Common Wealth Network: what should it do?
I’m writing this on here but also sending it to the organisers of the network: its something that’s been bugging me. Or rather, the question “what can Christians who reject the mass distraction of the ‘Big Society’ do?” has been bugging me, but then someone else wrote a 5000 word declaration on pretty much that. But a declaration alone can do nothing, especially not one that contains more theology and politics than it does practicalities. You can find the declaration here.
The opening lines of the declaration are powerful and inspiring – if its Ray Gaston himself writing this, then this is the man who inspired me for over a year to deeply and critically evaluate the kinds of activism I’m involved in. He didn’t always get his way, but his is a voice the church must heed if it is to have any relevance.
The first thing I must say is a warning to Anglicans: we face the very same conditions that forced the creation of Methodism 200 years ago – an Anglican Church failing to critique the imperial aggression and pursuit of wealth in a growing empire and which did not reside amongst the poor nor have anything relevant to their position in society but a call to put up and shut up.
We cannot make the same mistake again. We are called to take up our cross: when Jesus was on the cross he was in the most marginalised position the Romans could put him – crucifixion was kept for those they wanted to thoroughly eject from society. Do we really have the courage to seek out a life in this place? One thing is for sure – in British society, the margins will only get wider in coming years.
”Christians are called to a different perspective, because, put simply, the gospel is not about ‘fairness’. It is about revolutionary, excessive grace.”
But the very next paragraphs (and sorry, if I quoted everything I wanted to from this, I would quote the whole 5000 words and add 10,000 in commentary of my own!) show one of things we must be doing.
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard draws us into this drama. The labourers are all paid the same, paid the whole amount even though some only joined the work late in the day. When those who have worked all day complain, the employer asks them ‘are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20.15).
The story is not a literal prescription for how to pay workers. It is a re-imagination of what economy means. First, everyone is given the full amount. There is no discrimination, no competition for more. Secondly, this giving is not dictated by an impersonal law of supply and demand, but by a conviction that the contents of all our transactions are ultimately rooted in divine gift. Thirdly, the equality of the workers is not based upon some kind of envious class hatred. Rather, it is the desire for inequality that is exposed as driven by envy.
The first thing that must come from the Common Wealth Network if from no where else, is a series of biblical reflections. These could even form the backbone of city or town wide prayer and bible study meetings. If we’re going to have a radical perspective, it must be biblical, and there’s nothing radical about the idea we do that collectively in bible studies. The idea would be a selection of readings and a short lead off emailed to everyone at the start of the month for their group to use.
The second is to meet together sometime soon. Time is short before Christmas, so we can do it afterwards. A smaller gathering to discuss the possibilities, open to all signatories, could be followed later in the year by a rallying event at Methodist Central Hall, with friends in Church Action on Poverty and other organisations. We must shake the very foundations of the notion of a compliant, passive and individualistic church.
The third is real commitment to working with and being present within the coalitions that are forming. On Saturday I got myself onto the National Council of the Coalition of Resistance – I have no evidence, having seen the lists of others signing up, that any of the 122 members of that council are Christians. I can only represent myself, however I propose to offer myself for “adoption” by the network – I shan’t be angry if I’m not adopted as the process is backwards. It should be Ray Gaston and not me, but I didn’t see him there.
And the church must prepare its banners. March with a banner to represent your church – we all know Christian NGO’s have opinions, but when the Church itself, the only official institution with a valid critique of what we see the government doing, is seen to be marching in the streets, then the government will know that something has changed and that we have read our bibles, and that we do know that it “is the very spirit of competitive inequality, mutual suspicion and envy” that we are called to be salt and light in the presence of.