Purity, Integrity and Determination
I was struck by what a small group of Evangelicals who came along to Climate Camp had to say about the way they saw the Direct Action movement meeting around them, something which struck me as being both a challenge to my Christianity and to my Radical side, and as a reminder of why Direct Action is actually something Christians should be getting involved in, and why ultimately lobbying is a road to ruin for so many.
So often people remind us that politics is about compromise, as if this is somehow a concrete truth and not at all something our culture has taught us, and which is to be lamented. Indeed, so often the compromise is really a case of saying “well, its nice that you have those principles, but we’ll do what economic reason tells us to anyway”.
Nowhere is this more the case than in the UK government’s response to issues of the Environment and Aviation. On the one hand, acknowledge its bad, then completely leave it out of the white paper on the environment while issuing a set of plans that will see air travel increase dramatically.
The big advantage in this respect that Climate Camp has over the NGO’s on this issue is that it’s committed to Direct Action; to challenging the issues at a physical level, one where bold statements have real effects, and where everyone can play a role without compromising themselves. I’m always amazed by the way Direct Action movements can survive on so little cash (making them more, though not totally, immune to the conditionalities which drag NGO’s down, and which NGO’s use to drag each other down.
Through the decentralisation and the use of concensus, small groups take on actions which they all feel comfortable with, regardless of their feelings towards other groups who are also taking action at the same time. Suddenly there is room for people with strong opinions to stand up and be heard, so long as they can allow others to do the same.
As a Christian I’m taught to be ‘salt in the world’ and that if I lose that saltiness I shall become worthless, yet that is exactly what so much of the NGO campaigning going on around Britain today, and with which the church some how finds huge affinity, is doing; it seems to my mind that many, though not all, of the biggest have already lost all the saltiness they ever had.
Organisational politics is something Christians keep complaining to me about, and the one place I see people successfully avoiding it is in these very movements. Perhaps we Christians should start learning to listen to other radicals if we want to find something that actually works.
I guess another thing that Climate Camp proved was that organisation and physical force are no match for the determination of those who have little more than their beliefs to sustain them. In a world of materialism, it seems that this has been forgotten by the police forces of this country, much at their peril. And this is another thing which amazed me about the camp: the extent to which Direct Action favours those who have nothing else to offer but their own physical actions, and how I found myself realising that, to take a stand and risk arrest, was easier for those who had the least to lose by doing so. It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for some to take such a stand.
So I’m left wondering just how Christian it is to lobby on behalf of the poor, in a system which will ultimately pat us on the head, say how nice we are, and then do exactly what the economy requires. Yes, there’s the historical connection to many charities which most Christians now feel. But I’m left feeling that any method of government that benefits big organisations, whether corporations or NGO’s, is simply not biblical, and that only through Direct Action can Mary’s song be fulfilled: “the hungry are raised up and the powerful brought low”.
By avoiding means and ends politics, by living and acting in simple ways that don’t restrain us from facing the effects of a confrontation with power, Christians could do so much more to bring about the kingdom of heaven.
Blatant plug: I58, short for Isaiah 58, is network for Christians involved with Direct Action movements and which promotes Direct Action tactics and movements within the church. It has a new website, currently at i58.blogbound.com.