In or Out: A Biblical Guide to our Engagement in the EU Referendum


The following is a transcript of a message I delivered at Gold Hill Baptist Church on Sunday 19th June 2016. Please see endnote 67 for copyright information and permissions and details of how to find the audio recording.

The European Union and Our Future

The European Community is the third largest in the world in terms of population[1], the fourth largest in terms of its surface area[2] and either the largest[3] or the second largest[4] economy in the world depending on what source is used[5]. It began its life in the rubble of the devastation of a Europe decimated by the Second World War.

David Cameron has called for a referendum on the 23rd June this year, in fulfilment of one of the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledges of the last general election, in which the United Kingdom will vote on whether we should remain part of the European Union or we should begin the process of leaving it. The decision to leave would reverse the decision made by the British electorate in the first ever national referendum in the U.K. which had been promised by the Labour Party in the 1974 general election and was held on June 5th 1975. The U.K. had joined the Common Market under Edward Heath’s Conservative Government in 1973. The referendum was held after a period of re-negotiation of the U.K.’s terms of membership of the European Community and the question put to voters was:

Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?

The turnout for the referendum was 64.62%; 17,378,581 people voted to remain (67.23%) and 8,470, 073 people voted to leave (32.77%).

The vote on the 23rd June is looking like it will be much closer than the vote in 1975. Many believe that the vote on the 23rd June is the most significant geo-political decision the United Kingdom has made for a generation and will have the most profound implications for our direction as a nation in the world for the next fifty years. The question we will answer is:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

We will then have an opportunity to place a cross beside either one of the following two statements:

Remain a member of the European Union

            Leave the European Union.

 

What are the Biblical principles to be considered by Christians in the referendum?

When the referendum was announced, I felt it was vital to provide some Biblical guidance for those people who hold to the Christian faith and are trying to work out how to vote. As part of my preparation for today I decided to put together a simple poll on two social media platforms. I asked those who followed me on Twitter and those who followed me on Facebook the same question:

Based on your biblical convictions what’s your intention re EU?

The results were interesting. On Twitter:

  • 25% said they intended to vote leave.
  • 53% said they intended to vote stay.
  • 22% said they were undecided.

On Facebook:

  • 45.6% said they intend to leave.
  • 45.2% said they intend to stay.
  • 8.2% said they were undecided.

What surprised me more was the fact that several people replied asking me what on earth the Bible had to do with this political decision. They were incredulous that I would approach the question from a Biblical perspective. One person, obviously a Christian themselves, said that they had never considered the impact of the Bible’s teaching on their decision.

It is not my intention to tell you how I intend to vote in the referendum. To do so would, I believe, be unhelpful for a number of reasons:

  1. It would inevitably lead to suggestions that the material I have prepared for today was tilted in favour of my own arguments. I am not seeking to persuade you to see things through my lens. My aim in presenting my thoughts to you is to help you reach your own decision carefully, Biblically and prayerfully.
  2. It could lead to some people making a decision based on my personal decision rather than on their own considerations of the Scriptures.
  3. It would suggest that all Christians must vote the same way on the issue, which is, I believe, a flawed position to take.

The reality is that there are Christians on both sides of this discussion. There are many followers of Jesus Christ who will vote to remain in the European Union, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York being two examples. There are also many followers of Jesus who will vote to leave the European Union, Rev. Dr. Giles Frazier and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali being two examples. There are those in the Gold Hill family of churches who will vote to remain and there are those who will vote to leave. It is likely that thousands of people will listen to this teaching in the run up to the referendum and within the number of those who listen there will be many who will vote to stay and many who will vote to leave. I do not believe that it is helpful, godly or wise for me to tell you how to vote. I do, however, believe it is a vital part of the ministry of a local church to help people consider such an important issue from a Biblical perspective.

Of course the Bible says nothing about the European Union directly unless you believe that it is the subject of the prophetic warnings of God, a topic I will touch on briefly later. There is no single verse to which I or any other theologian can point that tells you where to place your ‘x’ on Thursday. Notwithstanding that reality, to suggest that this means that we should say nothing about the subject is a rather superficial understanding of both how to read the Scriptures and what it means to take the Bible seriously. The Bible says nothing specifically about illegal drugs, about organ transplantation, about how to drive a car or even about social democracy itself yet there is much that we can learn from taking a broader view of the teaching God gives His people across the millennia of the Scriptural journey. There are clear and persistent principles in Scripture that we can employ and consider as followers of Jesus Christ as we approach this major decision. They may not tell you what to vote but they will at least help you to think about it prayerfully and Biblically.

I want to suggest to you that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ then it is imperative to consider the teaching of the Bible as you approach this significant decision. There are a number of important Biblical passages that urge us to engage with the authorities of our day and our society.

The general teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 about how a Christian should live and his instructions in Mark 12:17[6] to,

Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.

These are each challenges to Christians to live well in our societies but to do so in a way that shines a light back to God as the Centre of our lives. We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that others will see God’s presence at work in our lives in every aspect of our conduct and character.

Paul’s reminder to the Colossians in Colossians 3:17,

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him

shows us the same principle. His teaching to the Romans in Romans 13 concerning the Christian’s response to governmental authority is also important. In it he reminds us that followers of Jesus have a responsibility to:

  1. Respect government as an institution ordained by God to uphold that which is right and to restrain that which is wrong.
  2. Pursue doing the right thing as citizens and to live well.
  3. Be true to our Christian conscience in how we conduct ourselves in society.

He also reminds us[7] that government is God’s servant for the good of people. These principles remind us that we are to engage with the government around us. Yet the Scriptures also lay a challenge at the feet of those who follow God to disobey government when what a government asks is contrary to the will and purposes of God Himself. Let me give you a few examples:

  • In the lead up to the Exodus we are told that the Hebrew midwives refused to follow the command of Pharaoh to kill all Jewish baby boys who were being born. We read that because ‘the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them but they let the boys live’[8] and God blessed their disobedience. We also read that ‘because the midwives feared God he gave them families’.[9]
  • Obadiah deliberately concealed the Lord’s prophets from King Ahab to spare their lives.[10]
  • The whole story of the book of Esther is one of someone raised up by God to protect His people and to see them delivered from the hands of an evil law-maker and from someone who was wrongly influencing the decisions of the King. Indeed Esther risked her life to save them. When she had made her decision to advocate for the Jewish people, she told her uncle, ‘I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish’[11].
  • Daniel’s contemporaries, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went directly against the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar in when they refused to worship the Babylonian gods saying, ‘we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up’[12] as did Daniel himself in when he refused to stop praying to God publicly despite a decree from King Darius. We read, ‘Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day and to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously’[13].
  • The Magi, when they visited Jesus, deliberately disobeyed Herod’s command and returned home on a different route without going to visit Herod again.[14]
  • When the Jewish Leadership Council gave instructions to the early Church not to preach Christ, the early Church leaders ignored their commands saying, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’[15]
  • God himself raised up alternative leaders to those in power when those in power disobeyed his commands and ignored his priorities such as Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, specific judges who were raised up to deliver Israel from their oppressors[16] and the heroes of the Faith who administered justice in the face of injustice and did what was right rather than what was commanded[17].

So it would appear that it is the responsibility of a follower of Jesus Christ to be very deliberate about how we engage with government. One of the obvious consequences of that principle is that we must also be careful in the way we make decisions concerning those whom we elect into power. We cannot abdicate our responsibility as citizens of our society therefore we must make our decisions as citizens of the United Kingdom in a way that flows first from our allegiance to God and his purposes. We understand those purposes and the nature of our allegiance to God from the Scriptures and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Voting, then, becomes both an act of prayerful, deliberate discipleship and an act of trust and worship.

How do we make the decision about how to vote?

There are many ways we could explore this issue, but I want to address three questions from a Biblical perspective concerning our vote in the E.U. referendum:

  1. What are the right motivations for voting?
  2. What is best for God’s Kingdom?
  3. What are some of the issues we must think through for ourselves?
  • What are the right motivations for voting?

What are the right motivations for a Christian voting – not just in the E.U. referendum but more generally?

The Bible knows little to nothing of what we describe as social democracy. We must be careful not to ‘Christianise’ it and give it a God-ordained automatic blessing. We may strongly believe that it is the best form of government, but that does not mean we have the right to baptise it. The people of Israel were led in what was supposed to be a theocracy with God at the centre. Yet they refused to follow this path and instead wanted an earthly king just like the nations around them. This request is granted by God[18] but it was not what He saw as the best way of their existence. In fact the results of a selfish desire to self-govern can be seen from the account of the Fall[19] all the way through the story of the people of Israel. It would appear that when we take government into our own hands and ignore God’s principles and commands, we end up in a mess. The fact that God permits our decisions around how we govern ourselves does not mean that He endorses them. That being said, there are a number of principles that can help us as we approach Thursday’s referendum.

  • Acting out of faith not out of fear.

Firstly, we must ensure that we act out of faith and not out of fear. The Apostle John reminds those he writes to that ‘perfect love casts out fear.’[20] Of course, a deep and reverential respect of God and who he is sits at the heart of any clear understanding of his nature and the ways he deals with us – this is what the Bible describes as the ‘fear of the Lord’[21]. The implications of John’s words go far further than just avoiding the fear of a situation or of other people. Perfect love casting out fear is deeply rooted in a trust that God is for us and not against us and that, no matter what happens in earthly history, God will walk with His people and will not abandon us. His sovereign purposes will be achieved. Whether the UK leaves the E.U. or remains within it, it is vital for us to remember that God will not abandon his people. He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us[22]. Not only that but Jesus has promised that He will build His Church and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it[23] and He has given those who follow Him the deep assurance that He will be with us to the ends of the earth as we carry His message[24] and to the end of time as we stand as His witnesses in the world[25].

It is a sad reality that both the Remain Campaign and the Leave Campaign have based much of their arguments on fear. The Remain Campaign have threatened emergency budgets, drastic drops in the economic vitality of the United Kingdom, loss of pensions and many other things as they have sought to persuade British voters to stay in the E.U. On the other side of the argument, the Leave Campaign have warned of the dire consequences on our national infrastructure of remaining suggesting we would be over-run by Turkish immigrants, that our health service, education system and sense of identity would be destroyed if we do not stop the tide of people arriving on our shores.

The issue of fear in politics is larger than the referendum. The politics of fear has been growing across the world. In the United Kingdom, Hungary, France, the United States of America, Germany, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, the newly formed Southern Sudan and in many other countries fear has become the currency that controls the trading of ideas and the politics of the nation. That is not a healthy position for any democracy to be in let alone a country where democracy is absent. Fear unleashes the worst in us if it is rooted in the wrong soil. Whilst fear of the Lord and His precepts and principles leads to godly decisions, fear that is rooted in uncertainty and in threat forces us to become defensive, isolationist and ourselves threatening.

The problem for us in this referendum lies in the fact that fear, suspicion and mistrust are deeply embedded in our political system and in our campaigning. We have seen it become an increasingly shrill voice in our press, in our politics and in our public life. And when fear like that is unleashed it leads ultimately to aggression masked as patriotism. All we need to do is reflect on the tragic and completely unnecessary murder of Jo Cox, the Member of Parliament for Batley and Speen. Her murder in the quiet town of Birstall on Thursday 16th June by a man who allegedly screamed, ‘Britain first!’ as he shot and stabbed her is a haunting reminder of the dangers of a politics of fear and hatred. As police investigate whether her murder is linked to her strongly-held remain position we should pause and remember that the worst of human nature is exhibited when we are driven by fear, by suspicion and by hatred.

Today, our prayers and thoughts are with her husband, Brendan, and their two young children, Cuillin and Lejla. Brendan Cox, whether he is a Christian or not, has demonstrated the most remarkable depth of character and grace in the midst of the pain he and his family are facing. His response to the murder of his wife and the mother of his children has been remarkable:

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.

“Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.”[26]

As followers of Jesus Christ, our engagement with this referendum should not be shaped by fear, but instead by faith. By a deep conviction that God’s purposes are what matter most and that we can trust God to build His Kingdom and not abandon us. We hold on to the promise that whatever the outcome of this referendum God will work His purposes out and advance His Kingdom.[27]

  • Putting Heavenly citizenship first and not just national identity.

Secondly, it is vital that we remember that our primary identity is no longer as British citizens, but rather as the people of God. When Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi he was writing to a group of people who were surrounded by a plethora of cultural identities. They lived in a city that was awash with different and conflicting ideas and ideologies. As followers of Jesus they were out-numbered, out-resourced and out-represented in natural terms. They were much less influential than almost any of the other cultures and groups around them. Paul reminds them in that they must hold onto their new identity in Christ as their primary identity:

20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.[28]

The Threat of Rampant Nationalism.

One of the greatest idols of our age is the idol of rampant nationalism. There is much to be celebrated about our national identities. I am extremely proud of being both British and Irish. It goes without saying that these identities and the values that go with them have shaped me far beyond my understanding yet the reality is that my national identity is no longer my primary and centrally defining identity. I am now primarily defined by my Christian identity. My allegiance now lies with what is best for the Body of Christ and not just for my fellow citizens in the U.K. Paul’s command to the Galatian Christians (interestingly in modern day Turkey) in is important to remember:

So then, whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.[29]

The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to show compassion, mercy and provision for those who were part of the Family of Faith as a priority very clearly[30]. His followers were to feed such people when they were hungry, give them drink when they were thirsty, welcome them when they were strangers, clothe them when there were naked, care for them when they were sick and visit them when they were imprisoned. Christ’s disciples did not understand what He meant as He taught them because Jesus told them that the way we treated His Family was the way we treated Jesus Himself:

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.[31]

As a Christian, my motivation is no longer primarily rooted in my allegiance to the Crown, the State or my nationality. Instead it is primarily rooted in my allegiance to Christ. It is worrying that in the run-up to the American Presidential elections in November of this year that many American Christians will put their American identity before their Christian allegiance and it is equally alarming that many Christians in the United Kingdom might put their national identity ahead of their allegiance to Jesus Christ and to His people. Jesus clearly gave priority to those who followed Him as being His new family, and He gave them precedence over those who were His blood family.[32] The challenge of such words in our culture cannot be over-stated because this is a principle many Christians not only reject in theory but also tacitly reject in practice.

There are legitimate concerns about what is best for Britain regarding our national life. Legitimate concerns exist around how many people this island can support, how much our infrastructure can cope with and so on. Yet it is important that whilst we acknowledge such concerns we must be careful not to affirm a Little-Englander mentality. It would be deeply troubling if our concerns around British identity actually meant that we were willing to abandon our brothers and sister in Christ across Europe in the name of national protectionism. When legitimate concerns around our values and identity slip into a protectionism that will turn away from those in need, particularly those who share our faith and our values, then we are in very dangerous waters indeed because history shows us that unchecked nationalism leads to the persecution of minorities, the rejection of the marginalised and the dehumanisation of those who are different to us. That is not to say that thinking through what is right for Britain is wrong. At our best the British people are open-hearted, generous and fair. We have a history of staring into the face of injustice defiantly, standing against oppression and holding out for a fair and compassionate society. We have welcomed people into our nation for hundreds of years and I have no doubt we will continue to do so. Whether that has been Jews fleeing persecution in the Second World War, people from the West Indies arriving in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the welcoming of Afro-Asians fleeing the persecution of Idi Amin in the 1970’s, the Vietnamese Boat People of the 1980’s or indeed more recently Rwandans, and those from waring Balkan nations, we have a heritage of welcoming others. All of these people have, when encouraged to integrate into British society, enriched our communities. At the same time, however, we need to acknowledge that we have often failed as a nation to change at a deeper level. There has been an increasing uncertainty about what it means to be British precisely because we have often failed to articulate it ourselves and as a result we have failed to integrate people fully into British life.

Additionally, the reality is that it was a deeply rooted sense of Christian justice and righteousness that gave birth to movements such as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States[33], the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and the desire to see enfranchisement and a healthy welfare system here in the United Kingdom but it was also a nationalised and narrowly defined understanding of Christian identity that led to the enslavement of black people and segregation in the USA and in South Africa in the first place. A narrowly-defined and aberrantly nationalised understanding of Christianity can also contribute to the worst expressions of British nationalism today just as such a skewed view has persecuted others in the past, from the pogroms of 19th century Russia to the slaughter of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. When Christian faith is subsumed by national identity the results can be catastrophic. We must hold out for a better vision of British values shaped by the Judaeo-Christian foundations of our nation that leads to integration of others and not simply unacknowledged segregation.

Legislation will never achieve this on its own. Instead, we need welcoming and embracing communities who demonstrate what the best of British values are whilst simultaneously helping people to integrate into British life. It strikes me that this is a place where the Church in the United Kingdom could be leading the way. It is precisely because we are first followers of Christ that we are able to critique our own culture and hold out for an understanding of British life and values that clearly demonstrates the strong Judeo-Christian heritage upon which our nation has been built and creates a welcoming and inclusive society. Such a heritage must take precedence over the narrow, fearful and defeatist attitude that many people seem to espouse as demonstrating British values. Whilst it is a legitimate argument that our failure to be more discerning about who we welcome into Britain and what we expect of them once they are here has led to the current crisis and fear around the sustainability of our policies few Christians would argue that we should be anything other than a welcoming, loving, caring, society. In short, when our Christian identity clashes with our national identity and there is no way to reconcile the two, our Christian identity must also take precedence because this is what is best for our society.

  • Advancement of the Common Good and not just self-interest.

It seems obvious to me that our decisions in relation to the E.U. referendum must be deeply rooted in what will achieve the common good and not just our personal advancement. My reference to Paul’s words to the Galatians can be repeated here:

So then, whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.[34]

The bold announcements of Scriptures to provide the poor wanderer with shelter and so forth[35], and the fundamental call to Israel and, by extension, the Christian community to embrace the broken, to care for the poor, to welcome to ‘alien and the stranger’[36]. The Bible is replete with command to put self-interest to one side and to do what will benefit and bless others.

Much of the debate in the referendum has been around how much money we will lose, what will happen to our pensions, whether our house values will go down, what the implications will be for us. Whilst these are legitimate and important questions, they are not as important as the larger questions such as what kind of society we will become, how we will support and help others, what can build a stronger sense of cohesion and stability across our communities and across our nation. This principle of what will help the least and the most vulnerable is surely a mark of a healthy society rather than only asking the question, ‘What is in it for me?’

  • Prayerful response not knee-jerk reactions.

My fourth principle for engagement with the referendum is the need to do so prayerfully. By that I mean we must examine the Scriptures, explore the Biblical principles behind our decisions and be willing to have our own sinful hearts exposed to the searching light of God’s Holy Word. We must come to the ballot box prayerfully, asking God to show us how to vote. Our response need not be shaped by knee-jerk reactions, threats and or hysteria from either the Leave or the Remain Campaigns but instead can be shaped by prayer and seeking to have the mind of Christ in all things.[37]

  • What is best for God’s Kingdom?

And so I come to my second question as we consider the referendum. It naturally flows from the first. What is the best decision for God’s Kingdom? How does one explore such a question? Let me do so by asking you to consider the impact of your vote in four key areas. All of them are intrinsically important for the Kingdom of God because the heart of Christian witness carries at least four major missional components. Those components are our proclamation of the Gospel with words, our service and support of the poor, our willingness to be a prophetic witness to the nations of the world and our commitment to the People of God around the globe.

  • The impact on proclamation of the Gospel

The Scriptures make it clear that the Gospel is a message centred on the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, his physical death and his bodily resurrection. Paul made it plain in his words to the Corinthian Church:

1Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.[38]

Paul also makes clear his absolute commitment to the Gospel and its proclamation at the centre of his own ministry[39] and his conviction that the Gospel must be shared with words:

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.[40]

So one of the vital questions we must ask in our approach to the referendum is what the impact would be on our freedom to proclaim the Gospel.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human rights deals with this issue. It states:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[41]

There is much debate as to whether this right is under threat across Europe, with cases brought to the European Court that address issues such as the right to wear religious dress or symbols of religious conviction. An important area for us to consider is whether the E.U. is demonstrating its commitment to Article 9.

Not only should we examine whether our membership of the European Union enables or hinders the proclamation of the Gospel in the United Kingdom and beyond, we must also ask ourselves whether our membership of the European Union enables the sharing of the Gospel across Europe. In an interesting article by the Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom, the following is noted:

Europe was not always identified with Christianity. That it became so was largely the result of Christian mission to Europe and in Europe.  Today that Christian identity has been forgotten, suppressed or abandoned as Europeans have placed their hopes for the future in economic prosperity rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. However you choose to vote in the referendum the loss of Europe’s soul should spur UK Christians to prayer and action not disengagement; to commit ourselves once again to mission in Europe.

