To believe that Brexit is the greatest threat to Britain’s Christian heritage and values is profoundly misguided
The people over at Reimagining Europe are at it again.
The Rt. Revd. Dr. Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph, is concerned that Britain may be about to throw it’s European-given Christian heritage out with the EU bathwater. One might consider it strange that he considers Brexit to be the existential threat to British Christianity rather than, say, increasing secularisation or the aggressive attacks by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics on what were once traditional Christian family values, but such is the way of things these days within the Churches of England and Wales.
Bishop Cameron writes:
In spite of the fact that the Bible has more to say about the distribution of wealth, social justice and the welfare of nations than ever it does about eternal life, Christianity and religion have gently been tidied away by many to the sidelines of political life. To ask therefore about a “Christian Brexit” might provoke the response “Why should there even be talk of such a thing?” While fear of religious extremism may have fuelled the leave vote, Brexit is trumpeted as a clinical economic exercise, perhaps with a little national pride thrown in but free from ideological fancy. So many might wonder why would religion get mixed up in it?
In fact, Christian philosophy is something woven into the very fabric of British society. It undergirds many of our attitudes and values, even if the rationales have become obscure, and the foundations repudiated by many. Christianity came to us from the continent, and bound us to the continent, whether it was the mission of Pope Gregory to the Angles on the cusp of the seventh century, or the repudiation of one sort of Europe (the Catholic) in order to embrace another (the Protestant) in the sixteenth. Even if we’ve chosen to renounce the politics of European integration, this doesn’t imply a rejection of a shared European culture – which is just as well given that most of British culture derives from a classical and Christian European past. Could there even be a Britain without Christendom, the Angevin Empire, and the struggles for the European soul played out in the Napoleonic and World War conflicts?
It’s great that somebody is now asking these questions. I’m just astonished that the good bishop has identified Brexit as the greatest threat to this cultural heritage, rather than any of the other far more pressing issues. Of course Britain would not exist in anything like it’s current form without Christendom. Why does that mean that Britain should have voted to remain in a supranational political union beset with so many problems and unloved by so many?
And of course renouncing the EU’s explicitly political union and integrationist purpose does not mean that we reject our “shared European culture”. Given that Bishop Cameron understands that these are two different things, one wonders why he is concerned that rejecting one would even endanger the other.
So which Christian values do I wish to see thrive in a Britain set apart? One of the worst aspects of the Brexit vote, much commented upon, was the permission unintentionally given for xenophobia. Too many immigrants (even to the third or fourth generation) are now made to feel unwelcome; too many folk have been given licence to be rude or violent. I want to see a Britain which affirms our human connectness and the fundamental attitudes of respect and hospitality. We need a people centred Brexit, which respects the individual choices and irrevocable commitments that immigrants and ex pats have made about their futures in the expectation of a border free Europe which is now slipping away from us.
I’ll have to take the bishop’s word for this. I have many friends and acquaintances in parts of the country condescendingly referred to by elites as “Brexitland“, but I myself live in cosmopolitan London, where Brexiteers and not “immigrants” are the scorned and endangered species. And while I do not question the veracity of media reports of xenophobic and racist incidents in the wake of the EU referendum campaign, from my own experience of strongly pro-Brexit places such as Stoke-on-Trent or my hometown of Harlow, neither have I witnessed anything like the wave of supposed anti-immigrant sentiment which the left-wing, pro-EU media insist is taking place.
Furthermore, if third and fourth generation immigrants are being made to feel unwelcome, clearly this is an issue which extends far beyond Brexit and Britain’s place in the European Union. As with the disastrous start to Donald Trump’s presidency in America, there is a tendency to blame every bad thing that happens in Britain on Brexit rather than seek to intelligently separate those factors which existed prior to the referendum and need addressing separately, and those which are legitimately connected with Britain leaving the EU.
The bishop then waxes lyrical about the “irrevocable commitments that immigrants and ex pats have made about their futures”. I’m sorry, but I have to take issue with this. The ultimate expression of making an irrevocable commitment to a new country that you want to call home is to become a citizen of that country. When my wife and I eventually move back to the United States, I eagerly look forward to the day when I receive my US citizenship as it will be an acknowledgement of the commitment I am making to that great country. Why should it be any different for somebody who intends to permanently settle and build their new life in Britain?
While EU citizens have been bribed for several decades with promises of a “borderless world” – while politicians have simultaneously kept silent about the damage done by undermining the nation state through the EU project – there is in fact nothing abnormal about expecting people to take that final oath of loyalty and allegiance before fully accepting them as a fellow countryman. You don’t prove your commitment to small-L liberal, British values simply by turning up, getting a job and starting a life here. An immigrant’s commitment to their new country should be more than the sum of the taxes that they pay and the personal enjoyment that they and their families receive as a result of making the move. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, citizenship is about asking what you can do for your (new) country, not just what your (new) country can do for you.
I want to see a Britain which reasserts its care for the weakest in its own society and in the citizenry of the world; which is committed to international development and international exchange. We need a culture which is open to and accepting of heterogeneity. In such a future, “British” should not stand in contradiction to “European”, but incorporate an international spirit: a continuing commitment to lowering barriers and not raising them.
Now this is just generic leftist pablum. Do we not already have an extensive welfare state? Do we not already lead the world by (wrongly, in my opinion) devoting an extraordinary fixed percentage of our GDP to inefficient, government-administered international aid? “British” does not stand in contradiction to “European”. But rather than becoming interchangeable, as EU integration ultimately demands, in future
Of course we should remain an open and tolerant society, but a culture which is “open to and accepting of heterogeneity” to an unlimited degree is a culture which refuses to assert its own values, fails to properly assimilate new immigrants and which fosters breeding grounds for unimaginable, unforgivable horrors like the sexual abuse epidemic in Rotherham, or the infant mortality rate as a result of consanguineous relationships in the London Borough of Redbridge. One might expect a Church of Wales bishop to be at least as equally concerned with these social problems as with the feelings of immigrants who felt perfectly happy in Britain until the Brexit vote but who now apparently feel besieged and despised, but apparently this is too much to ask.
Brexit may not be a spiritual or religious enterprise, but we do have to defend the best aspects of our national life to build a future of which to be proud. All the churches, including the Church in Wales, have to engage vigorously in the public debate about Brexit and our society as advocates of a Christian vision of social inclusion and people centred politics.
No. The trouble is that the Church has been lustily involved in the Brexit debate all through the referendum campaign and now it’s aftermath, but in an incredibly one-sided manner. Almost to the last person (with a few honourable exceptions) the bishops and clergy have come down hard on the side of remaining in the EU, often argued by clerics with a tissue paper-thin understanding of the issues at hand but a burning desire to signal their progressive virtue.
Has Bishop Cameron ever stopped to consider how an ordinary, decent, Brexit-supporting person might feel when confronted with the Anglican church’s institutional metro-leftism and scornful opinion of Brexiteers? Has he stopped to think what effect the Archbishops of Canterbury and York might have on the Brexit-supporting faithful when they so transparently agitate in favour of remaining in the European Union, and cast aspersions on the morals of those who dared to take a different position?
The bishop’s article concludes:
In challenging times of change it falls to us to demonstrate what loving our neighbours really means.
Yes, it does. Bishop Cameron might like to reflect on how he lives out those values in his own ministry, with particular regard to how he engages with the sincere beliefs of those within his own Welsh diocese who voted in good conscience for Brexit, are now looking forward in a spirit of optimism to its enactment, and are perhaps hoping for some pastoral encouragement (rather than despairing forgiveness) as they do so.
Because if this article is any guide, he has a long journey ahead of him.
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