Beyond the Barricades
I am writing this on the day before the General Election and in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Manchester and London. Never has the contrast between peaceful democratic process and ideological violence been more striking. Yet we need to take seriously the roots of such violence.
This year is the centenary of the Russian Revolution, or rather Revolutions. The events of 1917 had a massive impact not only on what became the Soviet Union but on the whole world. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the centenary is unlikely to be celebrated much in today’s Russia. But we might have something to learn from it and from the Revolution’s driving force and presiding genius – Lenin.
In 1970 the Scottish Anglican theologian, Donald MacKinnon, wrote a fascinating essay on ‘Lenin and Theology’, reflecting on the lessons the twentieth century’s greatest atheist might teach us. If the church claims to be about transforming the world, might it be worth looking at the example of someone who actually did transform the world? And we pride ourselves as having grown from an obscure sect in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire into a shaper of world history and culture. Might it be worth pondering where the next generation of movers and shakers are gathering, and taking them seriously? For, in MacKinnon’s words:
The future of the world was being shaped by obscure men and women, living on the periphery of society, meeting in dingy halls to discuss matters which must have appeared meaningless to those who felt placed securely at the centre of society.
Is the world today being changed by people we have never heard of? And, if so, where is the church?
Lenin transformed ideas into action; he made a difference in the real world. Towards the end of his essay, MacKinnon writes:
If the Christian faith is true, its truth is constituted by the correspondence of its beliefs with the harsh, human reality, and with the divine reality, and with the divine reality that met that human reality and was broken by it, only in that breaking to achieve its healing. At the foundation of the faith there lies a deed done, an incarnating of the eternal in the stuff of human history…. By that deed the very foundations of our human world were laid. What was it, what is it, this revolutionary act? At least let us be sure that it is act; for unless it is act, if it be no more than satisfying spiritual idea, it is vacuous and the world remains unshaken.
Are we able to shake the world? That is the call to all who are called to follow Jesus Christ. It is a call which will lead us to challenge the prevarications of politicians, of whatever political hue, and to be steadfast in the face of violence.
Christopher Cunliffe Archdeacon of Derby