In or out; stay or leave; in favour of Brexit – or not? The complexities and the unknowns of the forthcoming referendum on EU membership will, unhappily, be boiled down to simple a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote on this question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
We are not used to voting on such a momentous and complex issue. Nor are we even sure what the key issues really are for those of us with a Christian conscience. And we will struggle to hear what the scriptures might be saying. Yet we must try, if we are to vote wisely.
Christian people must factor in the key Biblical perspective that the nations are in the hands of God.
Neither electors, citizens, nor governments determine their own long term future or even their own existence. Isaiah leaves us in no doubt (Chapter 40): Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Before him all the nations are as nothing. These words do not undermine the importance of good government or even the significance of the state – but they do remind us not to trust in Assemblies, Parliaments or even democracy itself to bring heaven on earth.
Christian people must also factor in the key Biblical warning that money, wealth, and economic prosperity are not new gods to be given ultimate political weight.
The very formation of the European project over 60 years ago had the moral vision of the dignity of every human person at its heart. That vision has been steadily eroded, and it is a sad commentary on our own nation that so much of the current debate is focussed on whether we will be at the back of the queue in trade deals (to quote President Obama), or strong enough to negotiate good deals on our own. Christ’s words in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 6) are crucial: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Finally, Christian people must factor in the key Biblical commands to welcome and care for the stranger:
Matthew 25: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Taking these and other Scriptures into account, I suggest that informed Christian thinking and voters will ask ‘What is the best way to raise moral and ethical debate and standards in our land and in Western Europe? What else matters other than money, and how can xenophobia be banished from our thinking? I most certainly do not have definitive answers to these questions, but when I vote on 23 June I am taking a view on whether they might be better answered inside the European Union or outside it.
Yet whatever the outcome, I will still be living in a profoundly fallen world. Brussels will never outshine the New Jerusalem!
Rev Norman Hamilton OBE is a retired Presbyterian minister and is currently chair of the Public Affairs Council of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
An excellent article with which I wholeheartedly agree. I have been a committed European since I was a teenager and from 1980-1986 I was part of a team of Christians promoting biblical reflection on aspects of European integration and ministering pastorally to European civil servants and members of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg. I llaunched an international, interdenominational prayer fellowship in the European Parliament which still meets to this day, with different personnel, on the Wednesday morning of every plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg
I would like to add to what Norman has said by referencing the women in the geneology of Jesus Christ. In these women we have mixed blood in the Messiah’s family tree, and with dubious histories. To paraphrase Ray Bakke in the “Urban Christian” Jesus Christ took his blood from the world and gave it for the world. Most people tend to believe that being an economic migrant is fine for Americans, Brits and Irish but when they are from Eastern Europe its very different. How different would our history have been if Christ was refused sanctuary in Egypt, if Ruth had not married Boaz or Rahab, the brothel owner bad not helped the spies?
I am very grateful to Rev Norman Hamilton for his considered views on “EU: In or Out”. It has been a great help to me in helping me to decide which way to vote. I will vote for “remain” and for the following reasons.
1. If “nations are in the hands of God”, then anxiety on the part of those in favour of “leave” re the loss of soveriegnty is, to put it mildly, misplaced. Furthermore, the same people were until very recently vociferously in favour of globalization of all business and\ economic activities, one inevitable consequence of which is loss of soverignty in some key respects. If “no man is an island”, then it is doubly true that “no nation is an island”. Of course, there is a “democratic defficiency” in the way the EU works. But then for a significant number of voters in the Uk there is a “democratic defficincy “ in the way the current politrical system in the UK works. Since 1945 every Prime Minster we have had had been elected by just about 40% of the vote cast and less than 30% of the total elctorate entitled to vote.
2. Both sides in the current debate on the EU referendum have primarily, if not solely, emphasized the new gods of “money, wealth, and economic” welbeing. Other important values such as peace, justice, mutual co-operation, sharing of resources with those less fortunate than us have been hardly raised.
3. Both sides, though “leave” side more than the “remain” side, have tried to play on our fear of the stranger. If we as Christians are to do everything in our power to welcome and care for the stranger, then migration should not be given the pre-eminent attention it has been given in the current debate. This is not to say that the uncontolled migration does not present some serious economic and social problems which need to be discussed and addressed
4. . But there is a positive side of migration which has been underemphasized, especially by the “leave”side.
I emphasaize that my decision is based on the basis of the three Christian perspectives which Rev.Hamilton has brought to our consideration . Other fellow Christians may not regard the above perspective as being so central to being a follower of Christ and may regard other perspectives more important. Then they must decide on the basis of those perspecrtives. But I will end by making one plea: plaese make sure that whatever your perspectives may be, they are genuinely derived from the Scriptures and the Christian tradition.
An excellent article from Norman Hamiliton giving a bit of much needed perspective from a Biblical standpoint. As with so many things, the key is relationship, even on such a large scale as nation to nation. The European Union is not perfect (what human institution is?) but surely we are better trying to improve it by speaking from within rather than shouting from a distance. And by improve I don’t just mean economically and “what’s in it for us?”, but in terms of Kingdom values such as justice and equality.