THE EU REFERENDUM RESULT – A Sermon preached at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, Sunday, June 26th, 9.30a.m.
Canon Gary Philbrick
Gal 5:1,13-25; Luke 7:51-62
It’s been a tumultuous week or two in politics. The very divisive EU Campaign – how far away that all now seems; then the terrible murder of the MP, Jo Cox, and the pause in campaigning, and the very moving response to that from the people of Batley and Spen, and the very dignified reflections by her husband, Brendan; then the resumption of the campaign, and the polling day itself; and now the result, and the fallout, and the resignation of the Prime Minister, and the turmoil in the Labour Party, and the excitement of some and the sadness of others, and need to move on and see what the future holds for us.
I want to offer a few thoughts, and then we’ll have the opportunity to pause for prayer, light a candle, and then be led in our prayers.
Quite a lot of people, over the past few weeks, have echoed the disciples’ response in the Gospel reading we have just heard. Jesus enters the Samaritan village – and we all know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that relations between Jews and Samaritans were not good – he enters the village, and they don’t welcome him because he is on his way to Jerusalem.
‘When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them’ [Lk 9:54-5].
Over the past few weeks, there has been a good deal of commanding ‘fire to come down from heaven and consume’ those with whose views we disagree.
And now we are living with a situation in which most of England, with the exception of London and some of the other larger cities, and Wales have voted to leave the EU, and Scotland, by a large majority, and Northern Ireland by a smaller majority have voted to remain in the EU. And let’s not forget Gibraltar, which voted 96% in favour of remaining, and where the consequences of the result are likely to be very serious. And, although the result has been reported as a clear vote to leave the EU, in fact it is very close. 52% to leave, 48% to remain. That means that had two or three people in every hundred voted the other way, the result would have been the opposite. That’s the equivalent of about five of us here this morning changing our minds.
The result was very close, meaning that as a country, we are just about equally divided between ‘leaves’ and ‘remains’. Within the UK as a whole we are divided, and between the nations we are divided.
And yet, we are where we are; the people have spoken, and the result will have to be acted on. So, how do we move on from here?
Well, clearly, there is a lot of work ahead of us. There will inevitably be a period of uncertainty as negotiations begin, as a new Prime Minister is chosen, as the process by which we will leave the EU becomes clearer, as our new relationships with Europe and the rest of the world emerge, as economic systems adjust, as old laws are unpicked and new laws are made, as the Scotland question gets debated, as a new agricultural policy is developed, and so on. It’s going to be a long and complex process – and probably very contentious.
But we are a strong nation, we are a large economy, we are a big player on the world stage – we will survive.
And somehow, there has to be a healing of the nation. We have to avoid the urge ‘to command fire to come down from heaven and consume’ those with whom we disagree. We have to work for unity, to learn to listen to those whose views are different from our own.
And we have a new opportunity to decide what sort of a country we want to be. We talk about British values, without always being clear what those are – but I hope we will be able to build on the British values of compassion, inclusiveness, care for the vulnerable, a welcome to the stranger, an outward-looking world view, a realisation of our responsibility for others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.
We need to build hope over hate, and to re-build the political life of our country, which has fallen into a rather sad state.
There is a good campaigning organisation called ‘Hope not Hate’. Their Director, Nick Lowles, wrote on Friday:
A short time ago, after a campaign tainted with racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, it was formally announced that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. This is a seismic moment for our country and indeed Europe.
I worry that there is a real danger that the bitterly-fought contest could leave a lasting legacy of division in our country. We cannot allow this to happen…
One thing is sure. We cannot allow the toxic Referendum debate to spill over into local communities. Speaking to those from eastern and central Europe, and indeed other immigrants, over recent days it is clear that many are worried. They are uncertain about their future and concerned about a racist backlash…
But let’s also be clear that we need to reach out to those areas which have been abandoned by mainstream politicians, particularly those in often de-industrialised parts of Britain. We need to offer an alternative narrative to those voices wanting to blame immigrants for all their problems, whilst also genuinely addressing people’s real concerns.
Ultimately, we need to offer more positive channels for people to effect change in their local communities…
Britain has spoken and now we need to stand together for the tolerant, diverse and multicultural society we want. We need to heal the rifts and try and bring communities together.
You can read much more about them on the ‘Hope not Hate’ website, and add your voice to the campaign for tolerance and justice.
We, as the Churches in divided communities across the whole of the UK have a role to play in the healing of the nation. We need to be putting aside our differences, and working together for the good of our communities, this country, and for the good of the whole world. We want this country to flourish, and to be of service to the whole of humanity.
St Paul, writing to the Galatians in our first reading this morning could have been writing especially for today. Pointing out that ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’ [Gal 5:1], he then goes on to say that we should use that freedom for love – ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ [5:14].
And he ends this passage by talking about true Christian, and, I hope, British, values, when he describes the fruit of the Spirit as:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit [Gal 5:22-25].