We live in a democracy. It is governed by a common vote where one side wins the argument and the other loses. How we act when things don’t go our way is a truer reflection of our character than when they do. Today’s vote leaves me, along with all those who voted to remain with that decision.
Moving forward our nation will need to navigate new terrain, the opportunities and obstacles it presents will have to be seized in equal measure. What they are – I don’t profess to have the expertise to know. What I do know is that today’s historic decision will bring a sense of euphoria to those who felt it right to leave against a feeling of sadness and loss to those who felt it best to stay and the gulf that divide creates needs to be bridged with something other than fear or suspicion.
Such sentiment was embraced beautifully earlier today when an ardent campaigner to Remain, Gemma Pettifor wrote on her facebook status: “Congratulations to the leave camp. I urge all remain voters (myself included), although we will feel disappointed, let's not be bitter or angry but embrace the new adventure together. The truth is, we are all in it together whichever way we voted: so let's work together to make this work.”
In embracing that new journey we will need to make a commitment to work together for the good of all. As Bishop Nick Baines wrote: “No doubt, in the days, weeks and months ahead, there will plenty of “what if?” moments. But, those who voted to remain in the EU cannot simply sit sniping from the sidelines, suggesting that all consequences were predictable and that those who voted to leave the EU must take sole responsibility for what now follows. We are all responsible for taking responsibility and shaping what we want to become. Those of us who believed we should remain in the EU must not become victims.”
Rather we must also work to protect the most vulnerable amongst us who will feel deeply insecure by today’s decision. Those of us who take our identity for granted should be drawn to stand with those who as a result of today feel disempowered by some who have never had to live with that kind of fear.
The joint statement by two of the country’s most notable Archbishops is a valuable starting point:
“As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.” (You can read their full statement here - http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5743/eu-referendum-statement-by-archbishops-of-canterbury-and-york
In practical terms the Rev Steve Sylvester, rector of St Nic’s Church in Nottingham has put out this appeal –
In the light of Brexit, and the uncertainty around our city and nation at this time, you are invited to join for prayer on Tuesday (28th) 7 - 8am at St Nic's Church, Maid Marian Way, Nottingham.
This will be a joint event with Marhabba Prayer who were already planning to meet at that time at St Nic's for their regular prayer for Muslims during Rammadan. Clearly, our Muslim neighbours, especially refugees and asylum seekers, will be particularly alert to implications of the referendum outcome.
So we will pray for our city, our nation, and our Muslim neighbours. I believe that this is a time when we as the church have a major role to play in prayer and in demonstrating the values of the Kingdom.
Tea, coffee and croissants will be served on arrival. On-street parking around St Nic's and on Castle Road is free until 8am. Please announce this event in your churches this weekend, and pass word around.
I know you would be made most welcome if you are able to attend.
I speak to those of us called to leadership within the Church and to those who embrace its community as their spiritual home. We must remember that the principle call of the Church of Christ is to act as a reconciliatory presence in the world as we draw on the common good of humanity as made in the image and likeness of God. This means putting the needs of others before our own, of putting our differences to one side, of laying down agendas regardless of our vote and taking up our cross. We are not here to feed fear but to show love. It is sacrificial love which at the end of the day embodies the heart of the resurrection message and carries faith, hope and love into our world. And that would have been the truth whatever way yesterday’s vote went.
As you know I rarely add my voice to political debate but the current referendum to stay or leave the EU appears to have made politicians of us all. So when it comes to voting tomorrow I am quite happy to take make the same confession as David Mitchel who in the Guardian wrote. 'Don’t misunderstand me, I know how I’m going to vote – I’m for Remain. I’m unshakeable on that. I just don’t know if I’m right. And I also don’t know if the side I’m going to vote for will win. I fear the consequences of its defeat and, to a lesser but still significant extent, I fear the consequences of its victory. I’m not finding any of this much fun.' Which to a great or lesser extent is why I've kept my mouth shut and my keyboard closed over recent weeks.
I mean, do any of us know? I know we like to think we have the upper hand, the stronger argument - the clearer stance, but for my part I have to approach it with a sense of both perspective and humility.
So in the light of not knowing - here is what I am thinking and it’s what I am thinking which has shaped my vote.
It appears to me that the world is a different place, and therefore requires a different approach to its governance. It strikes me we need greater co-operation not less. Building international relations for the common good takes the good will of neighbours joining together - this means opening our hearts to others not closing them down. Surely we are better off having a voice around the table than walking away from it. Negotiation is the currency of the new age not domination. A nation as great and mature as our own, holding as it does the fifth strongest economy in the world should have a voice in shaping our future together. What other grounds could we have in turning from this other than self-preservation which to my thinking is never the route to greatness.
Yes, we're all deeply concerned about immigration but fear is not the answer. International terrorism is a deep worry and radicalisation towards hatred a key issue of our time. Moving forward it is going to call for a higher level of information sharing - a feeling of we are tackling this together, in the same way that when the terror attacks on Paris happened we were embraced in a sense of mourning together not simply out of our common humanity but also because we are part of the Union. In a great piece written by several notable faith leaders I was encouraged by their words. 'The past 70 years have been the longest period of peace in Europe’s history. Institutions that enable us to work together and understand both our differences and what we share in common contribute to our increased security and sense of collective endeavour. What’s more, so many of the challenges we face today can only be addressed in a European, and indeed a global, context: combating poverty in the developing world, confronting climate change and providing the stability that is essential to tackling the migration crisis.'
Thirdly, I'm not given to conspiracy theories that have a foundation in interpreting the texts of the books of Daniel and Revelation in the context of the European Union. It can be fascinating to read such things but I wouldn't want to build my future on it any more than I would Micheal Drosnin's Bible Code. Some of us have been around too long to reconcile our eschatology with the current state of Europe. I grew up on a diet of end time teachings as a kid but interpretations come and go and we must not be given to superstition. Rather, if we want to delve into Biblical prophecy to help shed light on how to vote then reading Isaiah 58 would be a great place to start. Let our decision to act be driven by things that concerned the ancient prophets which were matters of justice, righteousness and truth along with the responsibilities we hold towards out neighbours.
Fourthly in matters of my own ignorance I must take a lead from those whose voices can be respected to shed light on such issues. So I ask - what position are prominent people taking on this? Is that list exhaustive? Is the weight of their collective voice and experience worthy of note? Have these people held public and professional office over a period of time so as to have credibility to speak? If so, then use their wisdom, understanding and knowledge to help develop your own decision.
Finally, the world is a dangerous place - yes. But it's also an exciting one. One in which the combined energy of people's creativity can help to bring pragmatic solutions to complex issues when we work together. I don't believe Jesus Christ came to build barriers but bridges. I follow the one who calls me to love my neighbour. I am a bridge builder - this is my calling. That is why I will vote to remain.