Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Autumn 2005 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
Hiroshima 60 Years On: The Peace Declaration
A Legacy to Sustain: A Tribute to John Smith
After Katrina, Some Hard Questions - Johann Christoph Arnold

Hiroshima 60 Years On: The Peace Declaration

This August marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Every year since 1947, the city has held a Peace Festival, with the mayor delivering a Peace Declaration. With the fear that nuclear weapons could be developed by not less but more nations, we offer this year's Peace Declaration, in the hope that we will someday truly be able to “study war no more’.

This August 6, the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing, is a moment of shared lamentation in which more than 300 thousand souls of A-bomb victims and those who remain behind transcend the boundary between life and death to remember that day. It is also a time of inheritance, of awakening, and of commitment, in which we inherit the commitment of the hibakusha to the abolition of nuclear weapons and realization of genuine world peace, awaken to our individual responsibilities, and recommit ourselves to take action. This new commitment, building on the desires of all war victims and the millions around the world who are sharing this moment, is creating a harmony that is enveloping our planet.

The keynote of this harmony is the hibakusha warning, "No one else should ever suffer as we did," along with the cornerstone of all religions and bodies of law, "Thou shalt not kill." Our sacred obligation to future generations is to establish this axiom, especially its corollary, "Thou shalt not kill children," as the highest priority for the human race across all nations and religions. The International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued nine years ago was a vital step toward fulfilling this obligation, and the Japanese Constitution, which embodies this axiom forever as the sovereign will of a nation, should be a guiding light for the world in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty this past May left no doubt that the U.S., Russia, U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and a few other nations wishing to become nuclear-weapon states are ignoring the majority voices of the people and governments of the world, thereby jeopardizing human survival.

Based on the dogma "Might is right," these countries have formed their own "nuclear club," the admission requirement being possession of nuclear weapons. Through the media, they have long repeated the incantation, "Nuclear weapons protect you." With no means of rebuttal, many people worldwide have succumbed to the feeling that "There is nothing we can do." Within the United Nations, nuclear club members use their veto power to override the global majority and pursue their selfish objectives.

To break out of this situation, Mayors for Peace, with more than 1,080 member cities, is currently holding its sixth General Conference in Hiroshima, where we are revising the Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons launched two years ago. The primary objective is to produce an action plan that will further expand the circle of cooperation formed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the European Parliament, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other international NGOs, organizations and individuals worldwide, and will encourage all world citizens to awaken to their own responsibilities with a sense of urgency, "as if the entire world rests on their shoulders alone," and work with new commitment to abolish nuclear weapons.

To these ends and to ensure that the will of the majority is reflected at the UN, we propose that the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which will meet in October, establish a special committee to deliberate and plan for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Such a committee is needed because the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and the NPT Review Conference in New York have failed due to a "consensus rule" that gives a veto to every country.

We expect that the General Assembly will then act on the recommendations from this special committee, adopting by the year 2010 specific steps leading toward the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020.

Meanwhile, we hereby declare the 369 days from today until August 9, 2006, a "Year of Inheritance, Awakening and Commitment." During this Year, the Mayors for Peace, working with nations, NGOs and the vast majority of the world's people, will launch a great diversity of campaigns for nuclear weapons abolition in numerous cities throughout the world.

We expect the Japanese government to respect the voice of the world's cities and work energetically in the First Committee and the General Assembly to ensure that the abolition of nuclear weapons is achieved by the will of the majority.

Furthermore, we request that the Japanese government provide the warm, humanitarian support appropriate to the needs of all the aging hibakusha, including those living abroad and those exposed in areas affected by the black rain.

On this, the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing, we seek to comfort the souls of all its victims by declaring that we humbly reaffirm our responsibility never to "repeat the evil." "Please rest peacefully; for we will not repeat the evil."

Tadatoshi Akiba
The City of Hiroshima

A Legacy to Sustain

A Tribute to John Smith

In celebration of our comrades in the British Labour Party winning an historic third term in office, we are making available on our site the 2004 Tawney Lecture that is an annual event for our British member organisation, the Christian Socialist Movement. Delivered by Chris Smith MP, it is a warm and fitting tribute to the former Labour leader John Smith, who died suddenly in 1994.

It is now almost ten years since John Smith died, so tragically cut down at the moment when he was poised to take our Party forward to victory and to nurture our country and our society back to health. It is also exactly eleven years since he himself gave this Tawney lecture; and I am proud to follow in his footsteps.

