I am a Christian and a member of the Labour Party. They are both descriptions I often wish were enough; I never signed up for being boxed into narrow camps within bigger institutions whose values I love.
They are both identities which are important to me, both parts of me which inevitably come up within the course of a couple of conversations. Along with my football team, they are among the things I love to talk about most. They are also both descriptions I often wish were enough. Full stop.
I get frustrated when I’m asked, "but what sort of Christian are you?" I’ve journeyed through several denominations and several churches in several European countries in the last few years, and while I’ve got so much respect for those who’ve found their place in it all, I have yet to pin my colours to one theological mast, save that of Christianity itself. The Church in its broadest, most united and most imperfect sense.
Which brings me to the other imperfect, broad church in my life. The Labour Party. I struggle too to identify myself concretely within any of the factions that I see bubbling up. Corbynite. Blairite. Anyone-But-Corbynite. As with my faith, I’m not sure I ever signed up for being boxed into a narrow camp within a bigger institution whose values I love.
The God of all Government prayer, which many of us have prayed so many times in recent weeks, talks about putting kingdom before tribe. I’m not convinced we’ll ever truly manage that until we’ve learnt to put tribe before faction, even on supposedly the same side of the argument.
I’m not pretending that unity is as simple as changing or widening the language we use; we can’t gloss over divides that have built up over years, decades, or centuries just by making our adjectives more inclusive. Neither am I suggesting we should try to neatly or quickly erase any of the political and theological differences we encounter. Many of them exist precisely because of how strongly and passionately some of us hold to what we believe, and there’s good in that. But I’d like to think that in a truly broad church, there’s scope to hold those differences in tension, however painful, together with the things we share; the things we’ve always shared.
My church – the church – is far from perfect, but I stay because it’s where my hope is, not in the people or the building or the committee meetings, but in the one it’s built on. Christ, our hope of glory. The one who was before all things and in whom all things hold together. That’s my hope, the reason I can carry on living with the discontent.
In a smaller sense, I think that’s true as well of my political engagement. Knowing what it is to exist in community despite the tensions and disagreement makes me even more reluctant to give up on the Labour Party, whatever frustrations I have with it this week or the next. My ultimate hope is not in politics, nor the group of brilliant but broken people who make it happen, or least of all in any particular brand within it. But I have hope of sorts in the potential for good to emerge from a bunch of people willing to model unity and disagree well. Facing his crucifixion, Jesus prayed that "they might be one," (John 17:21) and seeing that prayer answered isn’t as impossible as it perhaps sometimes seems. Jesus never prayed that there might only be one opinion on any given issue, but rather than we might be one in our difference, just like the Trinity.
So I am a Christian. I am a member of the Labour Party. I will continue to be a lover of deeply imperfect but genuinely wonderful institutions: neither of which I’m prepared to give up on any time soon.
Hannah Rich is a member and volunteer for Christians on the Left and is based in London.