There has been much written over the last few days both before and after the referendum reflecting on the issues raised. I am fully aware of the reasons not to add to this mountain of words. Despite good reasons to keep silent, I am convinced that as a church leader I need to bring a Biblical perspective on the situation as I see it, these really are unprecedented times and I feel compelled to say something. However, I am aware this can be controversial.
Let me start with the assumptions being made about democracy, what has even been called in some places “Christian democracy”.
As a Christian leader let me say very straightforwardly the Bible does not advocate one form of government over another. As Tom Wright says, God is not nearly so interested in how rulers get to be rulers as he is in how they behave as rulers.
Tom Wright goes so far as warning about idolising democracy, assuming it is perfect and that all the problems of the world would be solved if only everyone accepted it and that provided our leaders attain power by a popular vote, that’s all that matters, and that the only possible critique is to vote them out again next time round.
As Christians we need to be very careful about how much trust we put in democracy, how much hope we put in it. We must avoid idolising it, we must warn others about idolising it. We trust in the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, not democracy.
In truth there are a number of dangers in democracy. If the only goal is winning an election or a referendum we will use all available means to do so, include misrepresenting the truth, rubbishing of opponents using smears and innuendos, making promises that cannot be kept. This then leads to mistrust of those in authority and an alienation with the whole political system. However, as Christians we are called to honour and respect those in authority (Romans 13) whilst calling them to account when they abuse their authority. Let us be clear not all politicians are liars, most are honourable people who make massive sacrifices to serve their country. However, the nature of our democratic system can lead to abuse.
This leads into another key issue that needs to be faced.
Many have put their trust in an assumption that leaving the EU and taking control back from Brussels will solve all their perceived problems. Suddenly there will be more money for the NHS, more jobs for local people, more people like us around, more prosperity and so forth. This is highly unlikely to happen, at least in the short term. This is likely to produce even more disillusionment and alienation with the whole political establishment.
One of the major issues that has come out of the referendum result is how divided our nation is, not just that it is split down the middle. It would appear that most young people voted one way; older people another way. Those with university degrees voted differently to those without. Those in Scotland and London voted differently to those in other parts of the country. Most of our friends will have similar views to ourselves and will have voted the same way. We find it hard to understand why others have differing views as we don’t tend to know the people who hold them.
It is therefore very easy for us to caricature others, writing them of as racists and the like. For the sake of the future there needs to be a coming together, a listening an understanding of other people’s fears and concerns. We, the people of God, need to be actively engaged in this.
I have just finished a preaching series based on the Bible book of Habakkuk, in hindsight it has proven to be extremely relevant. One of the messages from the book that I brought out is that God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that he does things that we always like or even understand. I think that is an important point to remember at this time. We also have to hold on to the fact that God is bigger than the UK, bigger than Europe even! We need to be careful of the assumption that the UK, or England, is God’s special country and is loved by him more than others, has a special purpose that other countries do not. I have heard this spoken by Christians and feel it needs very careful weighing. Another point from this book is that our response must be in prayer. When things are confusing and difficult we have to talk to God about it!
I have come to the conclusion that as God’s people we need to stand up and be counted at this time, our country needs us, we have to be prepared to speak truth even when it is not popular.
That means challenging the idolisation of democracy; holding politicians and the media to account in their behaviour during and after elections whilst giving them due honour; helping people handle disappointment through unrealistic expectations.
It also means taking responsibility to pray for our nation; political parties; political leaders.
Written by Tony Thompson