Next week, the Christian Socialist Movement will officially launch its name: Christians on the Left.
This is a very significant step in the story of Christian influence on the left-wing of British politics. The history of Christian Socialism is a rich and deep tradition which had a massive influence in shaping the Labour movement. Rather than a departure from this tradition, this name change is in keeping with it. It enables the movement to move with the times and communicate in a way people can connect with. Christians on the Left offers a great opportunity to deepen and sustain a faith-inspired commitment to social justice in UK politics.
It’s a brave decision for an organisation to change your name. Constitutionally it’s difficult. The case for change needs to be made, the AGM needs to be convinced and then a significant majority is needed in an all-member postal ballot. Often organisations simply are not able to summon up the energy required for such an upheaval. Institutionalised conservatism and fondness for the past creates an inertia which is often too powerful to overcome.
Rather than summon the effort to change, it’s far easier to organisations to settle for the status quo. Even if this means a slow, gradual slide into oblivion, this form of slow death avoids the pain of self-examination and the challenge of possible renewal. A purity of belief can be maintained as the gatherings get ever smaller, and the blame placed on external factors such as apathy or a lack of political consciousness.
A more adventurous path
I am so pleased that the leadership of the Christian Socialist Movement did not choose the status quo. They chose a more adventurous path. They chose renewal, they chose life.
They chose to put energy into a genuine consultation exercise, investing time, resources and gusto into communicating the options for change as well as possible. A robust but good natured debate was held at the AGM. It meant that whether people agreed or disagreed with the name change, few have been able to criticise the process.
I believe that it is by being progressive and willing to change that we stay true to those who blazed a trail before us. At the AGM I shared an example from my work at the West London Mission where I oversee our social work with homeless people. Much of this work was started by Donald Soper, the Methodist Minister who was also the first Chair of CSM. How do we remain faithful to his legacy? Not by doing everything the same as it was done in the 1950s and 60s but by continuing to evolve our work, to be bold and take the path where we can do the most good. I believe it’s the same for CSM.
The launch of Christians on the Left brings massive opportunities for the further renewal and growth of the movement. The last 15 years there has been a massive rise in the consciousness of Christians to issues of social justice. But, of course, at the same time, in the wake of dubious wars and expenses scandals, many have understandably grown cynical about mainstream politics. So it’s important to say that although Christians on the Left has a number of MPs as members and works in close relationship with the party, it is not in Labour’s pocket. It is an independent voice.
Therefore, we should have real ambition for what can be achieved because there are so many Christians on the left who could be attracted to join the movement.
I am thinking about the many people I know who serve their communities tirelessly in Food Banks, Night Shelters and a host of community projects, but who know that the problems they face also require political solutions. Those who know that compassion must be accompanied by a commitment to justice.
I am thinking about those who want to see greater fairness in our economic system, financial institutions and big business actually held to account, and a welfare system that actually works as a safety net for the most vulnerable. Those whose commitment to following Jesus means they reject the lifestyle and politics of selfishness.
I am thinking of those who want to see the right balance restored between personal responsibilities and social justice. Those who believe that both economic inequality as well as family breakdown and the poverty of relationships scar our communities and who are determined to talk about both.
I am thinking about those Christians who follow a Jesus who is passionate about justice and who reject an individualised theology which is simply about ‘how I get to heaven’. Those who desire radical change in both individuals and our society and don’t want a Daily Mail theology to dominant the church’s message.
Christians on the Left has the Ronseal factor – it does exactly what it says on the tin. If you are a Christian and you are on the Left, then this is the movement for you. Why not come and join us?