From the official local report of Friday morning:
The people of Cheshire East have voted to leave the European Union.
The result was declared at about 4.45am in Macclesfield today (Friday) with 113,163 (113,000) voting to leave the EU and 107,962 (108,000) voting to remain.
That means the leave vote won by 5,201 (5,000).
There was no celebration as the result was announced at Macclesfield Leisure Centre.
The mood was subdued and the room cleared quickly.
The turnout was 77.36%.
I greeted Friday morning’s news with horror, as did half the population, and probably half of this congregation. Among my friends before and after the Referendum, I know of only one who voted Leave – but then my friendship circle numbers mainly those in the education world or in active ministry. I know that the friend who voted Leave, a fellow Methodist Minister, did so from a position of considered research and prayerful analysis.
Amongst my friends many, many words have been exchanged online. I am not naïve – I know that as much as there was a Christian Remain campaign, there was also a deeply sincere Christian Leave campaign. I know that democracy means we accept the results of the democratic process. I know that race and immigration issues have coloured both the campaigning and the analysis of the result, and I know that campaigners on both sides were selective with the promoted facts. I know furthermore that the full scope of issues involved is probably greater than any of us will ever understand, and that we all voted in the way that made most sense to us.
However, it is my job to reflect theologically on the result, to open my Bible and to put my Bible and my newspaper together. Before I do so, however, let me go back to conversations with my own friends.
One friend – Dr A – is an academic who lectures at a theological college, and one who is involved in the wider Methodist Connexion. Dr A is also black, and he reflected with these words on Friday morning:
“Let me share a few words as a Black man, who is the child of immigrants. I am not saying that people who voted out are racists and I am not saying that racism was the motive that made many to do so, but I am clear that racism and xenophobia was a definite part of the discourse of the Out campaign. And given that was the case, then every person who did vote out has to examine their conscience as to the extent they may have unwittingly colluded with racism and the scapegoating of the other by doing so. I was talking with my Jewish neighbour and we were both stunned at the poster of Farage in front of a long queue of brown skinned people and the clear linking of immigration to all the social ills that have supposedly befallen Britain. I respect how people voted, but when my Jewish neighbour, who is not an alarmist or a political radical for one minute, says that his grandparents recounted how Nazism started with posters pilloriying Jews and other foreigners, we have to ask ourselves if this not one of our darkest hours. Like I said, I am not attacking anyone for how they voted, but as a Black British born man who has spent all his life here, in all my 51 years I have never felt as fearful for my own safety and well being as I do today.”
Those of us who voted Remain must be gracious. Those of us who voted Leave must be gracious. God’s will is not so much reflected in the outcome of a referendum, but in the call “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
Can we please make a concerted effort as Christian community leaders to avoid the “Brexit = islamaphobic/racist” or “Brexit = ignorant” rhetoric.
To embrace this false equation is to effectively ignore the fact that many within our churches will have voted Brexit in line with their own conscience having done their research and voted Brexit despite being disgusted by Farage et al. To continue the mud slinging tone of “debate” can only exaggerate divisions and hurt those in our care.
Yes, we will try but please will those who voted to leave work hard to help those of us who feel devastated that we are on a path to become a small minded narrow little island lost in its fantasy past feel there is still hope. If there is an obligation for the defeated to be graceful there is a greater obligation on the victor not tread on the necks of the vanquished.
Reflecting theologically means asking “Where is God in this?” – and let us not be so naïve that we assume that just because something happened it was “God’s will” – we are the ones who voted so we are 100% accountable; let’s not congratulate or blame God for our actions. We can however say that “God is still God and the Gospel is still Good News”.
Our readings today, those set for today’s Lectionary, pointedly urge us not to look back, but to face forwards. Elisha asking for the equivalent of the Eldest son’s inheritance from Elijah for the journey ahead. Jesus urging his disciples ever onwards without turning back. We are in the situation that we are in – it has become our new starting point. We achieve nothing either by crowing or wailing, but instead we must be the people who show grace and love in unity with all our brothers and sisters, not just those of different politics, but those with whom we have nothing in common at all, both home and abroad.
From the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Joint Statement with the Archbishop of York:
“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.”
From the Joint Public Issues Group
After the Referendum – A recommitment to the Common Good
“Our aims for the kind of society we want to live in remain the same. People disagreed whether the kinds of issues we will continue to face – climate change, peace and security, sustainable agriculture, welfare, trade and the movement of people – would be better dealt with by being in or out. We have voted for out. But the aim of pursuing a just society has not changed. After months of sometimes damaging debate we must recommit ourselves to work together for the common good.
We believe that every human being is made in the image of God. Any narrative that undermines this, or promotes division and discrimination, runs contrary to the values of God’s Kingdom. Our prayer is that we might turn away from the language of fear or self-interest and recommit to this sense of our common humanity.
We now face an inevitable process of change, and with that will come uncertainty. As a people of faith, we can draw strength from recognising that God’s purposes prevail beyond any political alliance or union. As God’s Word expresses the intent that every nation shall be blessed, we have a place within the wider world that includes a responsibility towards those who are the most impoverished and needy.
As the implications of this historic decision continue to emerge, we call upon those who lead us to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly in the ways of God’s Kingdom.”
God of every nation and people,
At this historic moment we pray for all who are affected by the decision that we have made.
Whatever differences this has revealed within our own society,
may they not eclipse what we have in common.
Where the narratives of political debate have caused harm and division
help us to reclaim the true values of our shared humanity.
Where exaggeration and distortion have generated suspicion and fear
may truth and honesty restore hope and goodness.
We pray for all the nations of Europe
that you will help us to find ways of living and working together
to pursue the mercy and justice that you require.
We recommit ourselves – together – to the values of your eternal Kingdom
and pray that along with all people
we might help your world become more as you intended.