Where Is The Serious Christian Case For Remaining In The European Union?

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Friendship, cooperation and overblown claims about the EU keeping the peace in Europe do not amount to robust Christian arguments for staying shackled to the European Union

When the Church of England-sponsored Reimagining Europe blog launched last year, I was vaguely hopeful that it might lead to some fruitful discussion about the real Christian case for or against Brexit. Not just the kind of woolly left-wing platitudes which many bishops excel at delivering, but a real granular theological case for why Britain should either remain in the European Union or vote Leave to regain our independence.

Fast forward seven months and the promise of Reimagining Europe remains largely unfulfilled. The only really decent arguments have been those guest posts from Adrian Hilton of the Archbishop Cranmer blog, which have effectively demolished the laziest of the Christian cases for staying in the EU. There have been a few other decent commentaries and a large number of hand-wringing prevarications, but as far as I can tell not one unambiguously argued Christian case for Remain.

This recent blog entry by Guy Brandon is typical of the output in this regard:

At the same time, placing national identity above our identity in Christ should raise a warning flag. Our own legal system might be underpinned by biblical foundations and Christian heritage, but it is not God-given. Sovereignty should not be absolutised, whether the issue is approached from a practical or spiritual direction.

The question mirrors, on the national scale, our view of our own personal autonomy. To what extent do we see ourselves as the architects of our own destiny? We all make personal compromises in the interests of living together. As Freud remarked, ‘civilisation is built on the renunciation of instinct’. For the Christian, there is the added dimension that we have been purchased by Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and are free – not to do anything we choose, but to ‘serve one another in love’ (Galatians 5:13-15)

So, should we give up a degree of national autonomy in the interests of the common good? As ever, the question is not cut-and-dried. There may be benefits we enjoy, such as guarantees around freedom of religion, which we would no longer have if we withdrew from the EU. Christians might contemplate the risks of withdrawing from such protections, as well as the attractions of being masters of our own destiny.

Immediately there are red flags that this is not a serious analysis, or even reflection.

For a start, the author takes it as a given that the European Union is the “common good”, against which national autonomy is perpetually placed in opposition. But why the European Union (with its dogmatic insistence on representing 28 countries with a single voice of compromise) is in the common good is never explained – and not just in this piece. Over and over again in Christian ruminations on the European Union, the most fundamental europhile assumptions are accepted as Gospel. Of course the European Union represents the common good.

Then we get the old workhorse about the EU guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, it is profoundly antidemocratic in claiming that the British people should have rights imposed on them by others. Of course we should all have freedom of (and from) religion, but we the British people should establish and maintain this right for ourselves – ideally through a written constitution.

The same goes for workers’ rights, which are forever held up by the Remain camp as a scaremongering warning that if we leave the EU, it will be back to seven day working weeks and young children going up the chimneys to earn their keep. Why are so many self-professed Christians so happy for our most fundamental rights to be imposed on us from above, rather than arising organically as the democratic expression of our own hearts and minds?

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The Catholic Herald’s recent review of church attitudes toward the EU also reveals an excess of woolly thinking at the top:

Cardinal Nichols is also fervently pro-EU, but his support for it has a less Roman flavour. He is, as I remember from his days as general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference, a man who works through committees and relishes bureaucratic procedure.

His politics bear the stamp of his Liverpudlian upbringing. He favours public expenditure over private enterprise; his speeches employ the vocabulary of the state sector. It’s hard to think of a bishop less in sympathy with Eton-educated Catholic Tory Brexiteers such as Charles Moore and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The Nichols philosophy embraces the dirigism of Brussels; in this he is typical of the moderate British Left, which changed its mind about the Common Market after Jacques Delors persuaded it that Europe was an indispensable ally against “free-market fundamentalism”.

One suspects that Cardinal Nichols would admire the modus operandi of the European Union even if it had no association with the Church. The same could be said of many bishops of England and Wales.

This instinct to remain in the EU is borne out of fear of change and bureaucratic preference, which are understandable human emotions but about as far as one can get from being sound justification for continuing with the current mode of supranational European government.

