Controversy is normal and inevitable in politics, even amongst...
I begin with two assumptions. The first is that we all want our nations’ politics and public policies shaped by Godly values to make our societies as pleasing to Him as possible. The second is that the Christian communities in our societies are minorities and there are many in the majorities who do not share this aspiration. I want to suggest a way of overcoming this obstacle.
It is to identify a principle that is central to biblical teaching that is credible to almost everyone and to build our political thinking and policy proposals around that principle, using non-religious language that is familiar to the majority. I want to suggest that the importance of relationships is such a principle. Let me explain.
Consider what the Bible reveals about God. 1John 4:8 tells us that He is love and love comes from him. He is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, co-existing in perfect harmony. That is what the Trinity is all about: the perfect, eternal relationship. In addition, God loves us. “This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him”. (1John 4:9-12)
Relationships lie at the heart of the biblical understanding of humanness and what it means to be made in the image of God. Of all God’s creatures, humans alone were created for relationship with our Creator. It is not just that he loves us: he wants us to love him too. Jesus expresses this clearly when he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 to say the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul, mind and strength and then quotes Leviticus 19:18, that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.
Central to the Old Testament is the Covenant between God and Israel. This Covenant was about a very special, long-term, committed, faithful relationship. Righteousness is another key Old Testament word. It is primarily about right relationships.
Relationships are equally central in the New Testament. Jesus says that his disciples will be known by the way they love one another (John 13:34-5). However, this love must not be exclusive. We must love our neighbours and even our enemies. The Cross is about reconciliation, which is a relational word, and Jesus showed the full extent of his love by dying on the Cross so that all who believe might have eternal life. Eternal life is about ‘knowing God’, the ultimate relationship.
In his first letter to Corinth, Chapter 13, St Paul makes plain that the Christian life is not primarily about prophetic gifts, financial sacrifices or even being martyred for the faith, it is about the quality of our relationships.
Who would deny that relationships are important, even if some do not act in a manner that reflects this? The place of family and local communities are an obvious example but I want to suggest that relationships are important at work, in schools and health care. A child who respects his or her teacher is much more likely to be motivated to work hard to please that teacher. Patients are more likely to do what their doctor tells them if they know and trust them. The same is true in politics. To achieve influence as a lobbyist one has first to establish a relationship of trust and respect with the politician one wants to influence. Equally, why should a citizen vote in an election for a candidate about whom they know nothing? The shrewd candidate will do all he or she can do to make themselves known and gain the confidence of their electors.
Of course making relationships a core principle in policy making will not make Britain a Christian country in the short term but it could make us more humane in how we tackle such social problems as the rough sleepers on our streets, people and families who live in desperate poverty, and elderly folk living alone and desperate for company. It would also shape our foreign policy in the post Brexit era and our domestic relationships as Scotland seeks independence from the once United Kingdom.