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. 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 both the energy and the moral compass for social justice movements.
Many of these qualities were evident in the launch event of Christians on the Left that night:
It draws on its rich heritage
At the launch, 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 that Christians 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 Susie Stride, the Labour candidate for Harlow, spoke about the future. She shared personally about how her upbringing in Tower Hamlets fuelled her desire to get involved in changing the structures of society to create greater fairness and opportunity. After her, 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’ because our commitment to justice is rooted in our commitment to follow Jesus.
It is 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 warned against people who wanted to see change come instantly and easily 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…”