Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Making sense of the Referendum: further reflections

This is the text of the article I've written for our parish magazine; a more concise version of what I posted the other day. 

One of the things I love best about the British is our ability to find humour in the worst situations. After England’s defeat in Euro 2016 a friend posted on Facebook: ‘So leaving Europe once this week just wasn’t enough!?!’ And another: ‘Thank goodness it was only Iceland. Tesco would have really thrashed us.’ A good sense of humour is essential at the moment as we contemplate a very different and uncertain future in relation to Europe. My own feelings following the referendum were of shock, anger, fear and sadness. But what’s done is done, and we can’t reverse the decision. So it’s time to look forward with faith, hope and love.

Faith in the God who is sovereign over all. Much of the European debate has been about ‘who is in control?’ Is it the UK parliament in Westminster, or Brussels? Of course it’s not as simple as that – if only it were. In a modern global world where multi-national business transcends national boundaries sovereignty is much less clearly defined these days. We may be a sovereign power, but, for example, we don’t have any control over oil prices and so we will all feel the consequences of more expensive petrol. While Jesus was on earth he lived in a small outlying province of the Roman Empire. There was no democracy at all, yet he was prepared to accept the earthly power of the Emperor: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” At the same time, he could say to the Emperor’s representative, Pontius Pilate, “You are right to say that I am a king….My kingdom is not of this world.” The kingdom of God, that we become members of through faith in Christ, is one without geographical boundaries, its government rests on the shoulders of Jesus the Messiah, its entry requirements are through a narrow gate, but at the same time it is open to all who will pass through that gate – Jesus Christ. The prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of this kingdom that would outlast every other kingdom and empire – even the EU. So my faith is not ultimately in the sovereignty of a political institution, necessary though it may be for the ordering of a good society, but in the sovereignty of God.

We need to have hope for the future. The big financial institutions are notoriously afraid of uncertainty, and we will no doubt see a contraction in our economy at least in the short-term. Hope helps us look beyond that, and is the only antidote to fear. Yes, we may be worse off economically as a result of this vote, but ultimately our security is not in the value of our house or pension fund. Compared with the majority of the world we are fantastically rich. True Christian hope runs deeper than optimism, which depends more on your personality. Hope is based on the belief that in Christ all things are made new – and that starts with ourselves. Hope is located in the future – not ‘pie in the sky when you die’, but the life of heaven breaking into earth, the life of the future in the present. So if all around seems to be uncertain we can still have hope.

And then there is a great need for love. The worst result of this referendum has been to see the naked hatred of some people towards immigrants from the EU and further afield. I fear that those who voted to leave the EU because of immigration will be bitterly disappointed as (a) nothing will change for at least 2 years, and (b) Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are both pro-immigration, though in a more regulated way than at present. I don’t think it will be long before those who voted to leave will feel betrayed and will give vent to even more anti-immigrant hatred. So as a church we must stand up for the ultimate Christian value of love: love for our neighbour, and love for our enemy. There is no distinction in love – it covers a multitude of sins. Love means we must welcome those who have every right to be here but may be feeling unwelcoming; it also means we must, in some way, reach out to those who feel they have been ignored and pushed aside in their own country. So love extends as much to the Polish or Latvian worker and the Syrian refugee, as it does to the white working-class Englishman.

The other thing we can do in the church is to pray: pray for our political leaders, many of whom looked as shocked as the rest of us following the result; for the leaders of the EU – that there will be no vindictive spirit motivating them; for the leaders of our financial institutions as they hold the economy together; for those who have disagreed fundamentally over this issue; for those who voted as a protest against the political elite because they have felt ignored or taken for granted.
This is now a time for rebuilding and looking forward. It may not be the future many were looking for, but it is an opportunity to put faith, hope and love into action.

‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayers, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

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