Faced with the godlessness of today’s Europe we should respond as the Celtic missionaries once did, by recommitting ourselves to sharing the message of hope in Jesus Christ among all of Europe’s peoples. Whether we are in the E.U. or not, that task is always upon us.[42]

 

The Remain Campaign would argue that the right to proclaim the Gospel is protected by E.U. Charters and declarations. The Leave Campaign would argue that these fundamental rights are already enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that the freedom to form and administer our own legislation without European interference or precedence means we could do more to protect this aspect of our Christian responsibility. As you consider your vote, ask yourself whether the spread of the Gospel will be enabled by a decision to leave the European Union or whether it will be enabled by a decision to stay as part of the European Union.

  • The impact on the poor and the marginalised

Given the biblical responsibilities cited earlier for the Church to care for the poor and the marginalised both within the family of God and beyond it, one of the fundamental decisions we must make is whether a decision to exit the European Union would enable the United Kingdom to better support the poor or whether it would make it harder for us to serve the poor.

On the Remain side, the argument would be that we can welcome, support and help those who are marginalised more by remaining in the E.U. either by absorbing migrant workers into the UK or by welcoming asylum seekers and refugees. A further argument would be that by making a contribution to the economic and political life of a growing European Union we are enabled to serve and support more people.

On the Leave side, the argument would be that we are over-stretched and therefore we are less able to help the poor because our resources are spread too thinly. The argument would suggest that it would be better to focus our efforts, develop better protocols for support of the poor, the migrant and the asylum seeker. Furthermore, the U.K. could more effectively distribute and manage our aid and support of the poor if we were giving less to the E.U. and we had more control of the strategic direction of our policies in this area.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether we believe the poor and the marginalised are best served by us remaining part of the E.U. or not.

  • The impact on the prophetic purposes of God.

We must be careful not to dismiss the reality that God has expressed His prophetic purposes in the Bible. How we engage with this is very important. However, it is also quite complex and open to a huge variance of interpretation. One of the views being expressed across the U.K. is that the European Union is identified in the Book of Daniel as the fifth and final empire that will rise before the return of Christ. This view is espoused by a number of Christians[43] and Christian organisations[44] including Christian Voice[45], the Christian lobbying group. According to this view, the European Union plays a significant anti-Christian role in developing a One World Religion and attempts to destroy the Gospel. This is sometimes referred to as the rape of Europe prophecy.

It is my own personal opinion that we must be careful not to allow one interpretative approach to the prophetic purposes of God to become the controlling lens through which we understand the role and function of the European Union unless it is very clear from Scripture that this is correct. Whilst I accept that many sincere Christians hold to the view espoused above I cannot go further than to acknowledge that it is a view but not the view. To give it almost canonical status is to run the risk of placing more weight on one person’s interpretive lens of the Scriptures than the plain meaning of the Scriptures themselves seem to permit. By way of an example, an alternative view of the role of Europe in the prophetic purposes of God would be to suggest that Vladimir Putin and the Russian nation is raising its political head in fulfilment of the prophetic purposes of God outlined in Ezekiel 38 and 39[46]. This is sometimes called Gog and Magog.

The challenge of these alternative views is quite simple. If one holds to the views espoused by the rape of Europe teaching one would vote to leave the E.U. If one holds to the views espoused by the Gog and Magog teaching one would vote to remain. We are left with a fundamental challenge, therefore. We must take the prophetic pointers of Scripture seriously, but we must also be careful not to become so entrenched in one view that we do not see the possibility of other ways of reading the prophetic purposes of God. There are many Christians on both sides of these discussions and there are even more who see them as unhelpful distractions from the task of asking how we, in our day and generation, can serve the purposes of God prophetically by seeking to advance God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel, standing for the marginalised, serving the poor and calling out sin, wickedness and selfishness when we see it. The question we must ask as we consider our vote is whether leaving the European Union will advance the clear prophetic purposes of God or in some way hinder them.

  • The impact on the people of God.

Lastly, in this second question of what is best for the Kingdom of God, I return to the primary nature of the impact of our decision on the people of God. There is little more to be said on this issue other than asking ourselves will our decision to leave or stay strengthen, support and empower the Church of Jesus Christ across the world or will it weaken its global witness?

  • What are some of the issues we must think through for ourselves?

We come to my third and final question. What are some of the issues we must think through for ourselves as we approach Thursday? I would suggest five helpful questions for you to reflect on as you prayerfully consider your vote.

  • The purpose of government.

It would seem clear to me that the Biblical purpose of government, as set out in Romans 13 and the other Scriptures I cited earlier in my message, is to create a safe and stable environment in which truth, justice and righteousness can flourish, the poor can be supported and a sense of common purpose, mutual respect, human dignity and the purposes of Almighty God can be fulfilled.

Does the European Union achieve this?

I have a strong note of consideration to offer here. The Bible has much to say about the principle of the nation state. Whilst this entity is not described in such terms in Scripture it would seem clear that God drew people together out of a shared sense of identity, purpose and culture. This is true of Israel, Edom, Moab, Ammon and so many other nations. Indeed, He seems to bless the concept of nation states and shared identities. On the other hand the Bible has nothing good to say about empires. The destruction of the tower of Babel, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the ultimate downfall of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all seem to point to the inherent dangers and concerns of an empire. The fact that God speaks to the people of the nations of the world on the Day of Pentecost in their own language reinforces this. Additionally the end-time picture of the Kingdom of God being made up of people from every tongue, tribe and nation would suggests that the only global identity that is of any worth other than that of being human itself is the global nature of the Family of God.[47]

One of the great questions we must grapple with is the nature of the European Union. Does it strengthen and enable national identities in a cohesive and positive way or does it hinder them? Are the nations of the European Union people who do, indeed, share common purpose, language, culture and values or not? If the European Union is seen as an empire, then is this a principle that God affirms and blesses?

  • The responsibility of citizenship.

In a modern social democracy the responsibilities of a citizen are to pay our taxes, on the understanding that with such taxation comes adequate and accountable representation, to act within the confines of the law, to respect the statues of our society and to play our part, together with our fellow citizens, in the betterment of one another, the strengthening of society and the furtherance of a peaceful and prosperous world.

Does the European Union enable these noble objectives or not?

  • The purpose and effectiveness of the E.U.

The Schuman Declaration was presented by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman[48] on the 9th May 1950[49]. Just five years after the end of the Second World War there was a real desire to put structures in place that would prevent another such conflict. One of the ways in which Schuman and others thought this could be achieved was by the sharing of resources and a shared economic future. Schuman believed that the pooling of coal and steel production make war between the rival nations of France and Germany, ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’[50] and would, ‘lay a true foundation for their economic unification.’[51] In the declaration he set out a proposal for the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community whose members would collaborate on and share coal and steel production. The founding members of the ECSC[52] were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. This was the first of a number of supranational European institutions that ultimately lead to what today we call the European Union. The Schuman declaration begins with these words:

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.[53]

The raison d’etre of the declaration clearly points toward the establishment of concrete commitments between European nations that would lead toward an ever growing sense of shared political life. The declaration continues:

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.[54]

Proposing the pooling of steel and coal production between France and Germany, ‘within the framework of an organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe’[55] the declaration continues,

The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of which they have been the most constant victims.[56]

Noting that a shared approach to steel and coal production would aid the development by Europe of the continent of Africa, the declaration continues that increased economic union[57],

…may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.[58]

The aim of federalisation is clear from the Schuman Declaration:

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.’[59]

 

Progression towards greater collaboration

From as early as 1946, leading politicians in continental Europe and in the United Kingdom were calling for a sense of common purpose and direction as a means of avoiding further conflict. Winston Churchill, in his speech to the academic youth held at the University of Zurich on the 19th September 1946 said:

There is a remedy which if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform for the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and to gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing.[60]

From the speeches and thinking of Winston Churchill[61], Konrad Adenauer[62], Alcide De Gasperi[63], Robert Schuman[64] and Jean Monnet[65], the Schuman Declaration and the foundations of the ECSC to its current identity as the European Union there has been a steady commitment to journeying towards increasingly close ties in terms of trade and commerce, financial affairs, political and judicial life. The major stream of the legislative processes flow from the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952; the treaties of Rome in 1958 that created the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, the European Single Act of 1987, the Treaty on European Union in Maastricht in 1993, the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, the Treaty of Nice in 2003 and the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. It would appear that the direction of travel of the European Union has been one of creating ever closer union from the very start. The issue of how this affects sovereignty and self-determination for me personally lies at the heart of this decision.

There seems to me to be a serious flaw in our understanding of the E.U. if we fail to understand this political vision of an ever closer federalised European Union and its attendant structures. The European Council is the overarching leadership body of the E.U. and is indirectly elected because the head of each member state is part of the Council. The European Commission is made up of appointed but unelected commissioners who are nominated by each member state. It is this body which proposes new E.U. laws. These are then debated and amended by the European Parliament and Council before being implemented by the Commission. The European Parliament is made up of 751 members, 73 of whom are elected from the U.K. This parliament does not have the power to propose new laws. The Council of the European Union[66] is arranged around specific topics for discussion and is indirectly elected as it is made up of the national ministers responsible for the area under discussion. Lastly, the European Court of Justice applies the laws of the E.U. to specific situations and its members are appointed by national governments. These structures make more sense if one remembers the over-arching aim of federalisation and closer political life as they mirror many similar structures in nation states. They make less sense in a multi-national alliance. For this reason the overall impression of the E.U. is that it suffers from a lack of accountability to the electorate. Its apparent creaking bureaucracy, unelected officials and ability to overturn and override national decisions appears both dangerous and ill-advised if one does not understand the concept of federalisation that sits in its D.N.A.

The United Kingdom has always been uneasy with the concept of federalisation. Therefore it is legitimate for us to ask whether those who voted to join the European Economic Community in 1975 actually voted to join a Common Market or the European Union as we now see it. It remains to be seen whether an ever closer union between the member states of the E.U. is the vision and passion of the majority of the British people and if it is whether it can be adequately challenged and reformed from within. In short, is the E.U. what we thought it was and do we want to be part of such a vision or not?

  • The migration of people.

The great challenge to the world for the next fifty – seventy years will be the mass migration of people across the planet. It is one of the presenting challenges and crises in the European Union. For many voters in the U.K., the inability to police our own borders and the threats this creates to national security and national sustainability are the most pressing issue in this referendum. As I have already articulated, this mass migration of people is not only a great challenge to the Christians of the UK as we approach this decision it is also a great, perhaps an unrivalled, opportunity for the Church in terms of mission and evangelism.

It is both disingenuous and ungracious to suggest that all those who will vote remain share a common sense of nonchalance toward the issues of immigration and asylum or that all those who will vote leave are xenophobic or small-minded. The debate and the issues are much more nuanced than that. Assuming that all Christians share a common desire to welcome those seeking asylum and want to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ to others there remain key challenges for us as we approach the referendum in regard to the migration of people.

  • Has E.U. policy on migration worked?
  • Are there enough checks and balances on who is permitted into the EU?
  • What are the implications of the E.U. having a land-border with Syria when Turkey joins the E.U. and is this as imminent a possibility as the Leave Campaign is suggesting?
  • What, in reality, can the U.K. do to fairly and proportionately contribute to the solutions required in this ongoing global crisis?

However we vote this issue is a crucial one. We must be careful, however not to make the E.U. referendum a vote on the migration crisis alone. Yet at the same time legitimate concerns around migration must be addressed and discussed adequately. A failure to do so will drive the discussion into the hands of those with hard-line policies precisely because the mainstream of politics has, up to this point, failed to engage with the issue. Perhaps one positive impact of the referendum will be a broader and more balanced discussion around this issue. One significant flaw in the debate has been the consistent failure to differentiate between asylum seekers and economic migrants the result of which has been suspicion of all those seeking to come to the United Kingdom from beyond our shores.

Will leaving the E.U. actually change the migration crisis the U.K. is facing or not given that more asylum seekers come to the U.K. from beyond the E.U. that from within in? Will leaving help us to address issues of asylum and migration or will it make it more difficult for us to do so?

  • Religious liberty.

Put simply, what are the impacts on religious liberty and the Gospel of a decision to leave or a decision to remain?

 

Conclusion – the Long View.

I have sought to ask three fundamental questions today.

  1. What are the right motivations for voting?
  2. What is best for God’s Kingdom?
  3. What are some of the issues we must think through for ourselves?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that the European Union and its antecedents have meant that Europe was not engulfed again in global conflict. To that end, it has served a wonderful purpose. I am not sure that the vision of a federated Europe is what the British people signed up to in 1975 and I am not sure it is what the majority of British people want today. Some do and are happy to embrace the notion of a Europe united by currency, policy and political vision. It seems to me that the fundamental question we are facing is not one of whether or not we are European. Of course we are since our geography cannot change. The fundamental issue is whether we, as a nation, embrace the ideas and the vision behind the E.U. or whether we do not. Those who do will undoubtedly vote to remain. Those who do not then face a further question. Will they vote to stay in the hope that they can bring about change or will they vote to leave in the hope that they can contribute fully to a more effective vision of Europe moving forward. The absence of political vision for this debate has meant that we have peddled in fear, threats and uncertainties. No one knows what an exit strategy will look like and no one really knows what the impact of a leave vote will be.

As Christians we know that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the European Union. We know that we are shaped by who we are in Christ more than anything else. We know that fear has no place in our decision making. We know that the advancement of the Gospel and the uplifting of Christ is the most important thing in our lives and we know that we must respect one another, honour one another and listen carefully to one another. Irrespective of the decision we make on the 23rd June, on the 24th June our focus and purpose remains the same. We must seek God’s Kingdom first and His righteousness, we must be agents of reconciliation and we must share the love, grace and mercy of God with all we meet and in all we do – because God’s Kingdom will come and His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven.[67]

© Rev Malcolm J. Duncan F.R.S.A.

Chalfont St. Peter, June 2016

[1] 508 million people in 2015. China is largest with 1,367 million, India is second largest with 1,252 million, the European Union is third largest and the United States of American is fourth largest with 321 million.

[2] 4,272,000 square kilometres in 2015. Russia is largest with a surface area of 17,098,000 square kilometres, the United States of America is second largest with 9,831,000 square kilometres, China is third with 9,600,000 square kilometres and India is fifth largest with 3,287,000 square kilometres.

[3] List of countries by GDP nominal which means the gross domestic product evaluated at the current market prices

[4] List of countries by GDP (PPP) which means the gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates. An international dollar has the same purchasing power over GDP as the U.S. dollar has in the United States.

[5] The International Monetary Fund places GDP (nominal) of the European Union in 2014 at $14.3 trillion in 2014 compared to $18.5 trillion for the USA in the same period and a GDP (PPP) of around $12.7 trillion for the EU compared to $16.8 trillion for the USA. See  “World Economic Outlook”,  International Monetary Fund. International Monetary Fund.

[6] See also Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25

[7] Romans 13:4

[8] Exodus 1:17

[9] Exodus 1:21

[10] 1 Kings 18:13

[11] Esther 4:16

[12] Daniel 3:12-18, note verse 18

[13] Daniel 6:10

[14] Matthew 2:12

[15] Acts 5:29

[16] Judges 2:16

[17] Hebrews 11:32-34

[18] 1 Samuel 8

[19] Genesis 1-3

[20] 1 John 4:18

[21] See, for example, Proverbs 1:7

[22] See Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5. for example

[23] See Matthew 16:18

[24] See Acts 1:8

[25] See Matthew 28:16-20

[26] See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/16/labour-mp-jo-cox-shot-in-leeds-witnesses-report/ accessed on 19th June 2016.

[27] See the promises, for example, of Ephesians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 15:27, Hebrews 2:8 and Philippians 3:21. The over-arching promises of God’s purposes being accomplished and his sovereignty being supreme are also seen in Genesis 50:20, Romans 8 and the ultimate promise of transformation of the planet in Revelation 21.

