Tuesday, June 07, 2016

EU thoughts

In no particular order

1. Some Christians  (update: now including the Archbishop of York) have made it quite clear which way they're going to vote, and which way they think our faith points. Others have said something different, and possibly more helpful:  I do believe that the pastor's job in any civilised democracy is to encourage a thoughtful, prayerful, political engagement by outlining the pertinent questions biblically without answering them in any publicly partisan way. The CofE's published prayer on the EU referendum drew ire from both sides by not praying explicitly for Brexit or Bremain, which probably means it was ok. 

2. Less of the spurious Bible studies please. I remember listening to a cassette (those were the days) of a serious scottish 'prophet' outlining how various bits of the Bible mapped onto contemporary politics. The cassette was recorded in the 1980s, and most of the contents are laughable. Even the notorious Rapture Ready website has binned its 'Rapture Index', which plotted the % likelihood of the return of Jesus based on things like the price of oil. So, for example:

The Protestant Truth society give us 5 reasons to leave the EU. Only one of the reasons has any Biblical or theological grounding, based on 1 verse (Acts 17:26, that God has set 'the boundaries of their dwellings'), which is used to endorse national boundaries and sovereignty. The verse is part of St. Pauls evangelistic sermon to the Areopagus in Athens. It dates from a time when the Roman Empire guaranteed the free movement of people around the Mediterranean, thus making Paul's missionary journeys possible. With border checks, he may never have got into Athens in the first place.

To quote Derek Tidball "some people use the Bible as a drunk uses a lamppost: more for support than illumination." 

3. What is God doing? What do we make of the stories of Muslim conversions on the EU mainland? Having just finished 'God's Smuggler', by Brother Andrew, the opening of the borders of former Warsaw Pact countries is a major answer to prayer. Refugees are pouring into Europe from countries where the West has pursued war (Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan), and former colonies which we exploited and then walked away from. Maybe hospitality to those refugees is one way to repay our debt. Many Muslims are now in places where, for the first time, they can read the Bible or turn to Christ without risking a beating, imprisonment or 'honour' killing. 

4. The debate has mostly been about economics, and what we will gain or lose. Christians need to resist that kind of reductionism. For example  the EU 'free movement of people' treats citizens primarilky as economic units who can go where they like to work/retire, rather than people in community who have family, relationships, responsibilities and culture. The former undermines the latter. At the same time, appealing only to how much we would gain or lose financially sells voters short, and treats us as greedy consumers interested only in making money, rather than humans, citizens, neighbours and adults. So what if my house price goes down? What did I ever do to make it go up in the first place?

5. The Bible points towards a future where people of every nation worship God, anticipated by the day of Pentecost, and driven by the mission of Jesus to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. National borders, and international arrangements, are provisional. Jesus ministry and teaching show that God's love cross social, ethnic and cultural boundaries, from the Good Samaritan to the centurions servant. He also made a distinction between Caesar and God: you can't identify any human system of government with the Kingdom of God. The EU is not the Messiah, and neither is Boris Johnson. The Bible both recognises nations, and recognises that they are temporary, and the more powerful they get, the more they sign their own P45.

6. We're faced with a choice between two unknown futures, or possibly more: 

Brexit would quite probably lead to the break up of the UK, the EU and the Conservative party, which would be a dismal legacy for David Cameron to leave. It would also be a mess, as none of our main political parties are advocating it, so who on earth would lead the process? The NHS and social care sector would be decimated (though you could rightly argue we should never have become so dependent on imported labour in the first place, especially as most of the donor countries have much greater health needs than ours). 

Remaining in an EU which increases in size, power and economic influence by the year (ask the Greeks) isn't risk-free either. The project isn't working that well - the Euro has exacerbated the strain on poorer countries, and the rise of the far-right in many countries is a sign that people feel powerless. Whilst some parts are delivering (I'm thankful on a daily basis for the EU-wide food labelling laws that make it safe to go shopping for my coeliac daughter), others are not, particularly for the poor. If Bremain wins, it will be narrowly - taken as a warning sign and an impetus for reform that would be a good thing for the EU, taken as a blank cheque it would be very dangerous. Choose your spin, choose your future. 

