A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE ON BREXIT

Revd. Prof. Adrian Low, Anglican Chaplain, Costa del Sol West, Spain

My position

I have been open about my views on Brexit.  I am personally convinced that it is not the will of God that we leave the Union, but if we do we have to do it in as Godly way as possible.  I reject so-called prophetic words that suggest God orchestrated it.  I do not believe God did, nor do I believe this is how God works.  I believe this is a human rejection of the status quo, voted for, sometimes on principled reasons, but too often on xenophobic or selfish reasons, sometimes simply to give the government a good kicking.  It has done that, but it is still wrong.

In my view Brexit is not and was not the will of God.  I want to argue this from a Biblical, theological, rational and prophetic perspective.  Each element of the argument is cumulative.  It provides, for me, good clarity and whilst I respect the position other people have taken, I am not convinced by the arguments or, so called, prophesises I have read or heard that attempt to demonstrate that God is in the Brexit decision. 

Divorce and love

The will of God is both creative and loving.  In numerous places in the New Testament God, in Jesus Christ, preaches that we should love one another as he loves us (John 13:34).  His love is self-denying (John 3:16), unconditional love (Psalm 52:8, 1 Cor 13).  It is a love for the whole of creation which God in Jesus Christ comes to save, to recreate, to redeem (Eph 2:8), enlighten, welcome, reach, engage with and heal.

  "The will of God is both creative and loving."

 

It is how we should love (Matt 5:43, Luke 6:27, 1 John 3:16).  His mission specifically for us, is to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 12:19).  It is about loving engagement with the world, as Jesus as engaged with the world (John 3:16).  It is underlined by the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) which is an overt challenge to any racist, imperialist or xenophobic culture.  It was a breaking down of traditional barriers, as was His encounter with the woman at the well (John 4), a breaking down of traditional gender, religion (in the case of the woman, the location of worship) and race cultures (Acts 2:8ff).  St John puts great space and emphasis on this encounter in his gospel.  Jesus welcomes her into the Kingdom as she simply discovers who Jesus is (John 4:26).  No matter what the beliefs about right places to worship, about her residency in the wrong place or not, about her own broken life, she is welcomed (John 4:29).

He talks about relationships at length.  He is saddened by divorce (Matthew 5:31), he avoids being the leader of some army (John 6:15).  He does not openly criticise the Roman occupation when given the opportunity (Mar 12:17), he works with a centurion (Luke 7:1-10), collaborator (Matthew) and terrorist (Simon) and forgives the soldiers (Luke 23:34) who execute him despite them not knowing what they are doing.  When he hates, he hates hypocrisy (Matt 23:13), corruption (Matt 21:12), legalistic religion (Matt 23:14), the exploitation of the poor and the abuse of women (John 8:7, John 4, Luke 7:37).

He comes as an image of the real nature of God (John 14:10,11,20), an image that is no longer a covenant from the past but a covenant for the future.  All nations, all people over all time are welcomed.

The action of Brexit is a national divorce, it is a breaking of relationships, a breaking of a covenant. 

Divorce is justified in our society when one party is abusing the other, when there is simply hurt and no love, when one party is evil.  Individuals have suggested to me that the EU is demonic. 

There is no evidence that the EU is either demonic nor is it inherently evil.  It is a human system created for the good of the people of all Europe.  Human systems and projects are not inherently bad.  You can have good government and bad government, good hospitals and bad hospitals, good churches and bad churches.  You do not judge anything simply on size (or on words) but on works. 

Many of those who have created and sustained the EU project have been deeply committed Christians who have worked with the project precisely because it has the opportunity of doing good and therefore, from time to time, is Godly work[1].  Entry to the Common Market was blocked by DeGaul, in the 1960s.  Those signing up for inclusion in the then Common Market were people whose Christianity I have admired, in particular, Revd. Lord Soper, a Labour peer and the former president of the Methodist Conference.  Pope Pius XII had also discussed the pros and cons of British membership and in 1962 the British Council of Churches produced a positive report on Britain and Western Europe with a joining of the Common Market in mind.  In the 1970s a Britain in Europe group had as its patrons the Archbishops of both Canterbury and Westminster, the Moderator of the Free Church Council and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland.  Basically the churches were behind the movement.[2]

I do not believe that the EU as a development of the Common Market has been such an evil development that it negates the Christian view, in 1975, that joining the Common Market was the right thing to do, and was part of the way of the Kingdom.  Certainly the view of the Christians then was not focused on UK economic prosperity through a single market, but about working together, not least to ensure we never repeat the sins of the past.