[28] New Living Translation of Philippians 3:20-21

[29] Galatians 6:10

[30] Matthew 25:31-46

[31] Matthew 25:40

[32] Luke 8:21

[33] In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. and the African Methodist Episcopal Church in American sat at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, with Luther being attributed with the famous saying, ‘Let justice flow like rivers and righteousness like a never-failing stream’ when it actually came from the prophet Amos – see Amos 5:24

[34] Galatians 6:10

[35] See Isaiah 58, Micah 6, Proverbs 31, Amos 5 etc.

[36] See, for example, Leviticus 19:34

[37] See 1 Corinthians 2:16

[38] 1 Corinthians 15:1ff

[39] See, for example, Romans 1:16ff

[40] Romans 10:14ff

[41] See ‘The European Convention on Human Rights’, Article 9. This can be viewed at http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf. Also see article 1o of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights which can be viewed at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:12012P/TXT. Also see Freedom Articles 18 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

[42] Available to view at https://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/eu/a-christian-mission-perspective-on-the-eu-referendum.cfm. Accessed on the 2nd June 2016.

[43] Its main proponent is David Hathaway.

[44] See http://www.heartpublications.co.uk/is-the-eu-in-bible-prophecy/ for an outline of the position. A video of the material can be seen on the You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66uCnNwLJtM.

[45]  See http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/index.php/european-union-explained/.

[46] See http://trackingbibleprophecy.com/gog_magog.php for an example of this teaching.

[47] Revelation 5:9, 7:9 etc.

[48] Jean-Baptise Nicolas Robert Schuman (1886-1963) was a French statesman born in Luxembourg. He was the French Prime Minister, (1947-1948). He was also the French Foreign Minister between 1948 and 1953. He was a member of the Christian Democrats in France. Not only was he one of the fathers of what we now call the European Community, he was also instrumental in establishing the Council of Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He was an advocate of European integration before, during and after the Second World War

[49] 9th May has for many years been marked as ‘Europe Day’ for this reason.

[50] See http://europa.eu/about-eu/basic-information/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration/index_en.htm . Accessed on 18th June 2016. See Schuman Declaration, paragraph 6.

[51] Schuman Declaration, paragraph 6.

[52] The European Coal and Steel Community.

[53] The full text of the Schuman Declaration can be read at http://www.robert-schuman.eu/en/declaration-of-9-may-1950.

[54] Schuman Declaration, paragraph 3.

[55] ibid., paragraph 5.

[56] ibid., paragraph 5.

[57] ibid., paragraph 7.

[58] ibid., paragraph 7.

[59] ibid., paragraph 8.

[60] See ‘Winston Churchill’s speech to the academic youth’ in Zurich, 19th September 1946, paragraph 4. Accessed at http://www.law.tohoku.ac.jp/~schaefer/documents/churchill.pdf on 18th June 2016

[61] Winston Church (1874 – 1963) was British Prime Minister from 1940-1945 and from 1951-1955.

[62] Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967) was the first Chancellor of Germany after Second World War from 1949 – 1963.

[63] Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954) was the Prime Minister of eight successive collation governments in Italy from 1945-1953 and the founder of the Christian Democracy Party.

[64] For some biographical details on Robert Schuman, see Footnote 49.

[65] Jean Monnet (1888-1979) was a French political economist and diplomat and an influential supporter of European Unity. He was never elected to public office but worked influentially behind the scenes with American and European governments.

[66] The Council of the European Union is not the same body as the European Council. The latter is made up of the heads of state from member countries whilst the former is a body drawn together for specific purposes made up of ministers who cover the area under discussion or scrutiny.

[67] The full text of this address is available from my blog –www.malcolmduncan.typepad.com. Please note that this paper, or any part of it may be reproduced without permission provided the author is acknowledged and is given notification of the purpose and context of its use. An audio version is available at http://www.goldhill.org.

6 comments

  1. Excellent article which does indeed pose the question that need to be asked whenever Christians vote. Ultimately the EU, whatever its faults does have at its core peace, integration, cooperation and safeguarding workers’ rights and prosperity has its part to play in political stability and despite the severity of the refugee crisis is responding relatively well. However this crisis is in part caused by meddling in Middle Eastern conflicts and globalitthT exploits the weakest counties, and therefore of our own making. Equally our UK Monetarist government will never plough money into public health or education even if we”saved” any money by leaving the EU. Moreover, the Tories are righting bill of rights which I do not trust. I am also an economic migrant working in China and equal numbers of Britons have emigrated as immigrants arriving. To end this and for me to return to the UK would mean unemployment and poor housing despite skills and education. Finally, whatever the symbolism at the heat of the EU, leaving will not put us out of harm’s way of any End Times battles or tribulations unless we get off grid or fly to the moon.

  2. Thank you Malcolm for allowing your word to be shaped by God’s words to straighten your crooked lines They are appropriate words that bring a fresh breathe much needed.With your permission would you be happy to allow me to place your document on the Elim Community Church’s website.

  3. Bless you Malcolm, my husband Alec & I listened to your sermon. It brought us hope, helped us to engage as Christians. Since listening I have shared the hope we have in the Lord with lots of my friends partly through Facebook. Thank you. With love & prayers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: