26 June 2016

EU Referendum: How should Christians respond?

I deliberately refrained from blogging on the EU Referendum during the campaign, partly because I didn’t have anything to add to the many helpful blogs on the subject and partly because I didn’t want to get caught up in the anger the subject has managed to generate. But now it seems appropriate to publish a few remarks on how Christians should respond to the outcome of the Referendum.

First, the context of my remarks: I voted for the UK to remain in the EU and I am deeply disappointed by the result of the vote. While I recognize that the EU is a deeply flawed institution, I judged that continued membership was the lesser evil, and I stand by that judgement. So, how should Christians (whether they voted ‘remain’ or ‘leave’) respond?

Not by name calling.  David Robertson has accused some pro-remain Christian bloggers of responding in a manner that is bitter, cynical and full of contempt and fear’ and of dismissing those who voted for Brexit as ignorant working-class racists. I must admit I haven’t seen anything of the sort in the various Christian blogs I subscribe to. Perhaps we just follow completely different blogs. But, there can be no excuse for such attitudes in blogs that presume to describe themselves as Christian.

Remembering that God is sovereign. The starting point for any Christian response to world events (particularly events we deplore) is to remember that ultimately God is sovereign. This does not mean we accept that the event was somehow God’s will; we are not fatalists who believe that God micro-manages every aspect of the created order down to the level of quarks, bosons, and gluons. God may number the hairs on your head, but he is not responsible when one of them falls out. Rather, divine sovereignty means that however badly the human race messes up, God is working to bring about his reign of peace.

Prayer. Recognizing the sovereignty (and responsiveness) of God, the first resort of Christians should be prayer. And there is plenty to pray about in the wake of the vote to leave the EU:
  • The deep divisions within British society that have been revealed by the voting patterns – between young and old, between Scotland and England, between an urban elite and working people (not the old working/middle/upper class division).
  • The uncertain futures facing EU nationals living in the UK, UK nationals living on the Continent, and anyone whose job may be relocated to the Continent in the wake of an exit from the single market.
  • The fear that the outcome might lead to growing racist violence. Already fascist groups in England have hailed the outcome as an initial victory and have called on their members to ‘continue the battle against immigrants and Islamization’. We need to pray for the safety of immigrant communities across the UK.
  • For calm leadership from politicians, religious leaders and community leaders. David Cameron clearly has no desire to lead the country into Brexit, and the spokespeople of the Leave campaign have shown no indication that they have a programme to deal with their success.
  • For speedy resolution of the present uncertainty so that it might not lead to financial, political, or social instability.

Righteous action. If our first response is to pray, our second response (the corollary to prayer) is to heed God’s call to us to work for the peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7). For those of us who voted to remain in the EU, this implies that we have to accept and live with the situation we now find ourselves in. The command to work for the peace of the city was originally issued to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. If God could reasonably expect the oppressed to actively seek the well-being of their oppressors, how much more does he expect us to seek the well-being of those who (we believe) have merely taken us in the wrong direction.

Of course, it should not be forgotten that the divine call to seek the well-being of the city (particularly when seen in the light of the New Testament) is profoundly subversive of worldly views of well-being. It is not, for example, merely or even primarily about economic prosperity. It is, rather, a reminder that as Christians we are called to work for the coming of the kingdom of God. We are called to do whatever we can to create foreshadowings of genuine biblical shalom – to work towards a society that is more compassionate, more tolerant of diversity, more open to immigrants, more responsible in its treatment of the environment, less unequal, less tolerant of any form of exploitation. But what might this mean in practical terms?

  • As individuals, we should practise loving our neighbours as ourselves as far as possible expressing the fruit of the Spirit in all our relationships.
  • While we should be hospitable, welcoming, and supportive in all our relationships, this is particularly applicable to our relationships with those who are not UK citizens.
  • We could actively get to know our non-British neighbours.
  • More generally, are there opportunities for us to support immigrants in our communities? Through drop-in centres, food banks, language classes, etc.
  • Instead of moaning from the sidelines about decline in moral standards or the influence of militant secularism or the fragmentation of contemporary society or the obscenity of extreme inequality, more Christians should be actively involved in the political process. At the very least we should regard voting as a solemn duty. But more Christians should also be engaged in party politics at local and national level. Most local party organizations are actually very small (smaller than many Christian congregations) and even at a national level party membership is smaller than membership of Christian denominations (e.g. the Scottish Episcopal Church, one of the smaller Scottish denominations, has three times as many members as the Scottish Labour Party). It would not take many Christians actively engaged at a grassroots level to exert real influence.
Christians should set themselves the task of working together with other people of goodwill to create the kind of society that will cause the leaders of the Leave Campaign to say, twenty years from now, ‘We told you so, we told you Britain could be great again . . . but we honestly didn’t expect greatness to look like this!’.

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