Changing our name

Should the Christian Socialist Movement be called something different?

The Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) is debating whether or not to change its name.  Members are being consulted over the next few weeks.  I have mixed feelings about the issue. While, as CSM's Political Communications Officer, I support the move and think we probably do need to change our name, I can't help feel some resistance.

CSM groups together Christians on the Left in the Labour Party.  It is an affiliated socialist society, which means it can send delegates to Labour's Annual Conference and its members form part of the everyday life and organisation of the Labour Party at all levels.  It is more than a group of Christian Labour supporters however.  Not only does it have constitutional connections with the Party, it also draws on a tradition which pre-dates Labour by decades (at least).

Christian Socialism can be dated back to 1848 (yes you can say it dates ultimately back to Jesus of course, from whose life and teaching it draws). That was a year of turmoil and the date that Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto was published. That document castigated what they called 'christian socialism' for salving the conscience of the rich (as opposed to what they regarded as genuine change). The same year, energised by a Chartist rally on Kennington Common (near where I live), church minister FD Maurice and Charles Kingsley began what was to become a Christian Socialist Movement. Perhaps Marx was right; they were against revolution. They were rather paternalist (though genuine grassroots organisation, influenced by Methodists and other non conformists was at the same time influential). But they did believe strongly in equality.

Since that time, in fits and starts, Christian Socialism has evolved and expressed itself in various ways. It seems for some time to have contained a mixture of high church Anglo Catholicism and non conformism. As evangelicals have been inspired by the Bible to engage deeply with society, so they have become party of Christian Socialism, as have many Roman Catholics. In today's Christian Socialist Movement we have a genuinely ecumenical expression of the Christian faith doing politics.

Always running through Christian Socialist thought has been the principle of equality. I made sure we highlighted this a few years ago when I led the move to change our statement of values - our 'Clause IV moment'. We are created equally and have equal worth. If you study Christian Socialist thought, you see people (theologians, politicians, churchgoers) applying this Biblical principle. For example, this has always meant a driving concern for the poor and you should always expect a Christian Socialist to be talking about poverty issues and asking why more is not being done.

So why change the name? The problem is society has moved on a bit. Christian Socialist principles remain valid but we find ourselves having to explain what the term Christian Socialist means, and what the Christian Socialist Movement is (which is a slightly different conversation). By the time we've done that, we haven't much space or time to say what we think about a particular situation or policy proposal, or whatever we are being asked about. It could be that in churches, people who are naturally left of centre politically (but not politically involved) are dissuaded from joining other Christians simply by the sname.  The term 'socialism' is a dated term today.

So maybe we need new language to explain, safeguard, and promote some eternal truths. If we can do so without denying the Christian Socialist tradition on which we stand, inspired by the love of Jesus Christ, his call to repentance and offer of forgiveness, and his promise of renewal, then it will be our duty to do so.

Stephen Beer, 10/11/2012

Feedback: (Guest) 01/04/2013 14:57
I like the termonology. I think that the name clearly states what the movement is all about. I think that the name should stay.
Di Martin


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