueggermann last academic year, but nothing cropped up on this. What of his do you particularly recommend?

      • give me a wee bit of time to think. It is 20:00 and I soon have to go to bed to be up at 5am in order to do 6 hours of teaching tomorrow – I’m not well focused at the moment. I once spent much time on this topic so I’ll see what I can remember. . . c.

    • Cheryl – please could you provide a link to co-housing? I’ve never heard of it before and I’m close to northern Europe! lol! I’d like to know more. Thanks x

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