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25 April 2017

Calling people of goodwill: the Bible and the common good

Calling people of goodwill: the Bible and the common good

Fleur Dorrell is scripture development co-ordinator at Bible Society.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said: "Seek the welfare of the city... for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29.7). So why are we experiencing such economic and social inequality, cultural polarisation across the Western world as reflected in Brexit, Le Pen and Trump, and a UK general election? How can we prevent this social fragmentation from threatening the very concept of liberal democracy? 

The disunity that we feel is a task too big for governments alone. We all have a role and a responsibility since we were created to be in relationship to each other. That's why Bible Society has launched a new resource – Calling People of Goodwill: The Bible and the Common Good.

It builds the capacity of the laity and helps churches develop in their mission to create unity and community. Churches can be the places that refuse to be tribal, which create spaces of welcome and encounter and address mutual suspicion. 

To model this idea of unity, our booklet was created in collaboration with three other organisations: Together for the Common Good, the Jesuits in Britain and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics. We focus on the principles of the common good as seen throughout the scriptures. 

The common good is the conditions necessary for everyone to thrive; it's not a utopian ideal or something to be imposed by one group on another.

The common good promotes the person, relationships, participation and stewardship. It insists that everyone is included, no one is left behind. 

Using six passages from Acts, Genesis, Amos, John, Peter and Revelation, we explore what the Bible has to say through reflections, discussion questions and prayers. We believe that churches can offer and sustain dialogue and unity in order to create a society where everyone is valued and in which everyone can find the truth. 

What is the truth? It's the fact that Christ has been raised from the dead, and that our future destiny is bound up with Christ's resurrection. Even though the powers of evil and death are still at work, God's final triumph will be realised and death will be destroyed once for all. 

The resurrection is a cosmic earthquake that shakes the foundations of reality so that everything is made new - especially ourselves. We have to live this truth with our lips and in our lives and not succumb to faith-fatigue.

Why then do violence and injustice thrive? Why do innocent people die in Syria? Why does cancer continue to destroy our lives?  Perhaps, because we are in the middle of a story that is still unfolding – we are not there yet. If we live in this middle time, it's our role to represent Jesus' kingdom right here, right now. 

The role of the Church with its social teachings and its history of outreach and charity is a gift to our national community. It has the capacity to be the unity that we urgently need, and to build the welfare of the city.

Yet in one respect the churches are like any large corporation. At the beginning, the early church in Acts 2, had all sorts of creativity and innovation - people had nothing to lose, they tried to find what worked. 

Today we're faced with a global church enterprise, and it's hard when we have all kinds of agendas, denominations, buildings and hierarchies, to hold on to those creative initiatives, since new ideas are not going to emerge through layers of hierarchy, preoccupations with doctrinal differences or the Babel-model of identity-politics, and survive. We need to shift the focus from 'I' to 'we' to 'us' at all levels of our relationships.

By acknowledging that we have profound challenges, and no easy answers, and that the answers are more likely to come from the grassroots than the top, we believe unity can be achieved. And this requires us to be congregations with the courage to stay in the room and the pew, to keep listening, and by recognising the human dignity of everyone, especially those with whom we disagree. 

As the general election gathers momentum, it's important to resist the temptation to co-opt God into a particular political agenda. Rifling through the Bible to find out what He would vote isn't going to be very helpful - God is not simply old or new labour any more than he is purely old or new testament. Although He likes coalitions because he's part of a trinity! 

In our discernment let us pray that we model unity, not uniformity, since celebrating our diversity will bring greater unity. Please use our new resource in your parishes and in your homes, and help all people to create the common good in Christ. 

Fleur is scripture development co-ordinator at Bible Society and her previous roles have included being head of faith & policy for the Mothers' Union for 11 years and a lay chaplain in the Royal Navy and to Brighton University. She is the author or The Promise of Christmas: Reflections for the Advent Season (BRF); The Promise of Easter: Reflections for the Lent Season (BRF) and co-author of Seasons of My Soul: Conversations in the Second Half of Life (Methodist Publishing & the Church of England). She has an MA in theology & religious studies from Cambridge University and an MA in religion, literature and philosophy with art history from Sussex University.