The art of negotiation
The current negotiations over Brexit are clearly vital to the future health and success of the UK as a nation and of the EU. But by any measure, and whatever views we may have about the desired outcome, they are not going well. As we pray for wisdom for leaders of nations, is there any help from scripture?
Yes of course – the Bible is a complex record of God’s dealings with humankind and the chief means of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom for every aspect of life. So how can Christians who listen carefully to God speaking in scripture advise political leaders as they negotiate a historic treaty?
First, everything depends on relationship. The heart of the gospel is about reconciling those who cannot naturally be reconciled – a holy God with unrighteous rebels, Jews with Gentiles, rich with poor. God is making a new humankind by bringing together in church people who thought they could never be together. And we are called to live as Jesus did (Phil 2:5) – He was “friend of sinners” and served those He loved, even His enemies!
The most difficult negotiations – such as resolving long running and seemingly impossible conflicts in Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland – achieved breakthrough when negotiators stopped delivering speeches and ignoring each other and began to get to know each other.
As the Israeli Prime Minister and the Head of the PLO went for walks together in a Norwegian wood, they found they could understand each other as people and laugh together. The breakthrough in negotiations came when they realised that each would have to “sell” a deal to their voters or supporters. “If you want to wipe Israel off the map,” the PM said, “please tell me how to persuade the voters in Israel to accept this!” Then they laughed and started to negotiate a deal that could work in practice.
Sadly, it seems the UK negotiators are not devoting the time and effort to building relationships that would enable real conversations to take place.
Linked with this emphasis on relationships, if we are to be able to communicate we need to trust one another and communicate clearly. In Matt 5:37 and James 5:12 scripture is absolutely clear. Deception and lies are used by demonic powers to confuse and set people apart (John 8:44). Even a “white lie” that, to a politician, might not seem to be a lie cannot succeed in making a relationship work – it undermines trust. Throughout scripture, lies are denounced or seen to be counter-productive while the Lord loves truth-telling (Prov 12:22).
Many in the UK, with different views on Brexit, are dismayed by the apparent deadlock in negotiations. But from an EU perspective it is frustrating that after months of “talks” the British Government has not been able to clarify its position on various key issues. The political differences even within the Cabinet seem to make it difficult to agree and express clearly what the UK wants to achieve. There is no clear consensus so there can be no clear communication and therefore no real trust.
Do we ignore all this or throw up our hands in horror or cynically say “Well that is politicians for you!” No, we need to to follow Paul’s instruction:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and people, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Tim 2:1-6