Saturday, February 03, 2007

D. R. Davies XIII: The General Strike

Himself a former miner, Davies instinctively sympathised with the miners. He had shared their lot, and felt that the owners' attempts to cut costs by cutting wages and hours. Accordingly, his response to the General Strike was highly simplistic:

"I was overwhelmingly certain that the church ought to support the miners in their struggle, through thick and thin. As I put it, in the first sermon I preached on the issue, "The miners are altogether right and the owners are altogether wrong." Prior to the sermon, entitled 'Christianity and the Workers' Claim,' the senior Deacon of the church met with the pastor:

"He begged me not to preach on the Strike because, he said, he knew that it would make for trouble and divide the church. People were already saying that I wasn't preaching the Gospel. If I took the line I proposed, it would give them just the handle they needed."

Despite understanding the danger he faced, D. R. Davies refused to listen to the advice of a man he considered to be a friend. When he found that his support for the General Strike increased his congregation manifold, Davies, by his own admission, was intoxicated by the attention. Despite the advice of the church secretary that the crowds could not last, Davies began to preach Socialism aggressively, maintaining that Christ's Gospel was a message of socialism. He ignored the protests of his members and concentrated entirely upon the Trade Unionists who flocked to the church.

"I became the slave of the social gospel. No preacher ever trimmed his sails to the prejudices of the wealthy membership more than I trimmed my sails to the new socialist incursion to my church. [...] I preached exactly what my new congregation wanted and expected. I expressed in the pulpit what they themselves believed and desired. I preached party politics - Labour party politics - in a religious guise. [...] between November 1926 and April 1928, when I resigned, my preaching dealt only with social and political issues - from the socialist angle."
Davies was popular, but it was not on account of the Gospel. As he admitted later: 'One teaspoonful of the genuine New Testament Gospel would have sent them packing.'

Davies began to tour Lancashire, speaking to miners' rallies. He was elected to the council, even standing for Parliament. Hawkshead Street church became a 'labour' church, new officers being appointed from the socialists for 1927. The church filled with unregenerate men. The quarrels of the Labour Party split the new membrship, while the old membership opposed the direction taken by their minister. In 1928, Davies resigned from the church and headed for London, expecting to take up a career in journalism. As far as he was concerned, he was finished with the church. Looking back, Davies had nothing but kind words for the men who forced him out:
"One thing I ave come to understand about this period in my development: that the opposition of "the old guard" in my church was giving expression to the deep and precious feeling that the Gospel was being perverted. Much of this opposition was bitter, petty and visionless, because the people who opposed were human, very human. But in spite of that, it was intuitively right. Those good, narrow-minded, conventional Congregationalists scented a deep heresy in my preaching and activity; they became aware that something infinitely vital was being jettisoned. Under the circumastances, they were utterly right in bringing about my resignation. It was a service to the church and to the Gospel."



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