Britain collapsed into Easter, exhausted by our broken politics. Easter was a strange lull. Whole news bulletins went by without any mention of Brexit. Laura Kuennsberg had a holiday. John Bercow cleared the lobbies. Christians humbled themselves before their crucified Lord, and then celebrated his resurrection, even as we mourned the senseless murder of Sri Lankan Christians. In our church, one of our much loved members died of cancer in the early hours of Good Friday, and my daughter’s church mourned the death of a young Christian couple on holiday. These are the really great things of life and death.
Then after Easter, with a six month delay in place, and all combatants hanging on the ropes battered and bruised, we tried to build up for the next round, but it was all about St Theresa leaving the ring – when, and how soon. April and May have been the Brexit phoney war, but our national identify crisis is soon to be back upon us.
Can I then make a plea, to myself and to all my friends, to listen, and to try and empathise with the other side?
The leave and remain camps are arguing their cases for different reasons. Both do so sincerely. Where the argument goes wrong is where they try to explain the other side.
The leave argument is a constitutional case. Leave to take back control of our money, laws and borders, to renew the parliamentary life of government and shift power back from Brussels. It is to do something wholly new, radical and risky – to run ourselves, even when that is out of step with the international consensus. It is not fundamentally an economic argument, except in regard to being free traders. The bus slogan was not what it was about. It is a revolt against globalisation and a desire to pursue nationhood.
I may be wrong but I think the Remain argument is mostly an economic one. Leaving will damage the economy, which is on the precipice, jobs will go on a large scale, EU tariffs will destroy our exports. The current system works for us pragmatically so why chuck it all in the bin? It is a view expounded by captains of industry, the CBI and the TUC. Many academics fear it will threaten their academic links with continental universities, and cut research funding. We never seem to hear any remainers saying they want to stay in the EU to gain some great influence at the heart of Europe, or because the EU is the great guardian of democratic accountability.
Is there any point in either side pounding each other with these arguments? They leave the other saying ‘So what, but….’ and flinging their counter-argument back. It is like listening to two grown men comparing football and rugby. What’s the point?
How should Christians negotiate this divide? Can I suggest we take hold of two virtues – humility and contentment – and rediscover a biblical idea we lost at the Enlightenment – a biblical understanding of nationhood.
The problem is that we are being pulled two ways, by nationalism and globalism. Nationalism idolises our nation above all others, sees us as being blessed by some kind of exceptionalism and the rest of the world ought to admire us. Classic examples are imperial Britain, Apartheid South Africa, Jim Crow American white supremacy (though the American Dream is still nationalism), not to mention the BJP in India, or the new attitude in China.
Globalism fights against nationalism, but is equally doctrinaire. In the name of progress, especially economic growth, we need to supersede borders and pursue a world order, or should that be ‘our world order’ in the west, because globalisation looks very different if you come from Peru or Burkina Faso. Imperial languages and cultures dominate, multinational corporations overpower developing governments, or indeed any government that wants to stand up to them. Towers of Babel are built by oppression and domination, but the globalist says ‘That is the way things are now. If you can’t beat em, you’d better join em!’
Nationalism lacks humility, but so does globalism. Both of them are possessed by the same ‘but we know better’ attitude. Nations should live under God with humility, esteeming other cultures as rich and diverse compared to their own, at ease with the fact that they are just one nation of many, that nations rise and fall in God’s providence, and that we have much to learn from each other, that we are small and just passing through. ‘The Lord looks down from heaven. He sees all the children of man. From where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.’ Ps.33:13-15.
Both nationalism and globalism lack contentment. Nationalism will blame the other for all our woes, without realising that the nations of the earth have been exploring and trading with each other ever since the sons of Gomer climbed into a boat and sailed down the Mediterranean in search of other coasts (Gen. 10:3-4). Nationalists are possessed by a discontented hatefulness towards other nations that so often spills over into war. If we could only live at ease with ourselves under God, and recognise that Germans will build better cars, Italians will perform better operas, Guineans will grow the best mangoes, Indians will grow better spices and Filipinos will make better Kleenex, we could contentedly trade our whisky and Land Rovers and costume dramas and play our part in the world. But does that require us to be bound into some regional or global power block purely for economic reasons? Must we be part of the globalist juggernaut because economic growth is all that matters? If it gives us oceans filled with plastic and skies filled with CO2 vapour trails, because we think secular western wealth is everything, what have we missed? We have missed the truth that every nation should live ‘under heaven’ with humility and contentment, where our first duty is to love and worship God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to seek justice, live mercy and above all walk humbly with our God.