225: RED CHRISTIANS #28: THE CHRISTIAN SOCIALIST MOVEMENT (mid 19th century)

“Thanks for visiting Zingcreed. This is the Christian/Atheist blog where I vent my spleen against the church, or congratulate it! I aim to inform and entertain. I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

For several years I was on the London-based committee of the C.S.M. I never knew much about its origins. Our leading light was Rev. (later to be Lord – shame!) Donald Soper, in whose methodist church we used to meet. When I was asked to join, I had hopes of it being a body which could critique the left in British politics from a Christian standpoint, and critique the church from a socialist angle. Fat chance. It was just a talking shop for armchair socialists. There was a banner, but it was never taken on demos, except to the Tolpuddle martyrs annual booze-up in Dorset. Instead it sat in a cupboard being eaten by clothes moths. Each member seemed to have an axe to grind, and at every chance he (yes, he; there were no she’s) would spout their views and bore everybody else. One cleric supported the Soviet Union and everything it did (this was before the Berlin wall came down). When I asked him for his views on the persecution of Christians in that land he flatly denied it ever happened, and said I mustn’t believe capitalist propaganda. One guy thought cooperatives were the cure for all man’s woes. He may well have been right, but he got so boring that every time he opened his trap I switched off! Then there was the transport man, who managed quite skilfully to turn every discussion round to looking at the problems of the railways.

I parted ways with them over the ethical question of whether or not to accept an ad. in our magazine from the Gay Christian Movement. The way some of the older geezers frothed at the mouth over this was truly disturbing. Their ability to quote Leviticus chapter and verse was quite impressive though. It just made me sick and I never came back. (The ad was rejected). I notice they now have a website. It looks boring.

The history of British Christian socialism

Social reform was the goal of the Anglicans who founded the Christian socialist movements of the mid-19th century:

  • F. D. Maurice (1805-1872) Professor at Kings College London
  • Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), a clergyman-novelist who wrote “The Water Babies” ( the children’s story my parents read to me as a child – were they trying to inculcate sympathy for the underdog, in this case a little boy, Tom, who climbed peoples’ chimneys to sweep the soot out by hand? Is that why I am sympathetic to the socialist case today?!)
  • J. M. Ludlow (1821-1911) a barrister and the most convinced socialist of them all .

They achieved the following:

  • Ludlow and Maurice founded a Working Men’s College, where Ludlow taught for many years
  • they sought to provide an alternative to Chartism (the first mass revolutionary working class movement in Britain)
  • they introduced radical socialism into the church, thus preventing the hostility between the church and socialism that occurred in other parts of Europe

In 1889, Henry Scott Holland, a canon of St Paul’s cathedral launched the Christian Social Union which attracted a lot of members and influenced men like R. H. Tawney and Archbishop William Temple. It ended in 1918. Similar movements existed in Germany and the US. The Christian Socialist Movement continued to work quietly within the reformist circles of the British left.

Sources:
(i) Wilkinson, A. “Christian Socialism: Scott Holland to Tony Blair” SCM (1998)
(ii) Bowden, J. “Christianity: the complete guide” Continuum (2005)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: