Frequently Asked Questions
What is Christians for Economic Justice?
Christians for Economic Justice (CEJ) is an informal network of Christians campaigning against the UK government’s cuts agenda and the wider injustices of capitalism. We are inspired by the example of Jesus, who took nonviolent direct action in the Jerusalem Temple in solidarity with people who are poor, exploited and marginalised.
How did CEJ begin and what have you done?
CEJ was previously known as Christianity Uncut. It began in March 2011, when a number of Christians involved in anti-cuts campaigns planned to hold an act of worship in a branch of Barclay’s Bank, as a witness against the injustices of the banking system. The bank closed early and avoided the action, but more people asked to be involved in UK Uncut.
We attracted more support when we made plans for a ring of prayer at the eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange. When the camp was evicted on 28 February 2012, five members of Christianity Uncut were dragged by police from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral as they knelt in prayer. Others were praying further away or at home. The cathedral authorities refused a request to meet with the five who had been removed while praying. However, the new dean later worked with Christianity Uncut members and others to pray and protest against austerity.
We later organised a Christian presence at anti-monarchy demonstrations during the royal jubilee, pointing out that the original, biblical idea of “jubilee” involves the cancellation of debts, the freeing of slaves and the redistribution of wealth and land. We have backed UK Uncut actions and joined Disabled People Against Cuts in their protest outside the offices of Atos in August 2012. Supporters of Christianity Uncut have been present at marches in London, Belfast and Glasgow for alternatives to government cuts. In Lent 2013, we encouraged Christians to fast from using tax-dodging companies and we have backed a week of action against workfare.
Along with other groups (including the Campaign Against Arms Trade, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi), we have joined vigils and protests outside Church House when it has hosted conferences sponsored by arms companies. In September 2013, dozens of Christianity Uncut supporters were present at the London arms fair (known euphemistically as Defence and Security Equipment International or DSEi). Three Church of England priests led an exorcism of the arms fair as organisers were setting up the event. Several Christianity Uncut members were arrested, including five who were blocking an entrance to the arms fair by kneeling in prayer and singing hymns. They were later found Not Guilty of aggravated trespass.
Christianity Uncut as a group underwent a period of inactivity after this. This was partly due to members’ commitment to other campaigns, in some cases related to the general election of May 2015. On 22 June 2015, we relaunched under the name Christians for Economic Justice (CEJ). This reflects our desire to link anti-austerity campaigns with working more widely for alternatives to capitalism and other forms of economic injustice.
We have provided interviewees for radio, television and the press. We have been covered in the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Morning Star and Christian newspapers as well as on BBC Radio Five Live, the BBC World Service and Premier Radio.
How are you inspired by Jesus and the Bible?
We are inspired by Jesus’ commitment to “bring good news to the poor”. Jesus referred to poverty and wealth throughout his ministry. He said “Blessed are you who are poor… Woe to you who are rich”. He led a protest in the Jerusalem Temple against people who were exploiting the poor through religious hypocrisy.
The Bible repeatedly condemns usury – lending money at interest, or more broadly, making money out of money. Now we have an economy built on usury. The Bible also consistently condemns idolatry – treating something that we have created as if it were a god. Our society now serves money and markets as if they were gods, but in reality they are created and run by people who can choose to run them differently.
Who belongs to CEJ?
Like many other recent activist movements – such as UK Uncut and Occupy – CEJ has no formal membership. Anyone can join in our public actions, although we ask that all who join in commit themselves to nonviolence.
CEJ includes liberal Christians, evangelicals, Catholics, Quakers and some who do not define themselves as Christians but are inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus. We include socialists, anarchists, greens and others who don’t use any of these words to identify themselves. We do not agree about everything, we are not always right and we do not claim to have fewer faults than those whose policies we campaign against. We recognise that solidarity with the poor and marginalised is central to the message of Jesus and we believe that this must therefore be central to those who seek to follow him.
What methods do you believe in?
