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A socialist vision of the Kingdom

07 August 2015

THE unexpected bid by Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party will delight Christians who instinctively see their faith expressed in the kind of society advocated by the so-called Hard Left.

The roots of Anglican Christian Socialism are distinct, and go back to Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-72), once Professor of English History, Literature and Divinity at King’s College, London. His brand of Christian Socialism was based on the belief that the Kingdom of God was a progressive reality. God’s will is that the whole human community be gathered into Christ as head. Salvation is corporate rather than individual; we anticipate the Kingdom when we work for a co-operative society, and shun competition.

Christian Socialists applaud the note of anger against the rich which is found in parts of the New Testament, particularly the Epistle of James, St Luke’s Gospel, and Acts. Mr Corbyn’s leadership bid will appeal to those who keep the red light burning in the sanctuary.

I find the Anglo-Catholic Socialist vision compelling in some ways, and there is something reassuring about the emergence of a Hard Left Socialist as potential leader of the Labour Party. As one born in 1950, I know where I am where the job of government is to squeeze the rich until the pips squeak, as Denis Healey once put it.

For those who have doubts, it is worth remembering that the Hard Left tends to be authoritarian. It is easy to see why. Its vision for society is not contestable, because it is (evidently) grounded in historic struggles for justice and truth. So political entryism, block-voting, and the tactics of intimidation are justified.

This is a potential problem for Hard Left Christians who genuinely believe that a socialist society should be morally obvious to those who follow Christ. For Anglo-Catholics drawn to the Hard Left, the auth-oritarianism of the State is mirrored in the Church. The role of the body is to submit to the head, and the head is represented by the hierarchy. Democracy has no real place in Church, and the democracy of the State is the will of the people, decided by those who know what the people want.

The Hard Left cannot quite tolerate a genuine clash of ideas without making heretics. It anathematises the creativity, risk, and sometimes disaster that a market-based economy can produce. Sure, it wants to save us from inequality; its heart is for a better world, but it has no answer to the ancient question of who guards the guardians.


The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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