"Working together to avoid the sins of the past"

 

It provides many good things.  Reciprocal health care is good, reciprocal education is good, shared research is good, the lack of trade barriers is good, the funding of projects in areas of deep poverty is good, the visa-free travel for European holidays is good.  They are self-evident and I have not provided references, but some bear Biblical references, for example Ruth and Boaz, provision of a stable for Mary and Joseph, Paul’s journey’s and his support in different areas of the Mediterranean (e.g. Acts 16:14).  I would go further to say that the systems for health and safety, minimum wage, workers rights, human rights and collaboration on terrorism, security, drugs and criminality are all good.  They value people, give them hope and are for the common good.

Some areas are bad: poor use and auditing of some monies, unrestricted travel (particularly when trafficking of individuals is so easy), the lack of quick European solutions to European problems, over-regulation and so on.  But overall the project remains a good one. 

This ‘good project’ is not just my view, of course, but the view of many, indeed most of the Christian leaders in the UK prior to Brexit supported remaining.  See, for instance, the footnotes.[3][4]  Further most economic institutions, the OED, the Bank of England, parliament as a whole (the people who are paid to read and understand the political, economic and international implications, representing us, 75% in favour of remaining), the World Bank, all the political parties (except UKIP and the two Ulster Unionists parties).  Such institutions and peoples, far wiser world-thinkers than I am, were saying we should stay in for good reasons.  The EU has it failings, but it is not inherently bad.

Divorce is something to be undertaken only when there is no other option.  There is an option, and that option is to stay and fight as vigorously as possible to change the bad into good.

Expats are very fond of the countries we live in and the people we live with.  There is a love that extends between nations.  However much we laugh about it our love and care for our European neighbours is significant.  So many tell stories about the care shown to them personally by our friends.

Leaving the party is not the right option.  It negates the love, in fact it does more, it spits in the face of those who have loved us, in the face of those who negotiated with David Cameron before the referendum to accommodate the UK’s preferences.  Our EU friends were affronted by the Brexit decision.  Governments, presidents and prime ministers have spoken sadly about the divorce and breaking of relationships and have wished we would reverse that decision.

It does not seem credible to me that all these people are simply thinking of themselves, their own livelihood, their own countries or their own jobs.  Some may fear losing out personally if Britain leaves the EU, but I am willing to believe the vast majority who see Brexit as bad for Europe as a whole, including the UK.

Jesus was not about breaking relationships.  He was about repentance, which means a changing of peoples minds, when things were not going right.  That means engagement rather than walking away.  When things were going awry in the Temple he engaged with it, engagement was key.  He does not abandon the whole institution, but instead sees the Temple as being rebuilt in him. (Matt 21:12) Jesus walked to Jerusalem (John 14:5) precisely because he wanted to engage, cosmically, with the world.  God is incarnate because God wants to engage with the world (John 1).  God is love because that is God’s nature and love is not undertaken without engagement. 

When there has been 40 years of engagement, extensive, complex and expensive negotiation, care and love with Europe through the Common Market and the European Union it is not a Christian act to wipe that away.

The very breaking of the relationship is damaging to the UK and to the EU.  Any moderating influence, any good thinking, wise economics, sound business practices that the UK can ever claim to bring to the table will no longer be able to influence the EU systems and government. 

The British focus on self

One nation removes itself from a group of nations. It believes that is good for itself to do so, and probably bad for the group it leaves. Ultimately that is a self-centred attitude. It believes that it will save money for itself, it will enable itself to be excluding rather than including, it believes that it is better off not being part of the family. That is not the way of Jesus. He asks people to give rather than receive (Matt 5:40, Acts 20:35), to consider the neighbour over and above self (Luke 10:29)

"Consider our neighbour before ourselves"

 

His words are still extraordinarily radical to suggest this in a real society that has grown up on living for oneself. 

The arguments about the cost to the UK of membership have been placed into frameworks of untruth.  Where there is a net cost, as I am aware, the purpose of EU redistribution of wealth has been to fund projects in poorer regions in the EU, many of them in the UK.  The West Midlands, the area we lived in, benefited from projects for people and building communities.  The EU funded me, at  Sandwell College where I was Head of School, to mount an HNC in Computing for people who had no jobs but who had potential, and for their fees to be paid by the EU.  It changed 20 peoples’ lives.

The net outflow of money to the EU from the UK has been partly to support the structures of the EU but mainly for funding infrastructure, health and other educational and research opportunities in poorer areas of the EU, particularly. That is the Samaritan’s purse (Luke 10:35). He leaves a blank cheque to help the person in need. It is a crucial and key parable which we ignore at out peril.

"The Samaritan left a blank cheque for the person in need"

When meeting groups before the referendum and talking through Brexit the self-centredness of some of the comments was evident.  They were not worth repeating, not the way of Christ and frankly some were appalling.  It is never satisfactory to say that we will sort our own poor out first. There is a matter of degree here.  Our own poor, of course, are poor, but the poverty of hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in southern Europe and in northern Africa bares no equivalence.  The desperate grinding poverty of some, who have no food to fee their malnourished children, or who feel they have to sell their children to feed their other children is utterly appalling.  “Charity begins at home” is not Biblical, it is the opposite of it.  The poor are everywhere and we have an obligation to humanity, not just to the UK, England, Essex or whatever.  Jesus was approached by a Gentile woman who wanted healing and he asks her whether he should give help to the ‘dogs’ of society (Mark 7:27).   Dogs was a word used by the Jews to describe the Gentiles.  She says yes, and he agrees and heals her, he overturns the local difference-labels of his society to be generous to all.  That is also the cross.  He didn’t stay on to heal the nation but dies to heal the world.  This is crucial stuff.  Our obligation, like the Samaritans, like Jesus’ is to the whole world, not just to ourselves.  As the fifth richest country in the world we should be celebrating the opportunities to fund projects in poorer countries in the EU as we celebrate the opportunity to fund projects via the international development money, in countries outside of the EU.

Our failed democracy

So many calls in the Old and New Testaments are about justice.  Justice is a part of love.  You cannot love without being just to the person you love.  Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 59:14, Jeremiah 22:15 and many other verses call for justice.  Ultimately the Torah itself is about justice, and the crucifixion about justice.  Amos is a great prophet who calls for “justice [to] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos  5:4.  What is justice?  There is a connection between justice and democracy which is important.  Justice is about a ruling group having the best interests of those they rule over, at all times.  It is about fair laws, fair resolution of disputes, it is about the truth.  Truth that should be heard.  It is about the right of any person who is under threat, to have the opportunity to counter that threat, speak, to be heard.

The referendum was unjust democracy on three counts.

"The referendum was a failure in honest democracy"

  1. The lies peddled prior to the referendum were dreadful.  For example, and there are a number of these: people were being asked whether they wanted £350million per week given to the EU or to the NHS.  £350million was the wrong figure, it was the gross figure, not the net figure.  The net is nearer £67million[5].  There was no possibility ever that £350million per week could be given to the NHS.  It would bankrupt the country. 

    The lies were propagated by some unscrupulous politicians and elements of the media.  There were lies about the possibility of still trading fully with the EU whilst closing borders.  That is not possible. There were dire warnings, much less lies, on the Remain campaign side.  Many suggested that there could be an economic slow-down, a recession, a movement of companies from the UK to Europe mainland.  These were warnings usually not about the instant after the referendum but the years following the referendum, some are happening, the pound has slid 15%, companies I know in Gibraltar have been looking at moving to Malta to ensure they are still within the EU. 

    Lies, particularly on the Brexit side, will have persuaded some voters.  They made the voting unjust.  You cannot vote justly and wisely when you do not have the truth or only one side of the truth.  Truth is crucial to the life of Christ.  John 14 has “I am the truth”, just as much as in the ten commandments and in Jesus’ quoting of them when he says “do not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16, Luke 18:20).  Lies are not acceptable and they corrupt any democratic vote as much as they corrupt the result of a jury in a case in court.   Lies, particularly in some newspapers, seem to have become acceptable journalism.  That is inherently evil.  It leads to a kind of democracy put Hitler’s Nazi party in power in Germany in 1932 having been voted the largest number of seats in the German parliament on a campaign of returning the country to its former glory. 

  2. The referendum did not include those who, although they were able to express a proper opinion, were the most likely to be affected by the outcome.  That is grossly unjust and a denial of their human rights and a dumping of any label of democracy. 

    Listening was key to Jesus ministry, both listening to him and others listening to others. (Matt 18:16 and many others.)  Three groups had no voice in the vote:

    Expats who have lived outside of the UK but in the EU for more than 15 years were not allowed to vote.  Their voice was not heard.  They were not allowed to speak.  Their long term livelihood, health arrangements, housing, residence, children’s education may all be grossly affected by this.  Yet they were not allowed to vote.

    Two million residents in the UK who were citizen from the EU (except UK, Eire, Malta and Cyprus), were not allowed to vote.  Australians, Canadians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Irish who were resident in the UK were all allowed to vote by virtue of their being Commonwealth citizens (except Ireland).    These EU citizens  in the UK are the ones  going to be affected most, with their children in schools in the UK, working in the UK (many as hospital doctors and nurses), people who run businesses with UK employees.  These were not allowed a vote.  That is not positively and honestly caring for ‘the aliens in our midst’ (e.g. Ex 2:21 and may others) at all. 

    The 16-18 year olds were given a vote on Scottish Independence but not on Brexit.  All the parties except the conservative party voted in the House of Commons that they should be given the vote, and it is unfair that somehow the vote for one exit is not the same age-wise as the vote for another exit.  Either exit will affect younger people for the most length of time, and if they are able to be wise with one vote they should have been recognised as wise for the other.

    Both groups have become second class people.  That is unjust and is not proper democracy.

    It is worth noting that if either group were to have voted, the likelihood is that the 3.8%, (1.3 million) Leave majority would have been reversed.

  3. To leave the EU is grossly unjust when the will of the UK electorate seems to be to stay in the EU. 

That is demonstrated in the polls before and since the referendum[6].  It is a fact that of those who did not vote there was, and still is, a 13% majority in favour of staying.  It is not satisfactory to say they should have voted and that is their fault and they should accept the result.  It may be their fault and I am not excusing that, but it still remains that the ‘will of the people’ (electorate, citizens, and residents) is to stay in the EU.  It is even more pronounced if those unjustly denied votes were to be included in the electorate. It is not the action of a democratic government, but the action of a tyranny to do something of such magnitude against the will of the people.

It is not the action of a democratic government, but the action of a tyranny to do something of such magnitude against the will of the electorate, the citizens and the residents of a country.

 

Good kingly government in the Old Testament worked alongside the will of the people, not oppressing the people by a minority.  This is what is happening here.

The problem with polls

It is an unfair and unjust democracy that allows polls right up to the day of the vote, because, as is documented with many elections and most recently the American presidential election, where it looks as though one side will win, the voters for that side are less likely to turn out to vote, simply because they believe others will tip the balance for them without them having to make their way to the ballot box.  Polls should be banned for at least a week before an election or a referendum. 

The vast majority of pre-referendum polls gave the Remainers a false sense of security, maybe even complacency.

It is not satisfactory to base enormous changes of policy on an unjust democratic system that has denied millions of people a voice. 

I believe there should be a second referendum.  I believe that the 15-year expats, 16-18s, and EU resident-in-UK should be included in the electorate.  The Press Commission should vet posters and halt the production of newspapers, during the campaign, if they overtly tell lies.  I believe that no polls should be published in the last week of the campaign.