I am proud, too, to be part of the Christian Socialist Movement, not just because I am a Christian and a socialist, but because the CSM has always been, and I hope always will be, an integral part of the Labour movement, exercising that influence and persuasiveness that come from being part of something rather than an outsider looking in. To its eternal credit, the CSM has always represented a strand of liberal and inclusive thought within the faith community and within the wider world of politics. Long may that continue; but more of this later.

John Smith was a friend, a colleague, and a leader in the best sense of the word. I well remember him, just after Easter 1994, standing on top of a mountain in the north-west of Scotland. We had struggled through thick cloud with snow and ice underfoot in order to reach the summit, and then all of a sudden the cloud lifted and half of Scotland was spread out around us. John looked and felt on top of the world. Just five weeks later, he was dead.

Let me not give the wrong impression. John was no saint. He had a wicked sense of humour that could cut through pomposity. He could be fierce, stubborn, ruthless, cunning, charming, and angry – by turns - when he needed to be. He could be judgmental, but he was always loyal. But above all there was one thing that shone through everything he did, said and was: his abiding passion for social justice. You always knew, with John, that this was the ground on which everything else he believed was founded. You always knew that this was where everything would spring from. And you always knew this wouldn’t change.

If we want to look for John’s greatest legacy, this I believe is it. It isn’t one member one vote, though that was vitally important. It isn’t the knitting-together of economic prosperity and social cohesion that formed the framework of Labour policy then and since, though this too was crucial. It is the simple fact that he put social justice back into the hearts and minds of the British people. This was hugely important. When John died, and a shock-wave of sorrow swept through the nation, something remarkable happened. For weeks afterwards, people talked about little other than social justice, tackling poverty and inequality, fighting injustice. It was as if this one event had suddenly unlocked in people’s minds those very values that John had stood for and talked about for so long. And it changed the terms of the political debate in a profound way. It set a tone for political discourse that led directly to 1997.

John’s Tawney Lecture was imbued with this same sense. In it, he argued cogently for the interrelationship of the wellbeing of the individual and the role of society. His vision was of strong individuals in a strong society, and he recognised clearly that both sides of that equation were needed. You couldn’t have one without the other. As we learned to our cost through the 1980’s, in a battle between the politics of compassion and the politics of prosperity, prosperity will always win. John saw, however, that this was a false dichotomy. His clear perception was that you have to have both, and that social justice for all is the underpinning of any successful and wealthy society. He wanted to unite our historic commitment to the dispossessed with our appeal to the economic needs of "the ordinary citizen". We had almost succeeded in convincing both ourselves and the electorate, for a succession of elections, that these two purposes were set against each other, and that somehow we stood only for one. John believed that we had to stand for both, and that indeed they were interdependent political purposes. Hence his Tawney lecture: a strong society nurturing strong individuals, and strong individuals composing a strong society.

It is sometimes too easy, however, for politicians and parties to lose sight of the need to found everything on both these pillars: a commitment to the deprived, and a commitment to the mainstream. We forget either at our peril. And I would argue that it is the task of the Christian Socialist Movement to remind our Party and Government constantly of this – and in particular to issue a clarion call for our responsibility to the dispossessed.

"Then shall the King say unto them…..For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
Then the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

This has always seemed to me the most starkly political and most resonant passage in all the Gospels. I remember Donald Soper saying on one occasion that it was impossible to read the Sermon on the Mount and not come out a socialist. I believe it is impossible to read this remarkable passage from Matthew without emerging as a champion for social justice precisely as John Smith was.

If you read R H Tawney’s Equality you will find exactly this concept, locked into more philosophical form. Tawney believed that the freedom from was a prior and necessary condition for the freedom to. Freedom from want, poverty, ill health, homelessness and hopelessness was essential if then the liberty of the individual to make choices and strive for opportunities was to be properly secured. Without the freedoms from any talk of the freedom of the individual was no more meaningful – in his excoriating phrase – than saying that we all had the freedom to dine at the Ritz. The role of society in establishing those freedoms from for every individual within it – but not then stopping your political task there, and instead going on to seek to secure the best opportunities and choices and freedoms for individuals once the basic platform is secure: that was Tawney’s political perception, and it was John’s too.

What John had effectively succeeded in doing, through those two all-too-short years of his Leadership, was to set those values clearly in people’s minds. He had rescued our political discourse from the weary cynicism that had infected it through the Thatcher years, and he set some political values and principles in the public domain. We must constantly strive to do likewise. Sometimes, we tend to view the business of Government in an entirely managerial way – "what works" – but whilst that is important it is not enough. This rather simple truth is something the Christian Socialist Movement needs to have as a "mission to remind" for all the rest of us.

