I was preaching out at one of our partner churches yesterday. It was great to be able to spend a bit of time with them and see how ministry in their part of the world is going. And a joy to hear of another person who has trusted Christ and will be baptised shortly. It’s a pleasure to be able to serve them and partner with them in the gospel.
But perhaps the icing on that particular cake was meeting a fellow Socialist after the meeting. The pastor reckoned that his pal “would make you look like Maggie”, but my old Socialist Worker Party card suggests probably not. Though who knows because the guy looked and sounded like a regular bloke to me. Obviously I always wear a hat to cover the horns and shoes to obscure the cloven hooves, especially in church.
I was reminded of the time I was at a Christian conference and the guy I was chatting to sheepishly revealed that he used to belong to the Communist Party of Great Britain. I owned up to being a former SWP member. My comrade told me he usually mentioned it to try and lend himself a bit of edge, but laughed when I told him about mine and said, ‘your lot were a bit more radical than ours, comrade!’ Which is, probably, true enough.
The other group I used to run with were a bunch of young punks. Mainly left-wing anti-fascist punks. I still have a penchant for punk. I even used to rock some pretty sizeable spikes as a teen, much to the displeasure of my dad. But I still remember one of the older, harder line members of the church we were in – who most people used to cite in hushed tones as the one around whom we must not let on what happens in the church building when the youth groups were on – overheard my Dad obviously bemoaning it all to somebody. Despite his reputation (which I never saw in action from what I can remember), he pretty loudly insisted on congratulating me in front of Dad on my “biblical hair style” because Elijah’s hair stood on end too. And nobody would dare argue with Pez . The sheer joy of that ridiculous dissenting church situation warms the cockles. And I still remember him really happily because of that.
Why am I sharing this with you? (fair question). My socialist friend told me about how he belonged to some Christian groups, from which he was ejected, merely for his political views. He was told, in no uncertain terms, that he could not be a Socialist and a Christian. It is something I have experienced to a lesser or greater degree too. I even got emailed a while back by someone who could not quite get their head around Conservative Reformed theology and Socialism existing within the same person. I don’t they were quite prepared to write me out of the fold, but they were minimally bemused and couldn’t even credit it as possible.
But if our Christian beliefs cannot cross political divides, then what is our faith in Christ really worth? If Jesus can break down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, surely he can manage to do it between Socialist and Libertarian, Republican and Democrat, Labour, Liberal and Tory. What is our faith in Jesus worth if it can’t? And what picture are we giving the world if such people cannot sit together in the same place and worship the triune God together?
I have sat in churches – as an avowed Socialist – as people have pronounced the supposedly Christian virtues of UKIP. And my faith in Jesus should be big enough to not only wear that, but to still recognise – much as I disagree with my brother’s political outlook – that he is still nonetheless my brother, saved in Jesus, with whom I will be spending eternity. Whilst I don’t pronounce the Christian virtues of Socialism from the pulpit, and don’t bang on about it very much in church at all, lots of my members know where I sit. They don’t agree with my politics and I don’t always agree with theirs. But we all love Jesus, we want to see the gospel going out into our town and we all recognise none of us would be there but for Christ and his work.
In my church, any given week, I might sit next to a Trump-supporting Republican, a Lib Dem voting pro-European or a Conservative supporting Brexiteer. I’m pretty sure none of my pals at church have any interest in West Coast Punk or Ska Punk music. And what does an Iranian asylum seeking lad in his mid-twenties have in common with an elderly Caribbean lady? What politics or pastime is going to properly unite my Iraqi Kurdish brother with my Eastern European sister? I’m not saying there will never be any crossover with these things, but ultimately, who cares?
The kind of church I want to go to is the one where my Trump-supporting brethren can happily sit next to me, their Socialist brother, and it not be an issue. The kind of church I want to go to is one in which punk rockers, businessmen, asylum seekers, politicians and people from around the world can all sit together and worship the same Christ. Where all those people can be together, love one another and say – particularly during our time together – those things are not what matter here. A place where everyone can say they love Jesus, they want him to be honoured, they want his gospel to go out and we are all united in that above all.
And I reckon that is the kind of church a lot of other people would want too. At least, we all say we do, don’t we? When the rubber hits the road, a lot of people don’t really want that at all. But it is the sort of church that is attractive. Where else will you get that genuine mix of people without animosity and with genuine love for each other? You will get Trump supporters and Socialists in the same room. But where will you ever hear them saying they genuinely love each other except that sort of church? Because I do love my brethren who are not like me and (I dare to believe) they love me too. Despite our politics, our different cultures, interests and personalities. That, I think, is the unique preserve of the church. And we have to work so hard to preserve it because, apart from Jesus and the gospel that creates it, we ultimately have nothing to offer.