When I woke up on Friday morning to the news of the EU Referendum result, one of the thoughts in my mind was, I simply do not know how I can speak about this on Sunday morning. It’s one of those momentous moments in current affairs which I believe needs to be spoken about from the pulpit; but I felt so disappointed, upset, dejected, anxious, even fearful for the future – St Paul’s words “utterly, unbearably crushed” even came to mind – that I did not know how I could speak.
I still think it is a bad decision that the British electorate have made, and one that we will live to regret. Among the things that most upset me, is the fact that the great majority of under 40-year-olds wanted to Remain, while a similarly large majority of over 50s wanted to Leave. It is my children and grandchildren, who will have to live with the consequences of my generation’s discontent, which has overruled their hopes and wishes.
I grieve, too, over what the whole campaign leading to the referendum has done to us as a nation. It has so divided us, bitterly divided us, and I fear will have weakened even further our trust in politicians and our ability to take part in sensible, informed debate and decision-making. Both sides have been guilty of fearmongering, threats and outright lies, though I think it has been clearly shown that the Brexit campaigners were the more guilty in this respect. The media, especially the tabloid press, have behaved abominably throughout. We’re used to that, of course, but these last few months it has been more than usually reckless and damaging. And when I look at the spokespersons for the Leave campaign, and contemplate any of them stepping up into leadership of the country in coming months or years, my heart sinks even further. Some of the possible future Prime Ministers I will find difficult to pray for if they come into office, except to pray that they quickly get replaced by someone else. (This is not a prayer I recommend: it hasn’t worked well in the past.)
So. Some of this I admit may be nothing more than uncertainty anxiety. But I hope that if any of you were contrariwise elated about the result, you will bear with me. I know that a lot of people in this congregation felt as I did. We need to hold that complex of feelings and fears here in the safety of God.
So. I was especially grateful for the Archbishops’ statement on the EU Referendum result, which the C of E released on Friday morning. You may not have seen it. It is wise, gracious, irenic, and I want to read it to you now.
Statement from the Archbishops on the EU Referendum result
24 June 2016
On Thursday, millions of people from across the United Kingdom voted in the Referendum, and a majority expressed a desire that Britain’s future is to be outside the European Union
The outcome of this referendum has been determined by the people of this country. It is now the responsibility of the Government, with the support of Parliament, to take full account of the outcome of the referendum, and, in the light of this, decide upon the next steps. This morning, the Prime Minister David Cameron has offered a framework for when this process might formally begin.
The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all re-imagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.
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.
The referendum campaign has been vigorous and at times has caused hurt to those on one side or the other. We must therefore act with humility and courage – being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation. Unity, hope and generosity will enable us to overcome the period of transition that will now happen, and to emerge confident and successful. The opportunities and challenges that face us as a nation and as global citizens are too significant for us to settle for less.
As those who hope and trust in the living God, let us pray for all our leaders, especially for Prime Minister David Cameron in his remaining months in office. We also pray for leaders across Europe, and around the world, as they face this dramatic change. Let us pray especially that we may go forward to build a good United Kingdom that, though relating to the rest of Europe in a new way, will play its part amongst the nations in the pursuit of the common good throughout the world.
This is a time for us to step up, and show that we Christians are people of hope.
What values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others? [Our] common task [is] 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… cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and … affirming the unique contribution of each and every one… being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation[:] Unity, hope and generosity.
The Bible is a book of hope; our faith is a faith of hope. God says through Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites, who surely had so many reasons to despair (and these words may resonate with some of us who feel we have become exiles from the Britain we thought we lived in): “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29.11) And St Paul similarly writes to the Christians in Rome, a small group of believers in a hostile society, who also must have had times of being anxious and fearful. The words are about how the Christians should live together and relate to each other, but perhaps they can also be about how we relate to others in the society at large:
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.1-4, 13)