Bring Back the Three R's - Relationships, Reaching out and Redemption.

In my job with The Salvation Army I have the immense privilege of attending three party conferences and connecting with the key Christian groups in each party. Attending the Labour Party conference in Brighton is a particular joy for me. I am a party member, a Christians on the Left member and I love Brighton. They even have a football team called Albion, but not the real one of course... (I'm a West Brom fan..!)

On a serious note, this year’s conference leads me to reflect on the following thoughts.

Conference is a time for re-connection and putting relationships back into the centre of politics, sadly I only meet some people each Autumn at the Labour Party conference. However, in citing the importance of a relational orientation to politics, I hope I mean something richer than my erratic networking.  It is good to re-connect and more important to re-build our relationships.  As the recent Christians on The Left video prophetically reminds us it is a relational approach to politics that is required.

relationships

God is a relational God and rooting our approach in a wholesome and graceful relational approach would avoid some of the barbarity that seems to define contemporary discourse. In fact, whilst in Brighton I happened to be interviewed by the BBC asking if I would ever be friends with a Conservative? You can see my answer here, where I suggest that not to do so would be ‘un-Labour’ like and ‘un-neighbourly’ and I hope it contained seeds of the gospel.

Ian Geary

Party Conference is a time of reaching out in mission, because politics is mission. I like much, but not all of Rod Dreher’s book ‘The Benedict Option’. Yet, now is not a time to retreat from certain forms of cultural engagement. Now is a time to pray but it is also a time to reach out all the more in mission and not retreat to our caves.[1] With my employer The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church, URC, The Baptist Union and Quakers we spent much time talking to NGOs and Labour MPs. We discussed issues that concern us but looked to lift up the vocation of political service and offer prayer. We reached out in this manner not just at Labour conference but at the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and SNP conferences too. We need to be reaching out and engaging all the more in a time of division, impoverishment of vision[2] and empty discourse.  Hudson Taylor prayed to God to send fellow workers missionaries to China and Mongolia (incidentally whilst on Brighton beach). I am not a numbers chap but let’s pray for more fellow workers to penetrate the world of politics, media, enterprise, the arts and the world of work. If the Reformation taught us one thing it is that all work can glorify God.

It was a time of dare I say it ‘repentance’? The only fringe Tom Watson MP spoke at was on gambling and the epidemic this nation faces. The Labour Deputy Leader seems determined to clean up the mess left by… well, the last Labour Government in an act of turbo charged liberalisation.  I believe he means business.  Certainly, we should encourage more politicians trying to redeem past mistakes. In this oh-so-toxic of ages, we need redemption alongside justice; politicians and political structures are fallen and fallible. We have needed a little reminder of this over the last several deeply depressing weeks.

Tom Watson

To be of any lasting meaning and truly impact the renewal of relationships, the power to reach out and the gift of redemption can only come from one source: Christ. Outgoing Director of Christians on the Left, Andy Flannagan, reminded us at the Conference Service of a political vision shaped more by the eternal vision of the ‘new Jerusalem’ than by pulling away at Labour’s roots, in search of elusive progress. This simply leaves in its wake an unhealthy utopian air.  For politics to get to a better place, across the spectrum, we need a renewal of the values that drove the early Christian pioneers of Labour.
Dispositions of love, fellowship and mutual respect.
Now, that is a revival I can pray for.
by Ian Geary, written in a personal capacity as a member of Christians on the Left. Ian works for the Salvation Army as a Public Affairs Adviser.

[1] Certainly our activism needs to be balanced with prayer and times of solitude. 

[2] The Evangelical Alliance’s initiative ‘What kind of society?’ seeks to re-frame the conversation about a Christian vision for the common good,  human flourishing and the good life - http://www.eauk.org/church/campaigns/what-kind-of-society/index.cfm

 

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