If we do stay in, we are going to have to take the free movement of people much more seriously: with better efforts at integration, and honesty and good planning for the 300,000 net addition to the population we will get for the next few years. Politicians need to get their fingers out of their ears and stop going 'la-la-la' - yes we get benefits from immigration, and plenty of them. But we can't deal with 300,000 addition to the population each year the same way we dealt with 30,000, and we need a fuller vision of the human person than the EU's freely moving worker. 

7. David Cameron has dug his own grave. Having won an election on the basis that he wanted us to stay in a 'reformed EU', he hasn't won the reforms he wanted, and is now expecting us to believe that leaving the EU would unleash the Apocalypse. If it was that bad, he should never have offered a referendum in the process. As the main spokesman for Bremain, it is impossible to take his words seriously. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn is compromised by his own historic opposition to the EU, and the media fascination with internal Tory politics which means they don't report what Labour, Libdem or Green politicians have to say. We are not hearing the best arguments, and we are not hearing them through the best people. Come back Nick Clegg, all is forgiven. 

Does the Bible tell us how to vote on the 23rd? No. And neither will I. But it does tell us to act in love not fear, welcome others as Christ welcomed us, act unselfishly, resist human attempts to replace God with any other absolute claim to loyalty (national or international), and to pray for those in government.

God of truth,
give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum
with honesty and openness.
Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion
and discernment to those who vote,
that our nation may prosper
and that with all the peoples of Europe
we may work for peace and the common good;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.


  1. Hi David,
    Amen to the above prayer - and thank you for your thoughtful article.As you have shown in your third point, God has answered prayer powerfully and continues to answer prayer.I was in Kiel in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected. There was great consternation everywhere and I learnt German fast! The candlelit vigils before the collapse of the Wall in 1989 were moving and amazing - and now in Berlin many Muslims are converting to Christianity - these people are undoubtedly our brothers and sisters in Christ.I have also read Brother Andrew's book.
    Re: your fourth point- yes, we certainly need to resist that kind of reductionism. Like most of us, I have been confronted with different collections of financial 'facts', and the 'facts'just don't add up. Even if I could make sense of the economic arguments,the money would not be a deciding factor for me and although I have not looked to the scriptures for a prophetic revelation about the EU, one verse is relevant to me in the context of the EU:'You cannot serve both God and money'.
    I think I might still be making up my mind on 23rd June, but at present I am leaning more towards IN. As you have shown, both In and OUT will be problematic, but unless I hear any really compelling OUT arguments in the next couple of weeks or so, I will vote for the status quo!
    Thank you again for your thoughtful piece and for your integrity.

  2. I think our mutual friend, Sam Norton's piece on why he is voting "leave" is well argued, which is good and courageous as most Christians I know seem inherently attracted to the open borders concept and more than willing to shame anyone who disagrees with them with accusations of racism and the like. Me, I'm still undecided. I would like to hear some arguments that are not based on the economics of bankers and the multi-nationals. I am a socialist and I'm being asked to vote in an "election" where there is no "socialist" candidate (something that is becoming increasingly common of late).

    1. I'm with you there, open borders are a mixed blessing, and I'm suspicious when all the multinationals queue up to support the EU. It's rife with lobbying (just as is Westminster), and Labour is way behind the game in developing a pro-EU line that is a) coherent and b) heard.

    2. There are some good pro arguments out there: environmental protection, consumer protection, student opportunities, science and research, etc. But as for a 'socialist' argument the nearest I've heard is the Working Time Directive as a counterbalance to UK government policy, which isn't quite what Marx had in mind!

