guest blog: worship, justice and politics (part 2)

In part one of this guest blog, Andy Flannagan shared his thoughts on the relationship between worship, justice and politics. In this second part, he tells us more about the Christian Socialist Movement’s (CSM) work, particularly in encouraging those on the inside of the political system , and then crucially, challenges us all to engage with politics more fully.

Andy Flannagan

My bath has never got cleaner by me standing outside it, and shouting at it… as I explained in part one, I have come to believe that it’s not enough just to campaign, we need to get stuck in on the inside of politics too.

It’s hard slow work but the CSM’s network building and resources provide support and camaraderie for those who have been called to the inside. And I’m really encouraged that there are a growing number of people in their 20s and 30s who are really sensing that this is their call.

CSM’s passion is to see God’s kingdom come, and his will be done, on the left side of politics. There are plenty of people who can say yes to that sentiment! But I suppose our particular speciality is on supporting people to get specifically involved, especially in the Labour Party.

A lot of prayer and careful thought is required by Christians going into politics, and by the CSM too. What will we agree with and not agree with? It’s the same with anyone. Lots of people feel they couldn’t join a party because although they have common causes, there are things they disagree with.

But the truth is, there’s only one party which I 100 per cent agree with – and that’s the Andy Flannagan party! Perhaps unsurprisingly, it only has one member!

This seems to be a classic Christian thing – that we think we have to agree with absolutely everything to be involved in anything. But we are called to co-operate; to be somewhere where we’re stretched and need to pray and rely on God rather than retreating to safe-houses.

CSM’s mission is just this – to be there, stuck in, and supporting those who people are doing so. Politics is a really bad place to go it solo – there are lots of ambitious people – and it’s hard. There’s an African proverb I think is particularly helpful for understanding this which says “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”. And that latter approach is what we’re aiming for.

There was a good example recently in Luton where a church leader was elected an MP, and the only reason this came about was by building relationships and working together over a long period of time.

In fact,  together and slow is is the only responsible way to do it to avoid burnout because it takes a lot of strength to change a culture – not just change policies – we want to see individuals raised up who think well of the other side and aren’t tribal, respect family, and resist becoming workaholics.

Of course, as with any area where we’re going against the flow, it’s challenging. And so we need to pray and be focused on Jesus because it’s all about his example of servant leadership – choosing not to shy away from the leadership we’re called to, but doing as Jesus did. Of course this is hugely sacrificial and trying to model a different kind of leadership can only come from connection – our energy needs to come from his Spirit. It’s hard to lead like that when everyone else is screaming a different way.

1. Tell us a bit about the left/ right Christian debate…

I am sensing an increasing number of folks who are ‘left’ of centre on economic issues, but more right of centre on social issues. There is definitely momentum there.

It’s hard for Christians who can often be pigeon-holed into “left” or “right” and we need to make sure that that space stays open, as those folks sometimes don’t feel at home in either major party. It’s also important to note that we don’t make law for everything we believe is right and wrong; some things are appropriate to be legislated and some are not.

Jesus embodied truth. God has a take on all things – and some of his followers have a passion or skill for campaigning on one, and some for another – and that’s fine.

For me it’s about taking a holistic and “both and” approach. I am happy to campaign on for example abortion and also to strongly critique capitalism, or support a living wage, which can seem like a contradiction to some, but left and right are just human constructions. We have to work with them of course, but shouldn’t be limited by them.

The same applies to the church. We need to regain a “both and” approach. I’ve been so inspired recently by Urban Neighbours of Hope which are made up of people living in the toughest cities and campaigning politically, working socially and praying for healing to transform them. They have realised it’s not an abstract decision – the people they are working alongside are politically, practically and spiritually oppressed – and to only respond to them in one way would be to not truly serve them. I’m encouraged to see many churches getting involved in this type of “both and” approach.

John Bell from the Iona community says “if God isn’t in the kitchen he isn’t anywhere”. And I think that sums up the big reason we’ve stepped away… as goes our language, speaking and theology, so goes our action. If we’re not singing about the kitchen, if we’re not including the work-place in our worship, we won’t have that perspective when we go out into it.

Our faith’s engagement with politics should be all about relationship building. But many Christians involved in politics get frustrated because as Christians we easily cast ourselves in the role of critic, commentator and voter rather than becoming participators. We shouldn’t see our responsibility in politics as just putting a tick in box every five years. Instead, we should be building relationships with councillors and MPs – and have much bigger swathes of prayer going on as we do this.

When this relationship building and prayer happens, opportunities open up, people start asking for prayer – we need to be a people who bless, support and challenge.

It’s a heart-breaking truth that most MPs will tell you that the rudest letters they get often from Christians. I’m not saying all Christian letters are like this, but the ones that are detract from the faithful service and witness of those trying to work inside the system.

My advice, if you’re looking to get stuck in, would be to not get obsessed with the national politics and soap opera of Westminster, because there is so much more opportunity to impact your local area, especially in supporting people who are getting involved. We don’t have to agree with people all the time to pray for them, or for the outcomes of elections, or to join together as a church in doing this. We can confidently bring any issue before God and simply pray “your will be done”.

A great example of this happened of recently when many church leaders in London met with Ken Livingstone, and he listened to their concerns and then shared his passion and vision. There were three incredible presentations – from Christians Against Poverty, SPEAR Hammersmith who are getting young people into employment, and XLP youth work in South London. It was amazing to see the church engage in this way, and to witness the impact it had on Ken and how he spoke for rest of the day.

2. What message do you want to send to Christians who are wondering how to engage more in this area?

It’s all about following Jesus. Jesus who was in constant connection – worshipping, praying, drawing aside – but then in the midst of action; listening, seeing and doing whatever God was doing. He was not about maintaining the status quo. Instead, he challenged the religious and political leaders of Israel, and made some quite incredible points with regard to Caesar!

The sermon on the mount was a total reorientation of the world… time and time again Jesus stood up on behalf of the downtrodden and marginalised and that is who he spent his time with. And that’s what God’s heart is. I don’t see that as an innate bias towards those in poverty. God sadly has to be biased towards the poor, because we’re not. We’re obsessed with celebrity and power-brokers. He knows our potential selfishness – and that’s why laws like Jubilee existed in the first place.

We need to really pray for, and support, our leaders and politicians. At the current time, what I most often find myself praying for is wisdom, discernment, bravery and encouragement. I don’t believe that the world’s economics are going to get better with mere tinkering. But it’s going to take bravery to dismantle systems, creating potential uncertainty and trauma before things get better.

But I believe and hope that someone may be able to do that. They have to. Because analysts are already saying the bottom one billion people on our planet are cast adrift, that they simply can’t catch up. It’s going to take extreme bravery to live differently.

If you’ve found this as inspiring as we have, you might like to subscribe to Andy’s blog. You might also be interested to visit the website of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.

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