When Jesus Came to Birmingham was written by an Anglican minister named Geoffrey Stoddard Kennedy. He called his poem, ‘Indifference.” Kennedy served as a chaplain in the trenches of World War l where he earned the name “Woodbine Willie” because of his habit of giving Woodbine cigarettes to the injured and dying soldiers.
Kennedy wrote this poem during what was called ‘the great disillusion’ of the 1920’s. The English empire was crumbling, the moral certainty of the Victorian age was eroding leaving in its place only skepticism, cynicism and materialism. After four years of war, the British economy was in tatters and poverty widespread except for the few privileged. Kennedy’s love for England and his church faded in the midst of unemployment and the seeming disregard by the wealthy and religious for the desperate plight of the poor.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,…