Tuesday, 7 June 2016

BREXIT: what are the issues for a Christian?

Summary: There are three principles which should lie behind any Godly governance. Does it bring prosperity? Does it enable us to live quiet and peaceable lives? And does it lead to justice?
I will look at three issues: solidarity, subsidiarity and migration/free movement and see whether the bible has anything to say about them. And we need to ask ourselves whether the EU is able to deliver some form of godly governance. 
Finally, I will argue that each of us has to make up our minds not on the basis of what is best for Britain, but what is good for those who are our neighbours.

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INTRODUCTION

Christians are exiles who live in a foreign land (1 Peter 2.11-12). As such, they have lived under many different types of government: empires, nation states, city states, unions.

If you were a Christian born in Belgrade in 1917 you would have lived in 7 different countries.
Think of the rather arbitrary division of Africa by the colonial powers into different nation states
And is the UK a nation state or a union of nation states?

There is no ideal form of government or state that will guarantee prosperity and security: certainly not staying in the EU or leaving the EU.

And the idea that the England or the UK is like the OT state of Israel, specially chosen and anointed by God, is idolatrous.

Some argue that nation states are permanent and God-given. They quote Deut 32.7-9
“Remember the days of old, consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods;
the Lord’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.” 

But this is quite obscure, and the emphasis is on the fact that the people of Israel have been chosen by the Lord to be his own portion.

And if one looks at Acts 17.26f, [“From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us”] we notice that the boundaries of the nations are time-limited, and the reason that God has limited us to a particular time and place is so that we would search for God.

And yes, we have had a great Christian heritage in this nation, many of our laws have been shaped by the bible, and we are incredibly fortunate to have a head of state who is a committed Christian – but nobody, for instance, could argue that the monarch as head of the Church is a particularly biblical model.

Jesus was remarkable ‘apolitical’. He did recognise the rights of human authorities to rule and to raise taxes (Luke 20.25); and the NT urges the godly discipline of submission to those in authority (except for the case of conscience – Romans 13.15)

And as Christians we look for another home, for the return of Christ, and the establishing of the Kingdom of God

Nevertheless, as exiles, as people who belong to another world but who live in this world, we have a responsibility to this world.

1.      Jeremiah writes to the people of Israel who were exiles in Babylon. He urges them to ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jeremiah 29.7) As Christians, the people of God in exile in a foreign, ungodly land, we are still called to seek the welfare of this land.

2.      Paul urges us ‘to pray for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and acceptable to God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Tim 2.2f)

3.      And if one looks to the values of the Kingdom of Heaven, then we should be working so that, where we are able to, we should shape our temporary home so that it will, to the extent that it can, mirror our future eternal home. So we are called to strive, in so far as it is up to us, to live in a society which ‘pursues justice by building up the common good’ (Andrew Goddard). We are to live in a society which respects individuals made in the image of God, but also provides for those who are in need – and equips them so that they might, in turn, equip others.

And as people who live in a democratic society, we need to take our responsibility to vote seriously. And because of that I think that the referendum is a good thing.


THREE ISSUES RAISED BY THE BREXIT REFERENDUM

1.      SOLIDARITY

The idea that we are all, as human beings, in this together!

Personalism is a philosophical way of looking at the world which has come to us from Scripture via the teaching of the earliest Church Fathers (Eastern and Western), and subsequently via Roman Catholic social teaching. It teaches that because God has revealed himself, at his heart, as Trinity – as three persons in relationship – it is who we are in relationship that fundamentally defines us. In other words, it is not my physical nature that makes me really who I am, but my relationship with others. So the more open that I am to others, especially to others who are different to me, the more fully I become the person I am meant to be.  And I am, whether I like it or not, responsible for who they are - and they for who I am.

This is profoundly biblical.

We are bound up together. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus answers the question, ‘Who is my neighbour’ with another question, ‘Who becomes a neighbour to the man beaten by robbers?’ (Luke 10.36)

Or we look at Jesus teaching in Luke 6: ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6.32-36)

And so, after the war, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium – whose politics were dominated by the Christian Democratic parties – looked to this idea of solidarity as a way of preventing another major war in Europe.  Nationalism was seen to be the great evil that had led the nations to two world wars.  And, it was argued, if some sovereignty was surrendered and shared, then peace was far more likely. And that was the initial impetus for the European Community: the merging of the coal and steel industries so that neither Germany nor France could rearm without the other knowing.

And there was, in the initial years, a real spiritual vision, a commitment among the member nations to ‘the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples’. And there was an emphasis on supporting families and local communities

So, for instance, Churchill’s often quoted Zurich speech: “We must build a United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing… There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany.”


The problem is that as that spiritual vision has faded (because of the decline of the Christian Democratic parties in Europe, and the introduction of new elements into the EU: former communist states, Islamic communities, plus the break-up of Yugoslavia) – much of the sense of solidarity has been lost.

