‘They came expecting fireworks’: the launch of Christians on the Left

Fireworks explode behind the Big Ben clock on the Houses of Parliament in LondonChristians 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.  No one can be under any doubt: 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 the energy and the moral compass for progressive movements for social justice.

I felt the event showed that Christians on the Left will be a movement which embodies the following qualities:

It will draw on its rich heritage

At the event, 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 Suzy Stride, the Labour candidate for Harlow, looked to the future.  She shared personally about how her upbringing in Tower Hamlets fueled her desire to get involved in changing the structures of society to create greater fairness and opportunity.

Then 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’: our commitment to justice is rooted in our commitment to follow Jesus.

Its 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 took us back to the origins of the Christian movement and warned against the desire to see change come instantly 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…”

The birth of something new…

In that room in Parliament on Bonfire night I saw something which inspired me.  The fireworks outside came and went and by the time we left many Guido Fawkes masks were left discarded on the pavement…

But something more durable and deeper was at work: the re-birth of a movement which has a rich past and an promising future.  It made me excited to be involved and proud to be a Christian on the Left.

The Christians on the Left website.

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