Should we stay or should we go now? If we stay there will be trouble, if we go it will be double? The Clash 1982
There are currently 2 programs that get me shouting at the radio and asking when will it ever end?
The first is the continuing drama on The Archers as I long for Helen and Henry to be reunited and the second is the heated EU referendum debate, where passion and controversy are the order of the day.
I long for facts, clarity and an opportunity to think in an uncluttered way.
As previously good friends fall out and disagree, I have found the ecumenical resource from The Joint Public Issues Team, Think, Pray, Vote, very helpful in picking out a few of the key questions and offering a biblical perspective from which to reflect. In this short editorial, I offer some pointers for reflection.
On the 23rd June, we will be asked the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” As Christians we are called to work, live and pray for a better society, which includes taking part in the political processes that shape our lives. How then do we allow our faith to inform our answer to the referendum question?
For Jesus the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” while the second is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” Our relationship with God affects the way that we relate to and live with one another. The referendum question could therefore be phrased as, “ To what extent does the European union enhance or hinder our ability to love our neighbour and, in doing so, our ability to love God?”
Who in this context is our neighbour? Are we talking about neighbours in our local community, in the UK, in Europe or the wider world? Does economic union help our relationship with some nations while hindering others?
Does the way that the EU makes laws aid or get in the way with how we work out our faith?
At the heart of the EU is the single market, laws and policies regulating trade, allowing people and business to trade freely without barriers between 28 countries. The EU’s single market area contains half a billion people and is the world’s largest trading block, importing £1.7 trillion and exporting £1.9 trillions of goods and services each year. Trade within the single market amounts for around half of the UK’s imports, exports and investment. For the single market to operate effectively, people have to be able to move between job markets, where regulations apply equally. The question is, are the benefits of the single market worth the cost?
Think, Pray, Vote, highlights that trade and markets have a moral element whether that’s in the distribution of wealth, the provision of work or the creation of resources. The bible highlights that we are not owners but stewards of possessions that ultimately belong to God, and we should look to use
these possessions in ways that serve God, through serving those in need. So what biblical principles help to inform our perspective on trade? Who is helped and who is harmed by the current single market arrangement? In what ways does the EU single market provide opportunity for serving God and serving others, and how does it limit this ability? How does holding the Parable of the Talents in tension with the exhortation to give to the poor (Luke 12: 33) move our thinking on?
Another key issue within the debate is the question of sovereignty. Who has the power to make decisions about our lives and where does accountability lie? Working together may involve giving up some of our control and the EU represents this, as 28 countries seek to cooperate over a range of policy areas. All Christian thought about sovereignty begins with the sovereignty of
God. If God’s love is universal then our starting point on sovereignty is one that transcends national borders. It’s the idea that all other sovereignty exists under and is subject to, God’s sovereignty. So where should countries or individuals surrender a degree of self‐determination in order to cooperate?
Various passages in the bible point to co‐operation and living in unity, whilst our individual diversity is also valued. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:12‐ 20 come to mind here, one body with many members. So do these passages of scripture affect how we see and relate to the EU?
What are the ways in which working with others enables us to serve God and those around us and when can it be restrictive?
And finally there is the issue of the free movement of people. As part of their country’s membership to the EU, all EU citizens are entitled to look for a job in another EU country. The free movement of people can be seen as part of the single market, allowing people to move as freely as money as well as bringing European people together. Approximately 2 million British people live in other parts of the EU, while around 2.3 million citizens of other EU countries live in
the UK. Some parts of the UK have been changed by this migration pattern viewing it as providing an enriching diversity, whilst others see it as increasing pressure on the local neighbourhood.
The Bible contains stories involving the movement of people, whether it be the Israelites moving to escape famine, escape persecution or to follow God’s calling. Within these stories, culture and identity are explored as a fruitful ground for blessings, both to those settling and those resident, as well as a threat physically and culturally. Think, Pray, Vote, suggests we should
reflect on, what do biblical stories tell us about nations, migration and the place of the stranger (Numbers 15: 15)? How does the free movement of people in the EU affect our identities and how does this relate to our identity in Christ?
May God bless you as you wrestle with these questions and seek God’s grace.
in this referendum that lies before us,
in the challenge of seeking an answer
in our differences of opinion
in our need to understand
may you guide us in our decisions
make us gracious in our disagreement
as we work for your grace and peace to be made known