What is the Christian vision for Britain?

Michael Schluter, March 2005

In the 1960s Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. His dream was of a country where black and white children could go on the same bus, attend the same school, and as adults work side by side as equals in the same company. It was an inspiring vision which set alight the civil rights movement in America.

So what is a Christian vision for Britain today? A well-known proverb says, ‘Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law’, Proverbs 29:18 (NIV). In the AV, this verse reads, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’. The idea is the same. A social vision matters. But a social vision ultimately has to find its roots in revelation if it is to be sustainable. It seems appropriate to think about ‘the vision thing’ just now as we publish Jubilee Manifesto next month. It seeks to understand how God’s vision for his people Israel, whom he called to be a light to the Gentiles, functions as a model for how God would have us order our societies today.

The importance of a positive vision for society has been highlighted by recent events in our public life. Jerry Springer – the Opera appeared to mock Christ. In my view, Christians rightly said ‘No’. A Government bill has proposed to extend gambling facilities. Again, Christians rightly said ‘No’. A Government bill has potentially threatened the right of Christians to explain their faith to Muslims. Again, Christians rightly are saying ‘No’. The past pattern has been for Christians to say ‘No’, whether the issue was Sunday trading, extending pub opening hours, or using public money to promote a homosexual lifestyle. So how as Christians can we avoid a negative image which people understandably reject? What is our positive vision for society?

 

A positive vision

At one level the answer is simple. Our vision is for righteousness. ‘Righteousness exalts a nation’, as Proverbs 14:34 puts it. But what is righteousness? J. L. Mays helpfully summarises it like this: ‘Righteousness is the quality of life displayed by those who live up to the norms inherent in a given relationship, and thereby do right by the other person or persons involved.’ [1] In other words, righteousness means right relationships. So the Christian vision is for right relationships in every sphere of life. This includes the values of justice, mercy, faithfulness, holiness, harmony, hope and love. Biblical revelation teaches us what that means in practice for the laws, policies and customs which should govern society. All of this is explored in detail in Jubilee Manifesto .

So what sort of changes might make us feel we were making progress? The issues are sometimes divided between those that are ‘moral’ issues relating to personal behaviour and ‘justice’ issues relating to the way the economy, public services and the social welfare system operate. All of these are, however, moral issues and are linked together because they impact directly or indirectly on the way people relate to one another. They are all addressed in Scripture.

 

A far-reaching agenda

How does this vision, then, work out in daily life? To give some specific examples, Christians would rejoice to see lower divorce rates, parents spending more time with their children, better race relations, less loneliness among old people, falling numbers being sent to prison, lower crime rates, lower levels of unemployment (especially in the inner cities where it is still often in excess of 25 per cent). At the same time, Christians should like to see the targets in education apply to relational skills as well as knowledge of technical subjects, legal restraints on the long hours culture in business, and steps towards making shareholders responsible for the companies where ‘shareholder value’ is the bottom line. I could go on.

The point about this list is not its length! Rather, it is to show how many-sided is a relational approach to public life, and in the context of the coming election to raise questions about a rather narrow preoccupation with issues of sexual morality (important as they are). God is concerned about all of the relationships in a society, not just a subset. Surely our concerns should mirror his.

[1] From Amos: A Commentary (1969)

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Category: News and Reviews

March, 2005

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