On the positive side:
-          Peace has been maintained between France and Germany
-          There is a significant EU solidarity fund
-          Great steps have been taken with protecting the environment

On the negative side:
-          In the last 25 years Europe could have played a leading role in Bosnian war (1992-5) and Kosovan war (1998-9) but did not. And many would argue that the EU has played a significant role in causing, or at least complicating, the Ukrainian civil war.
-          Migration: There is little sense of solidarity. Policies to share migrants locating to Greece and Italy were rejected by UK, France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic.
-          Welfare state: pressure of mass migration is threatening the welfare state.
-          Talk of collective answers has been replaced by a stress on individual rights. Lisbon: guaranteed rights to life, prohibition of torture, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, academic freedom and education.

A sense of solidarity has been replaced by a new European economic orthodoxy which replaces the sense of moral or spiritual purpose with a free market dominated model. Market and economic performance indicators have become an end in themselves.
“A consensus has been allowed to build up that the primary, perhaps exclusive value of Europe lies in national economic interest – i.e. will we – the British or Spanish or Slovaks – be ‘better off’ in or out of Europe”. (Ryan)


2.      SUBSIDIARITY
The union does not take action unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.

The Old Testament is suspicious of big government.
-          The tower of Babel (Genesis 11.1-9)
-          The people’s request for a king in 1 Sam 8.5: ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” It is seen as an act of rebellion against God. The people are warned that a king will centralise power and will oppress them. But God still gives them a king, and then transforms kingship in the person of Jesus Christ.

And subsidiarity is echoed in Catholic social teaching. Pope Pius XI: ‘It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do’

The problem is not with the theory. The problem is the practice. How can we attempt to embed subsidiarity into the EU institutions? We have the European Parliament, but it only really has the right of veto. Currently there are very clumsy attempts

Much of the time decisions are being made by technocrats
§  Economists: the requirement to reduce levels of sovereign debt mean that austerity has been imposed on Greece. Whatever one thinks of that, it is clearly contrary to the will of the people
§  Lawyers: emphasis on rights seems to appear to people as something that is external that has been imposed on them
§  And it inevitably leads to excessive bureaucracy and red tape

And so there is a sense of ‘democratic deficit’. I can name my MP. I have no idea who our MEPs are.

3.      FREE MOVEMENT AND MIGRATION

It is hard to find biblical justification for or against.

There certainly was free movement in OT. In fact, the people of Israel in Egypt demanded free movement!

And there is the command of Leviticus 19.33-34: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

At the same time, there were the commands to the Israelite nation to wipe out the foreigners (nokrim) who were perceived to be a threat. Although I would argue that what was dangerous to them was not their threat to Israel as a national entity, but a threat to them in their faith and trust in Yahweh

There was, to a degree, free movement in the Roman empire, and that certainly helped with the spread of the gospel.

And people speak of how mass migration (especially from Syria and the middle east) means that we lose our Christian identity. And yet I can’t help feeling that this was lost long again. Indeed, many of the more recent migrants have revitalised our churches – and they are the reason that many churches in London are growing. That was my own experience as a vicar in Holloway.
                                                                    
SUMMARY

So to go back to my first three principles.

1.      We need to ask if the EU will bring prosperity: not just to ourselves, but to the citizens of Europe and, beyond that, to the world.
2.      We need to ask if the EU, the 28 states and 500m members, has enough of a shared identity to see political institutions as genuinely representing them. In other words, will this make for peaceful government. I am reassured by the fact that many young people do not see an issue here. They feel that they are part of Europe in a way that many of those of us who are older do not.
And we need to ask what is going to be most helpful, not for the preservation of the gospel – of what we have – but for the spread of the gospel?
3.      We need to ask how do we apply the law of love to this?
The great command is to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. What is significant about that is that we cannot choose our neighbour. They are a given to us. But we can choose to become a neighbour to them.

The debate is usually couched in terms of what is good for Britain. And for a Christian that is profoundly the wrong question. Rather we need to ask, What is good for the other countries of the EU? What would our remaining/leaving do for them? And what would it do for the rest of the world?

Whatever the decision, we need to commit ourselves to it.
If it is to leave, we need to make it work not just for us, but for others.
If we vote to stay in, we need to make it work not just for us, but for all.

There are no answers, I am afraid.
But I am convinced of this. That, as Christians, what we have in Christ is bigger than any stance we take on this particular issue.
And in the end, whatever the vote, God is sovereign.


I have read a few articles on this, some of which I was more convinced by than others.

A Christian case for leaving the European Union, Duncan Boyd
A biblical case for BREXIT, Pastor Peter Simpson
Articles from the Jubilee Centre: Guy Brandon, The big Isseu
Andrew Goddard: The EU referendum
Intercessors for Britain


However the main article that I found most helpful, and many of the arguments I have repeated here, was from the Theos thinktank, A soul for the Union by Ben Ryan

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