I recognise of course that politics – and even more so the business of Government – will always be a process of compromise between ideals and reality. This is inevitable. You start out with ideals, a vision, of how you want society to be, how the world can be changed. Then you come up against the awkwardness, the impossibilities, the vested interests, the conflicting values, of the real world. And you will always be making compromises. I realise that. We all need to realise that. But it’s getting the balance as right as you can that matters. And it’s keeping the flaming torch of values and ideals firmly illuminating your path forward that will enable you to take at least some steps, however small, along it.

So what are the values that we should be setting clearly in place to provide that illumination? First, our clear recognition – as democratic socialists – that there is such a thing as society. John’s perception, Tawney’s perception, that the needs of the individual citizen and the wellbeing of society as a whole are utterly interdependent is something that we hold as an inalienable belief. "The strength of our common endeavour", as I believe the new Clause 4 puts it. We see that there are many things in this life that can best be provided by collective decision and action, that there are many aspects of our lives that are enriched by acting together rather than alone, and that social solidarity is something richly to be savoured and fostered. It’s not only in the establishment of those basic freedoms from that society has to play a part – though it is of course true of everything from the provision of the best possible health care to the putting-in of good street lighting. It’s also in the genuine enhancement of our life experiences that can come from sharing what we do and are with others. Even some zealots of the right would grumblingly accept that the state, as the representative of society as a whole, has to do something; but there’s the rub: it would be grumblingly. We by contrast see the potential role of society and social interaction as being not just life-sustaining but life-enriching too.

And let’s not forget, either, that the Christian message is a profound uniting of the personal and the collective, too. Edwin Muir has a perceptive passage about this in a diary entry of 1st March 1939. He describes how, late one night, and on his own in the house, he stood in the middle of his room as he was getting ready for bed, and started reciting the Lord’s Prayer. And suddenly, for the first time, he began to realise the full power of the words. He writes: "I never realised before so clearly the primary importance of "we" and "us" in the prayer: it is collective, for all societies, for all mankind as a great society. "After this manner therefore pray ye." Not "my Father which art in heaven", not "Give us this day my daily bread", not "forgive my debts" … And this collective form of prayer was the form enjoined by Jesus. It would be called now, in the jargon of the fashionable revolutionaries, political…The difference here between "I" and "we" (is) tremendous: there is no end to the conclusions that follow from it. In "we" it is man, or mankind, or the community, or all the communities, that is speaking: it is human life, and therefore society is the formal embodiment of human life. And to pray as "we" is not only to embrace in the prayer all human life, all the aspirations of mankind for the perfect kingdom when God’s will shall be done on earth; it is for the individual soul a pledge for all other souls, an act of responsibility, and an act of union which strengthens him from within and at the same time lends him infinite strength from without. Yet how many centuries this prayer has been recited as if it were the multiplication table." What a powerful thought.

Second, we need to recognise that we have a clear duty – as a political priority – to work to eradicate poverty and disadvantage, at home and around the world. Two of the proudest achievements of our present Government have been the removal of large numbers of children within our own country from poverty, and the progress we have made in increasing our development aid around the world and removing debt from many of the poorest countries. Yet sometimes I get frustrated by our apparent inability to talk about it all. Look for a moment at the measures that have been taken here at home: the establishment of a national minimum wage; the provision of large increases in child benefit; the working tax credit and the pension credit; the changes to lower bands of tax and national insurance; the minimum income guarantee for pensioners, the winter heating allowance, the reduction in VAT on fuel bills, the restoration of free eye tests, and the free TV licences for the over 75s; the improvements to many public services on which those without resources of their own rely; and the dramatic reductions in unemployment levels, lifting many families out of poverty by providing an income. It’s in fact a rather impressive list, of measures that have achieved a significant degree of redistribution in favour of the least-well-off in our society. And I applaud that. But why on earth aren’t we a bit prouder of what we have achieved here? Our success against poverty ought to be one of the leitmotifs of our Government. Let’s try and make it so.

