As a student of history, it often amazes me how Christianity has been viewed in the past and present. It certainly does not have a past of roses and perfection, but in this day and age, is it just seen as dark and depressing? Well if it is, then it really shouldn’t! As a historian with a keen interest in the Early Modern Period, I would like to bring to your attention, the levellers, and the diggers in the 1640s.
Christians have throughout history have been on the left of politics, way before Marx ever wrote his communist manifesto and shows what an impact the bible can have on society. In 1640s the Levellers rose up in the ranks of the army to demand that society should be equal, with equal votes for all men, as well noting the problems of the class system. These brothers and sisters made a stand for their political beliefs which came from the Holy word itself. They believed that as God sees us all equal, then why do we have poverty and an unfair class system? They referred to Jesus stating “Love thy neighbour as yourself”, such powerful words, and a phrase we have probably heard and used these words ourselves many a term. Nonetheless, they followed these words in Loving their Neighbour, I hope and pray we do ourselves!
Some key figures of this movement were John Lilburn, Richard Overton, William Walwyn, Gerrard Winstanley, all who campaigned for freedom of speech and freedom from censorship, in their times, they were radicals, dangerous to the government, however, today, they could and should be classed as nothing less than social heroes, at least we can say for the time being that there goals have been achieved, and now it is time for us to advance those goals.
Lilburn for example, rejected a £300 pound sum for his bravery during his trial as a traitor when captured by Royalists, announcing to the Earl of Essex that ‘he would rather fight for eightpence a day until the liberties and peace of England was settled’, money did not bother him, even though his family was in debt and the money would have paid off all of those debts, but he was more concerned with liberty so he continued onwards. Thomas Rainborough who was part of the New Model Army argued that ‘The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he’. Everyone has a life to live, and he reminded those he spoke to, of this. Everyone deserves a chance, and here in the 17th century, we see men of faith striving, getting involved in politics, championing the cause of the poor and for freedom.
Christian communism also can be seen in the same time period with the Diggers, they even started their own communes on two hills, one of which was in Surrey, they were eventually kicked off the land, but they believed that the land belonged to everyone and that everyone was equal in society, they are a remarkable people to study. However they stood by their ideas but are largely forgotten in our history, being removed at the similar time as the Levellers in the last 1640s.
I could go throughout the bible and specifically the New Testament and go into how it supported the Levellers and our claims, but there are too many to choose from. Nonetheless the Levellers had a growing support in the 1640s, and made a huge impact in society, that even the government were scared of. The advent of the printing press, allowed their ideas to spread across the land, and now with the internet, our ideas, and messages can go even further. We should be encouraged by their actions, and determination and should be proud of what God has done, and we are the continuation of their work.
Sadly quite a few of these brave men and women were executed or taken as prisoner after the Civil war had ended. But their legacy hasn't ended, Christianity on the left has progressed so much since then and Christians have done so much in politics that is unbelievable. The Levellers made a stand against a corrupt and tyrannical government in its many forms, and we should try to replicate a similar spirit, one that has a desire to level society in terms of social justice and class equality. Throughout the 19th century and the 20th century, reformers have followed the works started by the Levellers, and we should follow in their footsteps, following our Lord in helping the poor and fixing a broken society.
What is the point of this post? It is that Christians have throughout history been championing the case of the poor, from
Jesus to now. Christians have always been involved in politics, even if they didn't get to see the fruits of their labour, they are examples for us to follow. They were inspired to get involved, and we should, without hesitation, get involved in politics too.