So, we had a vote on Thursday. One which will determine the political direction and position for generations. We are to leave the European Union and now…
Well, now the negotiations should be starting. Now the leaders of our country should be sorting out the terms of our exit from the EU so that neither the people of the UK nor the people of Europe are disadvantaged. Now we should be starting to heal the deep divisions which have opened up during one of the most vicious political campaigns these islands have seen.
That’s what should be happening.
Instead, we see recriminations. Instead, we see the name calling, accusations and fighting intensify. Instead, we see a nation deeply divided between the areas who voted to remain and those who voted to leave.
The words racist, bigot, traitor, smug, arrogant, liar and so many more are being bandied about social media, phone-ins and even some streets.
So, was it all worth it?
Of course, if you supported leaving the EU then you will feel it was. If you wanted to stay, you’ll think otherwise. And if you really didn’t know, you’re probably still utterly, and understandably, bewildered.
There will be people reading this from each of those three categories. You will all have your own views, thoughts and feelings towards the campaign and the result. The result, the rights and wrongs of leaving the EU, is not what I want to talk about here, though.
What I do want to talk about is the reaction, our reaction as Christians, as the body of Christ, to the events of the last few days and months.
The Church is nothing if not a divided body. The American comedian, Emo Phillips wrote a joke which was voted the best religious joke ever on the satirical Christian website Ship Of Fools. He said this,
“Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him off the bridge.”
I think we all recognise what’s being said here (although I do keep meaning to Google some of the terms in the joke). Throughout the years the Church has seen split after split after split. We have had splits on which language the Bible should be in, the authority of Rome, what translation of the Bible we should use, the links between church and state, the role of bishops, infant baptism, full immersion baptism, women in the priesthood and, now, homosexuality and its impact on the priesthood and marriage. We seem to love a good schism.
This is different, however. This isn’t a theological argument which simply affects one branch of the Church. This is an argument which has divided an entire nation and has gone beyond facts and values into personal insults and recriminations.
So, how do we react? When many of us within the Church have those same feelings of deep joy or total despondency, how do we keep ourselves from tearing ourselves apart in the same way that the country is threatening to do?
Paul said this,
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Paul recognised that we will have disagreements, arguments and fallings out. Some disagreements will simply not be resolved. But that doesn’t mean that relationships need to suffer as a result of it. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; these are vital to any interaction we have with anybody. The second we start to forget to show these things, to forget to love, we also fail to reflect the image of Jesus to the world.
When we feel passionately about something these things seem to be the first things to be thrown out of the window in our dealings with people who disagree with us. It’s hard sometimes to keep our cool and interact with others with a cool head on our shoulders, but we must. And the first step in doing so is to listen.
Much of the cause for such divisive arguments is the failure to listen to opponents. The way that people tend to listen is that they hear a point being made, then spend time thinking of a counter argument or a reason for exposing an untruth. What we fail so often to do is to listen and to fully appreciate why people think and feel in a different way to ourselves. What are their experiences, their values, what has led them to take such a different point of view to ourselves? Take time to actually listen to someone with the opposite view to yourself, not just on Europe, but on any point of division. Ask questions, purely for the purpose of finding out information and not with any sort of agenda. You may not end up agreeing, but the insight you gain could lead you to a much greater understanding, not just of that issue, but of the person you are speaking with.
And don’t assume. As I said earlier, there have been assumptions made on both sides of the EU debate regarding the kind of people who would vote the other way. I heard two callers on a radio phone in today; one was a Remain voter who thought all Leave voters were elderly and/or bigots, the other a Leave voter who though Remain voters were young people brainwashed by educators or folk who sit around reading the Guardian all day. I wanted to crawl inside my radio and yell at them to stop! How can you know somebody’s motivation for doing something without listening to them in the first place? When we make assumptions we are pre-judging someone. But prejudice is not the way in which Jesus dealt with anybody, treating Samaritan women, Roman centurions and religious leaders all as people. Human beings who are loved and treasured by God.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
There is also no remain voter or leave voter, no Conservative, no Labour, no SNP, no UKIP, no Green, no left wing, no right wing, no Scottish, no English, no Irish, no Welsh, no German, no French, no Polish, no Romanian, no Turkish… Christ is all, and is in all. We must never allow ourselves to forget that fact.
And we must be respectful in the way we communicate our own views.
“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
Again, the more passionate you are about an issue the harder it is to keep away from the things Paul warns against. But the more level headed we are when explaining our point of view, the more we stick to facts and our own experiences, the more likely the person we speak with is to understand our point of view. Again, though, without necessarily agreeing with us.
It’s vital we do all of these things. Vital for ourselves, vital for the Church and vital for the country.
Jesus prayed for our unity as believers. He knew we would disagree and argue, but it’s the spirit of that disagreement and, more importantly than that, the recognition of what unites us, that he is praying for here.
He is praying for us to recognise that we are all united by him, by the grace that God showed by sending Jesus, and by the glory of God demonstrated to us in the person of Jesus. We are united in the common aim of bringing God’s kingdom here on Earth. We are united in a desire to see people, families, communities, nations, the whole world won for Christ, for everybody to experience the love and saving grace of Christ.
That unity of purpose, that uniting power of Jesus, is what we all need to draw on at all times. Jesus is inviting us to be the light of the world, let’s shine that light. Let’s be the examples of how to disagree in love, to show the world that you can work with those who hold different viewpoints to your own. Let’s be examples of how we can work together, in the circumstance we find ourselves in, to make this country and this world a better place, regardless of how happy or unhappy we are with those circumstances. Don’t forget, Jesus spoke of unity and love in a time of occupation and violent oppression; we live in a free, democratic society, we have literally no excuse for not being able to act in the same spirit.
We must work together. We must work together to make the situation we find ourselves in work, we have no other choice. And if that changes again, if Scotland decides to become independent from the UK, we must work together to make that work as well.
We must work together to heal the divisions; a thing we can only do by acting in love, respect and true, God given unity with each other.
And we must work together for the Gospel of Christ. Amongst all of this is an opportunity. An opportunity to show people how we can treat other people. An opportunity to show how we can cooperate despite disagreement. An opportunity to demonstrate a different way, a way of love.
But, above all of this, we can’t lose sight of the most important thing of all.
NT Wright said “Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar is not”. Whatever earthly institutions, powers or nations we cling to, they are nothing. There is only one true authority, one true kingdom and one true power and it is our responsibility and our privilege to represent it on Earth. Our role is not to point to the EU, or the UK, or an independent Scotland. Our role is to point towards the cross of Christ, to say that this is where all hope, all salvation, all mercy, all rest, all healing and all power really lies. This is where we can truly lay aside our differences and become one with Christ and in Christ, forever.
I want to end with a prayer which the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Russell Barr, has written and is using as he leads worship this morning.
God of grace, trusting in Your continuing concern for us and for all creation
we bring You our prayers for this land and its people.
We thank You that in all the changed and changing circumstances of life
You are always with us
Your Spirit around us and within.
With Britain having voted to leave the European Union
some people are excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead
while others are fearful of what it will mean.
Some are pleased with the outcome of the vote and think it good
while others are left feeling disappointed and vulnerable.
Hear our prayer for those who will be involved in the coming negotiations
people who will make important decisions
affecting the political and economic life of our nation and continent.
Grant them Your gifts of wisdom and compassion
a commitment to seek the good of all people
and a desire to protect people weak and the vulnerable.
Free us from all bitterness and recrimination
and in all things grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can
and wisdom to know the difference through Jesus Christ our Lord.