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Cross-cultural politics

by Martyn Eden

Relationships are central to biblical theology and Christian morals but everyone, regardless of faith or lack of one, knows the value and centrality of relationships in virtually every sphere of life. Secularists may marginalise Christian voices and their concerns but their finest moments probably relate to the experiences of good relationships and the worst to failed relationships.

The point I want to make is that politics and theology have different vocabularies, making intelligible communication difficult, even impossible where prejudices are involved. We need to recognise that 21st century Britain is considerably less pluralistic than 1st century Corinth or Athens. St Paul understood this very well and his address to the Areopagus (ACTS 17) shows how he overcame the cultural barrier. We need to learn from him because the political agenda is now addressing issues that were traditionally on the biblical agenda. The definition of marriage is an obvious example but care of God's earth, the shedding of innocent blood in Syria and how we relate to our needy and vulnerable neighbours are others.

If we want to influence policy decisions we have to try to speak in such a way that others who do not share our beliefs still understand what we are saying. This is cross-cultural communication, not accommodating our beliefs to the contemporary mood. Missionaries overseas have to do this all the time and they require orientation to learn the language and culture in which they will minister. That does not mean compromising their message. This is something politically active Christians need to emulate. When a well-known Christian appeared on a programme about morality and simply quoted the Bible that sounded fine to believers but cut no ice on the programme.

To function effectively in politics one must first understand the issue confronting policy makers which will rarely be articulated in religious language. Then one must analyse the issue to identify the principles and values involved in it. The next step is to find the biblical principles and values relevant to them and these must then be translated into non-religious language for the purposes of advocacy. This calls for analytical skills and a thorough grasp of the Bible. Our Achilles heel is the low level of biblical literacy even amongst committed Christians. Add to this the lack of grace and courtesy exhibited by many of those who write angry letters to their MPs and any hope of influencing them is lost. This is a tragedy because Christians are making an admirable witness in food banks, the hospice movement, as street pastors and in many other ways. Without such deeds no-one listens, without the right words no-one understands. There is a huge educational need in the Christian community to raise the level of biblical literacy as well as Christ-like spirituality.

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