|AFTER THE JUBILEE GROUP: TAKING THE RADICAL CHRISTIAN SOCIAL
|For a number years I have been an associate of the Jubilee Group, founded in 1974 (by, among others, Rowan Williams), which has sought to encourage the Catholic tradition within the Church of England to explore and re-express its radical and socialist inheritance. At its last annual meeting the group decided to call it a day in its present form, and to consider a fresh path for new challenges. This is a slightly edited version of a paper I offered to a Post-Jubilee consultation on 20 March 2004, St Matthew's House, Croydon.
In my view, the decision to bring the Jubilee Group in its current form to an end, and to look at fresh possibilities for a new way of working out of the radical Anglican Catholic tradition, is a brave and necessary one. With Kenneth Leech moving out of his catalytic role, the end of an era has been reached and perhaps a new one is dawning. Ken’s recent Christ the King Lecture described the situation well, and with typical modesty towards his own contribution.
I do not have fixed views on what should follow Jubilee. It will obviously need to be modest, hopeful, outward-looking, sustainable and grow-able. And those things (most especially the first and the last) are easy to say and tough to do. I would hope that some of the following factors might also be borne in mind, alongside those of other Jubilee supporters:
1. There are many who deeply value the traditions of radical Catholic and sacramental social action as they have been developed over the years within the Church of England, and also in other parts of the Anglican Communion. But that ‘many’ includes a significant number for whom some of the labels / practices that come with this tradition are not the most natural ones, or are only part of who we are. I hope that the Group will be aware of this as it looks for a new role and title – and not least aware of the fact that there may be quite a few people sympathetic to Jubilee emphases who have not been actively linked with it before. It would be good to think about who they might be and how we could be in touch with them.
2. For me the core emphases of Jubilee have always been incarnational theology; a sacramental (though not necessarily sacerdotal) understanding of the world; a valuing of subversive orthodoxy; the deployment of the Christian and Catholic tradition as a radical critique of the world (and the Church); a commitment to socialistic values, practices and understandings; the synergy of thought, prayer and action in Christian praxis; the willingness to cooperate with those who share some of these values both inside and outside the churches; commitment to tough thinking, as distinct from the anti-intellectualism and superficiality of much Church culture. Someone once said to me “the Jubilee Group is a bit like a Christian Workers Educational Association which goes on demonstrations and prays!” I’m not sure how people would feel about that as an accurate description, but it has a good feel to it. I would hope these emphases would be reaffirmed in whatever kind of thing we become next.
3. Culture is a tough issue. Every group or network has it in abundance. ‘Jubilee people’ (there’s another phrase with resonance for the future, maybe?) have tended towards a curious mix of radical democracy and radical Catholicism, recognising on the one hand that the Gospel’s all about people, on the other that it’s all about God (most especially God in Christ)… and then seeing Church as the place where these can go together without separation or confusion. This is important. On the other hand, some of us are a lot less keen on those aspects of the ritual and hierarchical inheritance of the ‘High Church’ movement that others seem to find emblematic. This is a sensitive issue, but I must be honest and say that I am one of the sceptics. I am drawn to the life, colour and ritual of Catholic prayer and liturgy, but I feel at best bemused and at times worried by preoccupation with birettas and other aspects of (what seems like) the arcanery of Anglo-Catholicism, just as I am disturbed by the misogyny and elitism that has been part of that movement or ‘party’. I don’t see it as essential to the real depths of the radical Anglican Catholic tradition, and it probably only has a future as the hobby of a dwindling group of (no doubt lovely, but rather odd) people. I hope saying this doesn’t offend. And I should add that being lovely and odd is what being part of the ekklesia should definitely be – the issue is ‘how?’ and ‘for whom?’ Not for an ‘in-group’, surely?
4. That Jubilee has been prepared to engage in radical, Gospel-based critique of (increasingly global) capitalism is very important. The refusal of muddled conformism in the political realm, and holding out for a demanding distinctiveness called forth by the Community of the Crucified and Risen Jesus in history is absolutely right. But there has been insufficient critique of the language, practices and history of secular and religious socialist movements. The last twenty years has not just been a time of resurgence for neo-liberalism, it has been (in ways which cannot simply be blamed on conservatives and neo-liberals) a time of crisis for the traditional Left. You do not have to be New Labour to understand why Old Labourism, Leninism and Trotskyism are not on. Similarly, you do not have to reject Marx’s moral critique of capitalism to accept that Marxism as a prescriptive meta-narrative has not proved a useful guide to moral action in the organised political arena. In Jubilee, however, some people appear attached to a fairly uncritical advocacy of a ‘socialism’ which seems more stranded in the world of ideas and rhetoric than effective as a vehicle for sustainable change. There is a lingering romanticism about this which seems questionable on the basis of both the Gospel and the reality of the world we live in. There is also, perhaps, a relative lack of reflection on other social forces and ways of translating resistance into alternatives. I still call myself a socialist, but I know that what I mean by that is different from the grand ideas I grew up on – not because I am tired and cynical, but because of the crimes, oversights and zero-sum assumptions which have been committed in all major socialist traditions of thought and action. As an inheritor of a socialist tradition alongside a Christian tradition, Jubilee’s successor has some need to talk about all this openly, truthfully and hopefully – believing not that it is a denial of what we have been convinced of, but its renewal and redemption.
5. On a practical front, ‘After Jubilee’ could do less better. We can move more fully, I think, into the digital age, but without alienating those friends and comrades who are less adapted to its opportunities. Anglican Left is a good model for staying in touch. An email newsletter with mailings only to those who cannot receive in this form would save time and money.
6. The Jubilee Papers have been important. We should put them on the web to make them easily and cheaply accessible, as well as having a few in print form for meetings. Even if other publications cease, the ‘essay’ or ‘tract’ remains a vital and underestimated form of communication in a sound-bite age. I hope we will also continue to market some of the remaining publications – or perhaps I mean ‘begin to market’! Markets and marketing are not necessarily inimical to Gospel social-ism in the way that some still falsely assume, though they make poor substitutes for belonging to the Body.
7. Can I plead for an open, engaging and not too ‘Catholicly precious’ or ‘old left modish’ name for ourselves? ‘Red Censer’ is perhaps the de-rigueur example of what not to go for. But I realise that ‘the naming’ will surely be the most controversial and lengthy process of all! I’m sure it will be fun, and will strengthen that other great Jubilee tradition: going to the pub.
8. Thanks to all who have made the Jubilee Group what it has been. I’ve done relatively little, but I honour the Saints. Perhaps I could help to link whatever comes out of Jubilee with the Anabaptist Network and InclusiveChurch.Net, to which I also belong.
(c) Simon Barrow
Exeter, 19 March 2004