CEJ is committed to active nonviolence, rejecting both violence and passivity. We are also dedicated to working alongside other Christian groups as well as to people of other religions and of none who are resisting economic injustice. We seek to act in a spirit of love towards our opponents as well as our allies. We reject personal hatred and verbal abuse. We believe that civil disobedience is often an important part of resistance, and that it is best done thoughtfully, purposefully and in conjunction with other methods.
Why can’t you just join in general campaigns, rather than setting up a specifically Christian network?
Nearly everyone in CEJ is actively involved in other movements and campaigns. CEJ often attends demonstrations alongside other groups, both religious and secular. Our visible presence lets other activists, and members of the public, know that there are Christians working against the cuts and backing radical economic change, even when certain other Christian groups seem happy with the status quo. We’re happy to work with other groups challenging poverty and injustice, whether Christian, secular or from different religious traditions. We encourage other Christians to join campaigns against cuts and capitalism as an important way of living out Jesus’ example of solidarity with the poor.
Aren’t you being unrealistic? Surely the government has to make cuts to reduce the deficit?
At the time of the economic crash, it was clear that something was very wrong with the world’s economic systems. It was a chance to take stock and think about how to build different systems. That’s exactly what didn’t happen. The UK government, like several others, responded to the crisis by punishing the poor for the sins of the rich.
The cuts have hit the poorest hardest but the very rich have lost virtually nothing. Homelessness is on the rise, according to several mainstream charities. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off benefits. Over 1,000 people have died shortly after being declared fit for work (according to Disabled People Against Cuts). Unemployment is rising, but unemployed people are being forced to work for no pay. Working class people are being priced out of higher education. Public services are being slashed at every turn.
Meanwhile, the government has cut the top rate of income tax – which less than 1% of the population are rich enough to pay. The richest 1% in the UK own more property wealth than the other 99% put together (statistics from the New Economics Foundation). Only 7% of the population attend fee-paying schools, but they provide over two-thirds of top lawyers and finance directors and over half of top journalists (according to a government report in 2009).
Around the world, the economic crash and the policies that followed have caused sharp increases in food prices and poverty. The planet is being slowly destroyed by corporations that are out of control. Around 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day, but the world’s richest three individuals owned $112bn in 2009.
There are many other ways of reducing the deficit. Preventing legal tax avoidance by corporations and wealthy individuals would raise £25bn. Cracking down on illegal tax evasion would save another £70bn (according to calculations by the Tax Justice Network). Scrapping plans to renew Trident nuclear weapons could save as much as £94bn (calculations made by Greenpeace).
Ultimately, however, we need to go further than simply reducing the deficit. We need to think about why we have an economy built on debt and usury, which allows a small number to own the majority of the wealth. We don’t have to run our economy in this way. Money and markets don’t control people. People control money and markets – and people can choose to do things differently.
Shouldn’t the Church concentrate on saving souls rather than interfering in politics?
Jesus did not separate religion and politics. If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, that means speaking up when they are suffering, whether that suffering is inflicted by governments, corporations or individuals. Jesus’ teachings are full of the need to stand with the poor. It is not possible to do with this without engaging in politics. When Jesus said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, he was inviting people to think about what really belongs to God and what really belongs to Caesar. A likely conclusion is that the whole world belongs to God. In other words, he was calling us to follow God in all areas of life.
Do you support churches and other Christian groups that have spoken out against the cuts?
We are delighted that a number of denominations, individual churches and Christian groups have made statements criticising the cuts agenda or specific cuts. This makes a difference and is very welcome. Other churches have been reluctant to do so, while certain church leaders have defended the cuts. Some churches try to adopt a neutral position, hosting debates and commissioning reports. We respect their wish to engage with the issues, but in the face of injustice, attempts at neutrality will help the injustice to continue. Debate and dialogue are important, but in themselves they cannot be a substitute for standing alongside people experiencing poverty and exploitation.
Can I join CEJ?
You certainly can! We don’t have formal membership, but you can sign up to receive our email bulletin. You can also join us at events and demonstrations, which are publicised on this website and on Facebook. You can “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. If you would like advice on organising a CEJ action in your own area, or would like to question us, challenge us or talk with us, please email email@example.com.