Third, we must recognise that whilst war may sometimes be necessary, it must never be anything other than the last resort. I opposed the war in Iraq last year. I believe even more so now that I was right to do so. Of course I rejoice in the demise of Saddam Hussein’s evil regime. But this was not the way or the reason to bring it about. I do not question for a moment the Prime Minister’s bona fides in making the difficult decisions that he did, and that come with the territory of holding his high office. He made a genuine decision based on the evidence he had before him. I believe it was the wrong decision, however. America is a great nation, and has sacrificed much over many decades for the wider cause of humanity. But that does not mean that we should support every single decision of every single American President. Sometimes the role of a candid friend is to say that this may not be the right thing to do. We are now, I’m afraid, left with the consequences of the decisions that were made: a United Nations that needs to be built back together again, a European Union that has been fractured severely, a Muslim world sullen and angry at what happened, international respect for the most powerful democracies weakened, and the global alliance against terrorism damaged. No, this was not the right decision. We were right to take action in Kosovo, and Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. But three rights don’t make a fourth one automatically right too. Any thought of military action has to be tested as rigorously as possible against the ethical, moral, practical criteria that need to dictate the terms of any such decision.

Fourth, and this is a connected point, we need to be internationalist in our understanding of the world. Seeing things only from our own perspective – as I fear some in the Pentagon and the White House tend to – simply won’t do. In a new world reality, where there is one totally dominant superpower, it is vital for all nations that there is a proper set of international rules, and a proper authority to safeguard them. Never in our history has the United Nations been more important, as the framework within which a rules-based approach to international action can happen. Rebuilding the dented authority of the United Nations, and securing the support of the United States for doing so, is the most important global task we have. Our own Prime Minister has, I believe, a particularly important part to play in achieving this.

Fifth, we believe that we are all as human beings of equal worth in the eyes of God. That means, surely, that we must work to achieve an inclusive society, party, and church. I remember a story I was once told of a black man in the Deep South of America, who tried to go into a church to worship God. At the door a burly red-neck farmer stopped him, and said, "You can’t come in here. It’s not for the likes of you." So the black man went sorrowfully down the steps. And halfway down God said to him, "Why are you so sad, my son?" "Well, Lord," he said, "I wanted to go into the church to worship you and they wouldn’t let me in." "Don’t worry," said God, "I’ve been trying to get in for years and they won’t let me in either".
Including everyone in our society, no matter where they may come from, no matter who they may be, no matter what their colour or their creed or their sexuality or their status or their class or their income or their provenance or their age or their infirmity, and seeing them all as of equal worth and validity: that is surely what we should be arguing for. And it means arguing against the BNP and everything it stands for, in Burnley and Oldham and wherever else racism rears it head. It means arguing passionately for the right of Canon Jeffrey John to take his rightful place in the Church, and that that rightful place is exactly the same as it would be for anyone else of his ability and commitment. And it means arguing that asylum seekers are human, have often come from the most horrendous circumstances and terrors, and must be treated and talked about as dignified human beings and not as pariahs.

Sixth, we recognize that public services are essential to the fabric of our society, and must be run for the benefit of the public they serve. They are not there to be administered for the benefit of the providers, be they state employees or private companies. It would be equally absurd to argue that "the private sector can always provide services in the best way" as it would be to say that "the public sector gets everything right". Patently and sometimes painfully obviously, both public bodies and private companies get a lot of things wrong, and some things right. We shouldn’t get ourselves hooked onto a public-private debate. Let’s turn the whole picture upside down and start from the point of view of the citizen who depends on the service being provided. Let’s see what is going to produce the best outcome from their point of view. And let’s then start to organise and arrange the provision of that service with the needs of that citizen in mind.

Seventh, we must know that we hold this earth in trust for future generations. We are stewards of our earth, our resources, our climate, our future. We must not just live in the present, but must think always of what impact our present actions may have on the future. Our commitments to reduce carbon emissions, for example, aren’t simply figures plucked from nowhere to sound good on paper, they are in deadly earnest about what is needed if our world is going to survive. And convincing the rest of the world of the seriousness of the task is an imperative for all of us.

Eighth, we must accept that in people’s lives, beauty and joy are as important as homes, jobs, and money. Once the freedoms from have been secured, the freedoms to must encompass the things that bring wonder to people’s lives as well as the things that bring material comfort. As Emma Goldman famously said to Lenin – and this is probably one of the only times you’ll encounter that name being conjured up by a contemporary Labour politician – "If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution". Or indeed, as the striking women who worked in the mills of Massachusetts in 1912 said on their banners, "We want bread but we want roses too." We are surely beginning to understand that social and economic regeneration depend ultimately on the development of hope and self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, and that these things come from spiritual uplift every bit as much as they do from having the necessary physical fabric in place.

