Remembering the Diggers

There is a group from England that many people do not know of, but more people should — the True Levellers or Diggers. As Anabaptists or other radical Christians, I think that this short-lived group of English radicals has a lot to offer us, and it is a shame that they have been largely forgotten. So, I wanted to write a short blog on here so that people can get to know this wonderful group.

The Diggers were one of the many nonconformist Christian groups that arose in seventeenth century England (like the Baptists, Puritans, or Quakers). They were largely centered around Gerrard Winstanley, who also went on to become one of the first Quakers and Universalists.

What makes the Diggers so interesting is their radical economic polices. The Diggers strongly emphasized the Christian ethic expressed in the Book of Acts, and building off of Acts 2:44 and 4:32, they practiced communism. Specifically, they sought to do as modern Marxist and anarchist communists do, and eliminate private ownership of real property (what Marxists and anarchists call “private property in the means of production”). In many ways, the Diggers were a sort of precursor for the Catholic Worker Movement or Bruderhof Communities, because they hoped to achieve their vision by using pacifism, charity, and working of the land (hence the name “Diggers”).

Unfortunately, this wonderful reinvention of the church as described in Acts chapters 2-4 was short lived. Much like the early church and its Anabaptist brethren back on mainland Europe, the Diggers were horribly attacked by the powers that be. They were evicted from their colonies multiple times until the movement eventually disintegrated into others like the Quakers or died out completely.

While they were short-lived, I think that the Diggers provide a much needed example of how to put the Gospel into action, and their relationship with various nonconformist and radical churches shows the possibility of being ecumenical and radical (like many Neo-Anabaptists are today).

Some excellent writings left from the Diggers includeThe True Levellers Standard Advanced, A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England, and The Law of Freedom in a Platform.

Kevin Daugherty

Comments (2)

  1. Richard

    I have recently posted a lecture on Gerrard Winstanley by the late Christopher Hill which may be of interest: http://www.mustardandcheese.com/gerard-winstanley-17th-century-communist-at-kingston/

    Reply
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