  3. Thanks David, good thought out information. I tend to agree with Christine. Bless you

  4. Interesting article. However I sense from how you write that you believe the bible to be sketchy quasi-history which is irrelevant for today as opposed to the accurate true inerrant word of God.
    I think the bible clearly advises which way to vote and I think that it presents its evidence using information for example Babel and the book of Revelation. Large group/world governments are not a good thing.
    But this has no bearing on His instruction on prayer, compassion, and love for our neighbours which he calls us to do across all borders, races and circumstances. I'll be voting OUT.

    1. Thankyou for commenting Sarah. I believe what the Bible says about itself (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16, Psalm 1 etc.), but maybe I've seen too much unthinking 'prophecy' which maps straight from obscure Bible passages to modern events, and ends up looking foolish. Yes there is a repeated anti-empire theme through the Bible, though the circumstances of the Roman Empire (common language, communications, roads and citizenship) are precisely what enables Paul to do what he did, and help the gospel to spread like wildfire. It's important to look at redemption in the Bible as well as sin: Babel, Babylon and Rome are one side of the coin, the other is the unravelling of Babel: nation speaking peace unto nation, God's calling of Israel to be a blessing to all the nations of the world, the Messianic prophecies of Israel, Egypt and Assyria coming together, Pentecost, and the Great Commission. What do we make of David and Solomons trade agreements?

      Co-operation between nations is a good thing, all the more so if it is co-operation to protect the weak, promote justice, and love neighbour. The EU has a mixed record on this: it enables hundreds of thousands of refugees to be received and housed, but it also strips poorer countries of skilled labour and imposes harsh conditions on the weaker economies. The world is heading towards greater integration, and that's not going to stop, so what's the best way to influence that?

      So I don't think the Bible is as clear on how we should vote, all the more so as it was written before modern liberal democracy developed, so democracy itself (including referenda) has to have a biblical critique.

    2. I am grateful for your reply. Indeed there is far too much in the way of 'prophesy' and it makes a mockery of all that the Bible is. Ultimately it is down to numerous passages being taken out of context and used in a way that doesn't relate to the situation or has been mistakenly (or purposefully?) misinterpreted for whatever reason. Usually not for good reasons.
      I believe the Bible confirms itself true by using evidence within it to show those today that what it says has come to pass, or will in the future. And I agree with you about the flip side to the arguments I offered, that redemption and grace are the key.
      I dont believe that choosing to leave should negate our duty as Christians to love our neighbour. Influencing others comes from our acts of kindness and compassion, through missions to other countries, through active interest in politics including more Christians running for high political positions. I guess I just dont see why we have to remain in Europe to do these things, or what leaving makes us any less compassionate, or prevents us from being able to declare the gospel to others. Just because the world is heading towards integration, doesn't mean we have to support and encourage that view. I do think evidence from Babel (as one example) shows that whilst redemption is Gods gift, it doesn't stop the consequences of those actions remaining ie. still having numerous languages and being separated by culture, language and geography. So in this case, I dont see positive things coming from remaining in Europe when I feel it is Biblical not to engage in attempts to form larger governments.
      Thankyou for debating this with me.

  5. I wonder if we've got it totally wrong. Surely, the Referendum should have been delayed until meaningful change had been negotiated or turned down. This campaign is being fought on the basis of half-hearted assurances of change, which have no legal, treaty based substance.

    I have long ago stopped listening to either side in the debate, as I don't trust the politicians involved, and I can't trust the socialist side, whose leader has been virtually silent on the issues involved - where is his integrity?

    As I have a postal vote, I have already voted, which way, I'm not prepared to say, but would have liked a different option about further negotiation than the bald remain or leave we were given.

    Whatever the outcome, there is huge political turmoil ahead, which is the last thing we need in a country which is already divided on lines of class, economic productivity and ethnic origins. You point to BREXIT decision leading to the breakup of the UK, a real and distinct possibility.

    1. "the Referendum should have been delayed until meaningful change had been negotiated or turned down" - that is what happened, was it not? Cameron's meaningful change was turned down and replaced with more or less nothing

  6. Great oversight Dave, especially love the Derek Tidball quote!