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How do we build something good? Graham’s blog

5 June 2019

In the week of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, we have commemorated sacrifice made to achieve a greater good.

Many important issues are raised in reflecting on this. What was the greater good being sought? The extent and nature of the sacrifice? How can we ensure that good is preserved without the ravages of war in the future? What are the threats to our common good today?

The Queen made an interesting observation in her speech at the state banquet attended by President Donald Trump: “After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard won peace.” 

Here she blended welcome and respect for President Trump with a firm reminder of the purpose and value of international institutions. The latter which are so decried by many populist leaders of our time.

Let’s make a connection:

“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defence of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1: 15 – 18, NRSV)

Here Paul observes that many preach the gospel (the good news of Christ) for noble or selfish motives. Rather daringly he concludes, what does it matter as long as the gospel is proclaimed.

Now in the case of the Christian good news, surely bad motives and practises discredit the good news? Yes, but the good news is bigger than the messenger and which of us ever promotes the good news without elements of rivalry and envy? We will find ourselves being asked to encounter people of questionable motives for the sake of the greater good.

What does that tell us? Whether our good news is the Christian gospel, or international relations, or environmental protection motives it will always be mixed and if the good cause is bigger than the rivals we must be prepared to engage with diverse and even antagonistic parties for a greater cause. The goal is paramount and the agenda is bigger than the participants.

Hopefully, powerful participants will recognise the importance of coming together for a greater goal and adapt their approach to foster partnership. Otherwise we are all the worse off and the goal may not be achieved. This is something of the reminder the Queen was offering to Donald Trump. It is one to bear in mind in UK politics also in church life.

For the sake of international relations, environmental policy and the Christian gospel we will need to engage with people of different emphasis and motives. If we fail to do this greater sacrifices and higher prices will need to be paid.

This asks us to keep our good aims and goals in clearer view and to tone down our rhetoric and posturing to allow people to find common cause. This is a tough ask, in seeking models and motivation Paul was drawn to Jesus Christ:

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 4 – 11 NRSV)

Graham Brownlee, June 2019

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