There are five sections to Affinity’s mission statement – one bears the rather grand heading, ‘Public Engagement’. If you believe that, ‘righteousness exalts a nation’ (Proverbs 14:34) and if you are rapt by the salt and light metaphors of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 13-14), then you too are committed to public engagement.
So what is ‘public engagement’? Primarily, it means applying the Word of God to public life, particularly within an unbelieving world, and especially before ‘kings and all those in authority’, namely governments, decision-makers and social practitioners.
These civic and political arenas are foreign places for most Christians. Yet as salt and light we are obligated to resist evil and to struggle for Christian truth and values. And when Christians disengage from society and remain silent, you know what happens? Not nothing. Non-Christian values win the day. Think what we have lost in just one generation – Sundays, family structures, the sanctity of human life, chastity, and much more. If ‘sin is a disgrace to any people’ (Proverbs 14:34) is not a quiescent Church culpable for this shameful state of our nation?
What can be done to initiate and foster public engagement? First, you must understand the biblical basis surrounding such issues. And second, you must learn some facts and arguments about them, otherwise you will have nothing worthwhile to communicate. These are such indispensable preludes that I have written two books on comprehending and responding to bioethical issues.
Third, you engage. For example, from time to time, the Government and other public bodies issue consultation documents, perhaps on prostitution, Sunday trading, or human cloning. You engage by responding. The Social Issues Team of Affinity does just that. One recent consultation concerned the Department of Health’s review of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act 1990. Affinity, along with 534 other organisations and individuals, replied. Is it worth it? Yes, because evangelicals need to sharpen their awareness and formulate winsome arguments and sensible public policies. Silence is an admission of defeat. Does anyone listen? Some will. The official Report on the above consultation quoted the Affinity submission twice.
But there are many other avenues of public engagement. It can be talking to your neighbour over a cup of coffee. It can be writing a letter to your local newspaper, or getting into a discussion on your local radio station. It can be meeting with your MP – the timid can form a small delegation. Come on, be creative, the opportunities are legion.
This may all seem too much for some. Then discuss it in a church meeting. Establish a little group of experts. The call is not to become a professor of moral philosopher, but an informed and engaged Christian. The second time you engage is always better than the first. But you must start, sometime, and preferably soon. Do the maths – if just half of Affinity churches had responded to the recent Department of Health’s consultation, it would have doubled the replies and created far more attention to the Christian position.
Living under the Word, yet in the world has never been easy. But if you believe that Christianity does have solid, truthful answers to deep and serious human dilemmas, then you will feel an obligation to tell others – that’s public engagement.
Dr John R. Ling is a freelance bioethicist, speaker, author and member of Affinity’s Social Issues Team. His personal website is www.johnling.co.uk