And ninth, we recognise that there are times in politics when it is necessary to do the difficult thing, not the popular thing, simply because it is right to do so. Being bold and going against the tide mustn’t be turned into a fetish. Nor must it be abandoned at the first shout of the tabloid commentators. If you have set in place a very clear sense of direction, if people know the ground of firm belief that leads you to take a particular decision, then you are much better placed to succeed ultimately in taking people with you. Sometimes you may be wrong. Politicians don’t ever get everything right, however much some may claim to do so. But sometimes you can bring people from grudging acceptance to acquiescence and even to enthusiasm. And that is the way, sometimes, that you make progress.

These nine points represent a stab at a framework of values and principles against which the daily business of politics and Government can be taken forward. I think John Smith would have approved. He’d have said the list was much too serious, and have had a bit of a laugh at some of it. But he’d have been fierce in his commitment to these principles. And we must all, each of us, within the Christian Socialist Movement and beyond, be equally fierce. We all play a part.

And it is ultimately a noble endeavour.

I remember being much affected when I first came across the ending of Roy Jenkins’ biography of Asquith (Roy was in the Labour Party at the time!). It went something like this: "What did he leave behind him? A memory which is a standing contradiction to those who wish to believe that only those with cold hearts and twisted tongues can succeed in politics."

It was certainly true of John. I hope it might be propped up on the desk of everyone who seeks to serve the public in the business of politics and Government.

After Katrina, Some Hard Questions

Johann Christoph Arnold

Johann Christoph Arnold ( is an author and a pastor with the Bruderhof Communities ( in the United States.

In the catastrophic wake of Hurricane Katrina, America is no longer the same, and should never be the same again. Watching the news and hearing the chilling firsthand accounts of people who were trapped in this tragedy, how can one not be affected? All of a sudden, our country has been faced with a calamity we cannot keep at arm's length—the sort that, up till now, only happened to people in far-off Asia, Africa or Latin America.

One could say plenty regarding our government's response (or lack thereof), and about how many more lives could have been saved if those in power had been more on the ball. But this is not the time to point fingers: we have been struck, unprepared, by a mammoth refugee crisis, widespread lawlessness, martial law and a degree of public panic practically unknown in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the news media has been obsessed with the economic consequences of Katrina: the skyrocketing cost of gas, the instability of the real estate market, and the weakening of the dollar, to name just a few. As usual, it seems that the financial and material aspects of the disaster are of paramount importance. For many people, the biggest question seems to be, "How long will it be before the price of gas goes down again, and I can return to 'life as usual'?"

Very few people seem to be asking what sort of a spiritual impact this disaster will have on our consciences and on our collective soul. Will it lead to a spiritual renewal and a new era of justice and love?

Over the past week I found myself thinking of the Old Testament story of Nineveh, and of Jonah, whom God sent to preach repentance there. At first Jonah refused, but when he finally obeyed, the people of the city listened to him and proclaimed a fast—everyone put on sackcloth, including the king. When God saw the change of heart that had occurred among the people, he changed his mind about the calamity he had threatened to bring on them, and showed them mercy. This story ought to speak to us now, in the wake of Katrina. We too should be on our knees, asking God to change our hearts and show us mercy.

Over the last century, America has, for the most part, been immune to disaster on its own shores. Wars, famines and epidemics that have killed millions of people in the Third World have had no lasting effect on us. American soldiers were killed or wounded in action, but the vast majority of us were never in harm's way.

We have made an idol of our invincibility and our status as an economic giant and a military superpower. We have made an idol of our high standard of living, and our supposed closeness to God.

Until Katrina blew in, we thought we could handle any and every crisis that came along. But in five short days, some of our most cherished ideals—take "government for the people," for instance—have been exposed as illusions. To the despairing and the dying in New Orleans—and thus to everyone—all our glorious American achievements mean absolutely nothing.

This should not depress us. It is a chance for us as a country to learn that suffering can bring us closer to each other. Most other nations have suffered war, famine, diseases and natural disasters. It has humbled them, and now it is our turn. That is good, because we are not as big and strong as we have made ourselves out to be.

Americans have long been known as a nation of generous do-gooders. But it is easy to be generous when one has plenty of money and food. Now, in the aftermath of Katrina, we are finding that our safety nets have gaping holes. The big infrastructures we believed in seem to be collapsing around us. We are floundering.

If we took this warning seriously, we could find out what role we really ought to play in today's world. If we were ready to admit that we need the help of other nations and cultures, we might find out that all people around the globe are really one family.

Tremendous things could happen if we used this opportunity to rediscover the significance of all human beings. So let us not miss this chance to band together in solidarity with those who are suffering.

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