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.