The UK has left the EU. Three ways Christians should respond
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."
However you're feeling today, I hope Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to you.
Not so that you can feel better in a greetings card kind of way, but so you can see something of the long term perspective.
The worldwide financial system reacted terribly to the decision of the United Kingdom to vote to leave the EU. The news was grim indeed, with the value of the pound falling steeply, the markets in London and around the world taking a dive and a deep sense of uncertainly which wasn't fully quelled by the Governor of the Bank of England.
Yet the worldwide financial system, important though it is, does not determine our future as individuals, families, communities or as a country. Whether you sought an exit from the EU or you are horrified at the thought, we are now, in that overused phrase (but underutilised idea) 'all in this together.'
So what must we do?
Three things come to mind in the midst of sleep deprivation, constant rolling news and an ever-changing economic and political backdrop.
1. We need to stop and listen
More than half of those who voted wanted to leave the EU. Some of them will have been motivated by selfish or even sinful motives. Parts of the Leave campaign were fuelled by fear of immigrants, and downright racism. But many, most, of those who voted to leave didn't do so out of spite for other people but out of their own disillusionment.
If you're on either side of the divide and don't know people who voted the other way, seek them out and listen. Don't re-run the referendum and argue the toss. Listen to why they voted the way they did and try to see it from their point of view.
The places that voted to leave are the places which have been on the receiving end of the worst of globalistation and neoliberal economics which have decimated the once proud industrial areas of Wales, my native North West of England and the North East.
We can't even begin to understand the Brexit vote, let alone bring the country together, if we don't listen to those people and communities which voted to leave. That is the Labour Party's job, but it's also a job for all of us. And an urgent one at that.
2. We have to organise
Churches are catalysts of community in their areas. They aren't merely buildings where community meetings take place. In every area there are congregations which give up thousands of hours per week to make those places better to live in.
The obvious ministries such as food banks, street pastors and debt advice centres spring to mind. But there are other ways in which our churches show how another world is possible. Churches are places where young and old come together. Places where, at their best, racial division, class division and gender division are almost null and void. Of course not every church lives up to it, but this prophetic witness to overcoming difference and celebrating diversity is one of our great strengths.
What we must do now more than ever is harness that special quality and organise for change. The Church in recent years has been at the forefront of campaigns for the Living Wage, to welcome refugees and to cancel developing world debt. Now is the time for us to organise for change again.
3. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.
A much more simple point, maybe, but the most vital of all. Whether you feel jubilant or dejected, this is not the way things will be forever. In the famous words of NT Wright: "Jesus is 'Lord', therefore Caesar is not."
This means that whatever pain or joy you feel today is not terminal. There will be consequences to the decision, for sure, and we should care deeply about them. But whatever befalls us as a nation and as people, we should have confidence in the Good Shepherd. In the words of the old hymn: "This is my Father's world, O let me ne'er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet."
We enter a period of uncertainty and difficulty as a deeply divided nation. We are in need of true reconciliation, not just patching up. It is a daunting task, but I have hope. It is a hope proclaimed by one of the greatest Englishmen, George Orwell. In 1941 he wrote:
"England has got to be true to herself. She is not being true to herself while the refugees who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits Tax... There is no question of stopping short, striking a compromise, salvaging 'democracy', standing still. Nothing ever stands still.
"We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward."