Reflections on the result of the EU Referendum

‘We’ve done it – it’s Independence Day’, declares Nigel Farage. ‘It’s democratically unacceptable’, says Nicola Sturgeon. ‘I will do everything I can, as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months’, promises David Cameron. Just three reactions, amongst so many, to the results of last week’s EU Referendum.

Whether you voted to “Leave” or “Remain” last Thursday, the days since then have had a distinctly morning after the night before feel to them. And one of the things we are waking up to is what the Referendum has revealed about how divided we are as a nation. Between Scotland and Northern Ireland on the one hand and England and Wales on the other; between London and the rest of England; between North and South; rural and urban; young and old.

In the words of the Bishop of Norwich: ‘Such divisions are dangerous, especially after a campaign which was often shrill, bruising and alienating.’ And whereas there was, arguably, no definitive Christian answer whether to vote “Remain” or “Leave”; what needs to happen next is a Gospel imperative.

As S. Paul says in today’s Epistle: ‘If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community’ [Galatians 5.15]. In this passage from Galatians S. Paul speaks of living a life guided by the Holy Spirit. At first reading there might not appear much of a difference between this and any other well-intentioned way of living. But upon closer inspection; there is a fundamental difference. Most people want what they think is best for themselves and their nearest and dearest. But what we think is best for us is open to misinterpretation and to being distorted by sin. Rarely do we operate from totally pure motives. Even our best intentions can be tainted by ignorance or self-interest.

How many times have you tried to do what you thought was the right thing, for all right reasons, only for everything to blow up in your face? ‘When Christ freed us’ says S. Paul, ‘he meant us to stay free’ [Galatians 5.1]. Those who view the UK as weighed down by the “yoke” of EU Regulations might take heart from this. But the liberty that Christ gives us is not self-centred or partisan, but rather is given in order that we might better serve God and our neighbour - our neighbour down the street, our neighbour in Scotland and Northern Ireland, our neighbour in Europe and on the other side of the world.

Paul illustrates the nature of our freedom by drawing a contrast between the desires of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit. Let us remind ourselves what those fruits are: ‘Love, joy, peace,patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ [Galatians 5.22]. It strikes me we will need all these attributes if we are to come together as a nation and find new and creative ways to relate to our fellow Europeans.

There is no turning back, says Jesus in today’s Gospel; and while there is no turning back on last Thursday’s vote, either, there has to be a moving forward in fellowship, love and service if we are to be: ‘fit for the Kingdom of God’ [Luke 9.62].

Though, one could argue that, religion and politics had little to say to one another in the debate before last Thursday’s vote – that is far from the case now. Having nailed his own colours to the “Remain” mast, the Archbishop of Canterbury went on say: ‘After the Referendum we must come together as one people to make the solution we chose work well.’ This is the task before us now, and it has to begin with prayer. Prayer for the United Kingdom, that we might live up to our name and become less divided. Prayer for the people of Europe. Prayer for our government and for all political leaders and especially so at this time of political and economic uncertainty.

Furthermore, we need to back up that prayer with action, by recommitting ourselves to living a life guided by the Holy Spirit, which brings comfort and peace in times of turmoil and unity in the midst of division. The operation of the Holy Spirit inspires us away from the pursuit of self-interest to that of the common good – which includes addressing what divides us locally, regionally and nationally and seeks to build bridges with our European neighbours. For of such is the Kingdom of God, which you and I are called to build: ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ This is the straight furrow which we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called plough. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: ‘Once the hand is laid to the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ [Luke 9.62].

I conclude with a final, and even more controversial, reaction to last Thursday’s Referendum results: ‘British lose right to claim that Americans are dumber!’, says the comedian and satirist Andy Borowitz. Well, that remains to be seen, and to my mind, at least, it depends on two things: Firstly, whether we can re-unite as nation and find a way to live creatively and in harmony with our continental cousins; and secondly, if they are dumb enough to elect Donald Trump as President!


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