As Christians on the Left, we love talking about policy. We love getting into the detail of how to translate what we believe as Christians into good legislation. It's not an easy task, as you can't always just pluck bits out of the Bible and turn them into law. For example, we believe adultery is wrong. But should there be a law against it? We don't think so. Imagine how much police time it would take to enforce that!
So feel free to browse around our website to find many examples of our MPs and other members grappling with how to create a more just and God-imaging society through good legislation. But experience shows that in the limited timeframe of an election, and with the limited RAM most people have to spare, policy detail (annoyingly for us geeks) isn't what makes up peoples minds.
Instead, here there is space to simply share a big picture narrative that springs from what we know to be true of God and therefore how we see his broken, yet beautiful world.
In short – if God is a team called Trinity, and we are made in his (their) image, then we believe relationships are at the core of how the world is supposed to operate.
Sadly there is evidence all around us of meaningful relationships being extracted from human interaction. We see this with economics, with sex, and with social media, to name but three examples.
When we operate outside the context of relationships there is an inevitable de-humanisation that colours how we see ourselves and how we see others. For example, we stop seeing that strangers and those from beyond our borders are made in the image of God just like us. Political decisions become mere calculations based on how much individuals contribute to the economy or as a nation how to get 'the best deal'. Money drives rather than serves.
Zygmund Bauman writes tellingly about this slide away from relationships towards seeing people as mere economic units. In a consumer-based society people seem to have no value or place unless they are consuming. We have to name this as the lie that it is. We are more than consumers. We are endowed with the creativity of our creator in whose image we are made. Bauman says: 'And so, for the first time in recorded history the poor are purely and simply a worry and a nuisance. They cannot be part of a consumer-led recovery.' This means purely market-based solutions will never take the poor into account.
So anyone (prime ministers included) can talk a good game about 'social justice', but if you promote or enact policies that reduce people to economic units or allow the market to nominate them purely as such, then you are ignoring that they are made in the image of God, designed for relationship. For example a housing policy like the Bedroom Tax removed people like my dear neighbours Dawn and Clifford from the community that loved and supported them. It was seen as an efficiency, simply because their son had left home, and they now had a spare room. But removed from the support of friends and family, it made them more dependent on the state rather than less. Relationships are detached from housing. We need to put them back – community land trusts and co-operative housing initiatives are just two ways.
In this area, it is also worth pointing out that the housing market does not on its own have the intelligence or the compassion to decide the best housing policy for your community, but in effect that is what is happening. The priority of relationships has been trampled by a non-relational market. We need to build a lot more homes, but we also need to allow local authorities and national government to curate housing development rather than leave it to the wild market.
Markets can and should serve the common good, and facilitate relationships. But it's like the difference between a market in a town square that is innately relational, and a supermarket that just isn't. One grows community while the other is mostly functional, no matter how many good-will community initiatives they publicise.
Relationships are also being removed from banking. No longer do you have a meaningful relationship with the person who is lending you money. The word credit comes from the Latin 'credo' – it is based on the presumption of belief, trust and relationship between the lender and the debtor. It was the loss of this relationship that led to the financial crash of 2008. Packaged sub-prime mortgages were being bought by people who had no relational connection to those who were struggling to pay. We need to re-install those relationships, and one way is to legally separate banks' risky casino investment arms from their high street lending arms. Regional banks and a national investment bank are other routes.
Relationships are being removed from cross-border currency trading. Nearly 90 per cent of trading now happens through computer algorithms and autobots. People make a killing from moving vast sums of money forward and backwards across borders at high speed. Small countries become pawns in the financial games of Wall Street and the City of London.
One way of re-inserting relationships into the world of these transactions is through a Robin Hood Tax that again establishes the principle of cross-border privilege bringing cross-border responsibility.
Our slide towards non-relational consumerism can also be seen in our attitudes to tax. Through our #patriotspaytax campaign we are attempting to re-attach relationships to the discussion about taxation and tax evasion – calling people to the responsibilities that come with sharing life and sharing the vast resources of a country, from roads to education, to the internet.
Relationships are being removed from sex. We need to empower teachers and parents to tell the real story of sex rather than the commodified version our young people are sold in movies, the internet and social media. Porn is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to say that as with many things, it is a gift, not a right.
If we had the time, we could also talk about robotisation. We could talk about the ghettoization of rich and poor, sacrificing those essential relationships. We could talk about relationships being detached from tribal political discourse in the non-relational quagmire of social media.
In case you still need any convincing, let me tell you a sobering story. Just last year a dear friend of mine asked the occupant of the aircraft seat next to him what he did for a living. His neighbour was tired after a previous leg of the flight, and in a moment of weakness and honesty confessed, 'I break up families and communities.' My friend said, 'What?' He explained, 'I'm in marketing – the key is to isolate people from relationships as much as possible, then they're much easier to pick off. All the research proves it. So I work hard to make people feel alone and in need. That way they keep consuming.'
We need national leadership that stands up to this tide rather than surfs it. We need wise, relational boundaries across every sector that allows new technology to serve people and broker relationships, rather than trample them, especially in the wake of Brexit.
Jesus showed that the kingdom doesn't move faster than the speed of relationships. You can effect change faster, but it might not be kingdom change. We serve a God who cares as much about means as he does about ends.
Approximately 60 members of Christians on the Left will be standing in the coming general election. But this prime value on relationships means that they will be doing it differently. That's why they are praying together. That's why they have been campaigning not just for themselves but each other. That's why they are refusing to denigrate others on social media. This may mean (and has already meant) that their political careers progress more slowly, but I am proud to be a part of the relational mustard seed change they are bringing to the Labour party and beyond.
We're in this for the long haul. Come join us and reinstall some real relationships into our shared civic life. Our country could look very different.
Andy Flannagan is director of Christians on the Left and tweets at @andyflannagan. This article is the second in a series from the Christian groupings in major political parties; read Sarah Dickson's here.