by the Director of the Christian Socialist Movement

Andy Flannagan
Andy Flannagan

Andy Flannagan is the director of the Christian Socialist Movement, which is the group of Christians affiliated to the Labour party. The Conservative Christian Fellowship is led by Elizabeth Berridge, and the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum has just appointed Zoe Dixon, a former CARE intern, to be its leader. Together they form "Christians in Politics", which encourages Christians to stop merely shouting from the sidelines, and get involved in party politics. One of them will be writing for Cross Rhythms each month. Andy Flannagan starts things off:

So I'm praying, and I'm asking God to reveal what he wants to bring to pass in the realm of young people and politics. I feel an ever so kind kick up the backside as I realise that he already has. He has planted this stuff inside many young people the length and breadth of this country. As young people have encountered poverty and dysfunction during community action or international trips, their natural curiosity has led them to ask, "Why are things the way they are?" They are not satisfied by the status quo. They are not satisfied with mere charity that allows us to feel we have done the right thing without effecting long-term change. In the words of Martin Luther King, they realise many before them have been content to just be the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but they want to improve the security of the Jericho Road so that no-one else gets mugged. Having heard so often the adolescent cry of, "It's not fair!" they are learning that injustice is often structural as well as personal. They are learning that until the global economic system is rewired according to principles of justice, rather than being ruled by the wealthy, any help we bring is quickly reversed. These facts are leading them to the natural conclusion that these things won't change while Christians are just shouting about them from the sidelines rather than getting on the pitch.

Politics is just people serving people. There shouldn't be anything more natural for a Christian. I stood as a candidate for a by-election in my local area last year; and as I knocked on people's doors and heard their stories, I realised that there was no-one else knocking these people's doors. No-one else was allowing them to feel connected to the bigger picture. And, to be honest, I wouldn't have been there if I wasn't looking for their vote. The imperfect, yet brilliant thing that is democracy suddenly showed its worth. It is a glue that holds society together.

I sit typing this not as naive dreaming, but as genuine vision, because God has promised to redeem and restore all of creation, and politics is merely the way we organise ourselves in the midst of it. God's perfection IS the future. It will happen. The only question is how soon, and you can be certain that we're the ones who will be the limiting factor, not God. We have the privilege of being partners with him in his project of "making all things new." Also bear in mind that I write this from the midst of a thoroughly depressed Labour HQ, in a week where nearly a million of my countrymen and women have voted for a party with a racist constitution, so my glasses are not rose-tinted.

So here we go. In 2020...

Youthwork in churches is missional. Young people are continually serving their communities. They understand that this is a vital part of the discipleship deal, rather than a fun summer extra. This engagement with their friends and community is breaking their hearts and forcing them to their knees. It is also highlighting where broken lives are a product of a broken society, so action is required not simply to mend individual lives but to mend the context in which they attempt to grow.

Young people are at the leading edge of an eschatological shift that has spread to the whole church. They see themselves as partners in God's restoration and redemption of all things. They see themselves as agents of the kingdom in the here and now. At youth gatherings they are commissioned to bring heaven on earth, rather than cajoled into buying an escape ticket for heaven. They are ruthless in their desire for justice and righteousness to burst forth in schools, supermarkets, youth clubs and the internet. They refuse the old "EITHER/OR" of denominational or ecclesiological boundaries in favour of "BOTH/AND". They are just as comfortable lobbying a supermarket to stock fairly traded goods as they are praying for miraculous healing in the aisles of the same supermarket. They are just as comfortable speaking in the town hall as a local councillor as they are speaking in tongues in a brightly-coloured prayer room.

Thus, local Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour branches are flooded with young Christians who always hold the kingdom above any political ideology, yet realise the need to find common cause, to engage and debate. They are building relationships that don't allow them to be pigeon-holed as "crazy people." They are listening and learning. They are serving and giving. They are blessing new friends, surprising them with gifts of fairly traded chocolate. They are invaluable because they turn up on time for meetings and they do what they say they will do before the next meeting. People can see evidence of "the yeast working through the dough," because there is a renewed integrity and enthusiasm about politics. They refuse to make politics about personality or abuse people just because they are from "the other side." They campaign and make their case on the doorstep with a smile and a listening ear. This exposure to the reality of people's lives breaks their hearts and inspires much prayer as they walk around estates and suburbs.
It is as normal for a Christian young person to be pursuing a life in politics, as it is for them to aspire to being a worship leader. This calling is being affirmed and given space to grow. People are astounded that MPs are giving away so much of their money to good causes. The days when they were claiming expenses for garden gnomes are long forgotten.
Worldwide attention is focused on Westminster because MPs are being miraculously healed in the corridors of power and legislation that "speaks up for those who cannot speak for themselves" is being enacted.

So how could this have come to pass?

Looking back, the twenty-somethings of the "roaring twenties" realised that everything shifted when young people were encouraged to see politics as mission. When they put politics in the "mission" part of their brains and hearts, they started to understand. In the same way that they would encourage, pray for, emulate, visit and support a "missionary", they began to act like that towards those whose mission field was politics. It also changed when politics was presented as something exciting, countercultural and subversive, rather than the maintenance of the "establishment." - Just people serving people rather than themselves. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.