This, for me, is about democratic justice, the right to be heard and to defend oneself in a democracy when other people want to change your life.  Mrs May has quoted 3 million EU citizens in the UK.  1 million expats have been abroad for more than 15 years.  Together with 1.5 million 16-18s makes something approaching 5.5 million who were denied the right to vote, and most of their votes would have gone to Remain.  That would have overturned the majority four-fold.

"5.5 million were denied the right to vote"

Prophetic

I reject absolutely the so-called prophetic utterances which suggest that God has spoken directly to the UK and the result of Brexit will be the UK coming back to God.  I have seen none of that.  I have seen, instead, racism, bullying, xenophobia and name-calling become rife.  My own views have been vilified and basic statistics regarded as lies[7].   When one individual challenges the way the government should undertake the Brexit legislation she receives racist and sexist abuse and death threats.  That is utterly evil.  The so-called prophesy (see footnotes), which is not just a word from the heart but, apparently words directly from God – spoken in a kind of Jeremiah/King James version prose – regards me and others as confused and without knowledge[8].

I prefer the old scheme which tests what is the will of God through Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason.  I have, I hope, demonstrated my scriptural and theological reasons for seeing Brexit as something I cannot agree with.  The traditional Christian call for unity (John 17:21) is something that we have all wished for and the church has not performed well to that call over many  years.  There is a long way to go and that tradition of working together and Christ’s call to a real oneness is, for me, a call to unity in love in politics, home life as well as church life. 

I am no advocate for a United States of Europe, but I support what we have now with the opt-outs suitable for each government.

Reason and Experience follow:  inevitably Brexit has implications across the continent.  Negotiation will be hard because governments do not want the same exit to happen in their countries.  If it looks as though the UK is doing well out of it each country will become a single selfish unit and leave.  That leads to the building of walls and trade barriers. 

I speak with much the same insight as Jeremiah had.  The insight that many politicians, religious leaders and 48% of the voters had prior to the referendum. 

The UK will suffer.  Banks will leave London if they can find good homes in Paris.  Why not?  The UK will have to receive back those who can no longer afford to live abroad.  They will be the poorer pensioners and others who do not have residency rights to have health care in the EU.  The poor are the ones who suffer.  Already, because of the new weakness of sterling, the income to a pensioner on the Costa from their UK pension has diminished by 15%.  Where that is only the State pension, it means a difficult-to-meet cut in income, and currently there is no guarantee that state pensions will increase (which they do each year if the expat is living in the EU).

Good people who work with us in the UK will want to return to the EU.  If travelling becomes difficult we will become more isolated.   America will want to work with the big units – the UK becomes a small and insignificant trade unit.

Our economy will suffer because of trade.  The pound has dropped, and will drop further.  Our research will suffer so our manufacturing base and jobs, in turn, will suffer.  None of this will happen overnight, but over the next ten years.  We will drop in the tables of wealth, education and health care.  This makes me sad.  It will all, necessarily affect the poor and the young, first of all.  That’s how it always works, like the recession in the 1930s and in the 2000s.

None of this is what God is about.  This does not enable people to live a life overflowing with abundance (John 10:10).  Brexit is not the will of God.  I have yet to read any article that persuades me even a little that God wants this.  I cannot, in all conscience, support this at any level.

Adrian Low May 2017


 

[1] Christians and the Common Market, in Britannia, Europa and Christendom, Coupland.

[2] Britain and the Common Market: A Christian View, 1971, reprinted 2006, Kenneth R Johnstone

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/28/peace-europe-different-faiths-must-unite

[4] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2016/26-february/news/uk/message-from-on-high-bishops-favour-staying-in-the-eu

 

[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8036097.stm#start

[6] www.no2brexit.com

[7] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2016/26-february/news/uk/message-from-on-high-bishops-favour-staying-in-the-eu

[8] http://www.thetruthofjudgmentday.com/2016/10/david-noakes-post-brexit-prophetic-word-britain/