The Christian Socialist Movement, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, was born on 22 January 1960. On 5 November 2013 it officially became Christians on the Left. Andy Flannagan, Director of Christians on the Left explains the thinking behind the change:
“All across the UK, Christians are engaging with their communities in incredible ways.
“They are discovering that systems and structures need transformation as well as the people who are part of them. In short, they are realising the need to be political. We connect, equip and support those getting involved.
“The new name will help us reach out to build a stronger bridge between Christians concerned about the world around them and left of centre politics. Christians on the Left is a name which makes it clear what we do – it ‘does what it says on the tin’.”
Andy and Jon Kuhrt who is the co-author of the excellent Resistance & Renewal blog have kindly sent a report of the launch evening. Words are by Jon Kuhrt.
Christians on the Left, the new name for the Christian Socialist Movement, was formally launched in a packed room at the Houses of Parliament on November 5th.
It was quite a night to be in that famous old building. Drawing inspiration from the most famous anti-parliamentary activism of all time, an anarchist demonstration was noisily protesting in Whitehall and Parliament Square at the same time. Numerous fireworks, aimed in the direction of Parliament, emerged from the sea of Guido Fawkes masks and exploded colourfully in the night sky around Big Ben.
The scenario illustrated the challenge for contemporary politics of how it responds to the widespread discontent and anger with representative democracy. Can politics itself be redeemed? Can an inspiring movement for social justice emerge within the mire of mainstream politics?
Christians on the Left will have a key role in this debate in the years ahead. No one can be under any doubt: faith is not going away. We have seen incredible growth of Christian social action nationwide through food banks, night shelters and community organising. Likewise, it will be faith and spirituality that will provide the energy and the moral compass for progressive movements for social justice.
I felt the event showed that Christians on the Left will be a movement which embodies the following qualities:
It will draw on its rich heritage
At the event, Labour’s Policy Coordinator, Jon Cruddas MP gave a historical overview of the importance of Christian influence within the Party. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the rich heritage was inspiring as he illustrated how Christians had influenced great characters of the party from Keir Hardie, to George Lansbury and Clement Attlee. Cruddas showed how the new name maintained the link with the rich heritage thatChristians on the Left can always draw on. Truly, the further back we look, the further forward we can see.
It has a genuine sense of movement and energy
After Cruddas spoke about the past, the infectiously passionate Suzy Stride, the Labour candidate for Harlow, looked to the future. She shared personally about how her upbringing in Tower Hamlets fueled her desire to get involved in changing the structures of society to create greater fairness and opportunity.
Then the writer and commentator Vicky Beeching urged everyone to take hold of how social media can be tool for social justice and encouraged a wave of tweets to be dispatched to illustrate her point.
These younger speakers illustrated the youthful energy within Christians on the Left and it was reflected by the vibrant mix of MPs, candidates, church leaders and those who work for international NGOs or UK charities who were in the room. This was not a bunch of Westminster hacks but a group with the potential to create a significant movement.
It has a spiritual confidence
Gavin Shuker MP, a former church leader who at 28 became the MP for Luton, spoke about the need for Christians to be confident in their faith and to stand in solidarity with each other.
The meeting itself embodied this: as well as the references to justice, there were many references to Jesus. It illustrated a significant spiritual confidence in Christians on the Left to be explicit about the person we seek to follow. We cannot be shy about our faith – we need to be confident about using both ‘J words’: our commitment to justice is rooted in our commitment to follow Jesus.
It’s in it for the long haul
All this was drawn together in a closing speech by Andy Flannagan, the Director of Christians on the Left, who took us back to the origins of the Christian movement and warned against the desire to see change come instantly in a flash and a bang:
“In first century Palestine, many also came looking for fireworks. An oppressed people came looking for liberation. They were hoping for a mighty explosion of energy and light that would restore their status as God’s chosen people, in charge of their own destiny. And it looked like this carpenter of Nazareth was going to light the touch-paper.
They came looking for fireworks, but they got a story about something practically invisible. What they got was a man who said “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed”. He said, “This isn’t going to be fast. This is going to be slow. He said, “This isn’t going to start huge, it’s going to start infinitesimally small”.
We must not get sucked into the instant culture of the 21st century, where everything is about overnight sensations and next big things. We must be prepared to do the hard yards of relationship building. Change in political thinking and practice is rarely fast, but we must believe that that mustard seed will produce fruit. There is also something of sacrifice and death about that seed. We will not necessarily be lauded for what we do, but unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…”
The birth of something new…
In that room in Parliament on Bonfire night I saw something which inspired me. The fireworks outside came and went and by the time we left many Guido Fawkes masks were left discarded on the pavement…
But something more durable and deeper was at work: the re-birth of a movement which has a rich past and a promising future. It made me excited to be involved and proud to be a Christian on the Left.
Categories: Faith in society, Parliament, Party politics
OK, so someone help me out here. When we say Christians on the left, are we saying Christians who are members or participants within parties traditionally seen on the left of politics? Or are we saying this as a term to describe Christians with left wing principles? If it is the latter, then it could be the case that these Christian folk have slightly missed the point of their political calling. Christianity is above and beyond left or right wing ideologies, and any attempt to mix both together produces a skewed understanding of Christianity as a result.
A particular danger of the “Christian socialist movement” as it is often termed, is that while the admirable goal of enacting social justice, perhaps in line with “kingdom principles” is to be encouraged, Christians committed to this goal in the end may make this political aim an idol, and lose the essence of christianity itself. As Andrew Goddard from Oxford said
“Political authority, if it recognises itself to be a response to man’s fallen nature with a limited non-redemptive task, can serve to contain the threat of chaos and the power of sin. It cannot, however, eliminate these. Once those seeking and holding political power try to use that power to achieve more than politics’ ordained and limited end of restraining sin through upholding justice in society and serving the common good, political life soon becomes a new idol. Like all idols it feeds off people’s devotion, but instead of meeting their real needs, simply creates more chaos. Christians, who know the true place of political authority in God’s purposes, are devoted to serving the crucified Christ as Lord and are praying for the coming of God’s own kingdom, must therefore encourage those engaged in political life to acknowledge its limited role and significance. They must warn any society when they discern its political life falling prey to the real dangers of idolatry leading to chaos.”
This may be less founded, but i feel Christians “on the left” (the term is starting to grate on me more and more!) while talking up on issues of Justice, may be less prepared to talk up on issues of morality, which is just as much an important area for our nation. If such discussions are not pursued, then the fullness of the Christian world-view and gospel cannot be present.