As this blog recently concluded:

As a Catholic eurosceptic, it is frustrating to witness so many fellow Christians accepting the pro-EU, pro-Remain position almost by default, without actually engaging their brains or making considered reference to their faith. I’m no theologian myself, but I’ve read my Bible and I know that the New Testament offers little by way of clear instruction or even guidance as to how any entities larger than individuals and faith groups should organise or govern themselves, while much of the Old Testament reads as a “how not to do statecraft” manual.

If we restrict ourselves then to the teachings of Jesus, from where do Christian EU apologists draw their inspiration? The EU is not a democratic entity, nor is it likely to become one any time soon. What is so Christian about defending an organisation which insulates a continent’s leaders from the practical and political consequences of their rule? What is so Christian about sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and loudly repeating the mantra “the EU is about peace and cooperation, the EU is about peace and cooperation”, while ignoring the known history of European political union and disregarding the fact that fruitful inter-governmental cooperation could take place just as well outside the EU’s supra-national structure?

[..]

Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that much of the Christian case for Remain rests either on a lazy “agree with the Left by default” mindset, or the desire to virtue-signal generally “progressive” values across the board. I will be happy to be proven wrong, and to be presented with a serious Christian case for the EU based on the argument that staying part of a supranational political union unreplicated in any other part of the world is 1) what Jesus would do, or 2) what is best for Christians in Europe. But I’m not holding out much hope.

And if that’s what this is really about – cheering on the EU because it signals that one holds the “correct” progressive opinions in other areas – then they picked a really lousy time to do it. Our politics is suffering a crisis of legitimacy, and yet many in the Church have taken the decision to cheer on the one entity which best represents the interests of a narrow European elite overriding the interests of ordinary people.

In short, I have yet to see a Christian case for Remain that consists of anything other than woolly, tenuous and unsubstantiated assertions that the EU equals being friendly and co-operating with our neighbours (which, unlike the countries of every other continent in the world, can for some reason only be accomplished in Europe through a supra-national government), and that if we vote to Leave we will essentially be voting for war and the stripping away of religious freedom.

Well I’m sorry, but that facile level of argument is not good enough. I’m still waiting for serious theologians or senior figures in the Church hierarchy to put forward one good reason why Jesus would favour Britain’s participation in a remote and antidemocratic-by-design government of Europe.

If staying in the EU is so goshdarn godly, let’s hear why, without recourse to the fluffy, prevaricating jargon about ecumenism and friendship which Christian EU apologists tend to deploy like chaff to distract us from the paucity of their argument. And let them explain too why they are so desperate for continued political union in Europe, yet utterly blasé about the fact that Asia, Australasia and the Americas get by just fine without such a union.

There is a fight for self-determination and democracy underway right now, and far too many voices within the church are coming down on entirely the wrong side. Those who stay silent or openly advocate for Remain will justifiably find themselves on the hook and personally implicated in every future crisis which befalls the EU, and will bear some responsibility for each incremental unit of economic and political suffering experienced by Britain as a continent glued together by unwanted, inflexible political union slowly begins to rip itself apart.

The clock is ticking, and there is little time left for Christian Remainers to defend or amend their position before they go on to face the judgement of history.

 

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The Feeble Christian Case For Remaining In The European Union

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Nobody has yet made a convincing Christian case for the EU. That should tell us something.

If nothing else, the Church of England’s Reimagining Europe blog has served to highlight – with a few very worthy exceptions – the exceedingly low quality of Christian thinking when it comes to the EU referendum question, and Britain’s place in the world more broadly.

The latest dismal example is a case in point, in which Andrew Gready (chaplain to the Anglican Church in the Hague) bemoans the fact that nobody is making a more positive case for staying in the EU:

Although there are certainly problems with the European Union (no one is seeking to gloss over these), the Dutch are at least able to see some of the positive benefits that belonging to a bigger whole has brought. It seems that they hoped that the debate in the UK would be more positive, more constructive than it has been. A number of people have said ‘Surely they can talk about the benefits of belonging, rather than just saying we are not sure what is going to happen, so let’s stay where we are!’

I think there is a real hope that the vote to Remain will actually be a positive statement of intent, rather than a negative one of fear and uncertainty. We will have to wait and see!

Newsflash, Gready – Britain is and will always remain part of a “bigger whole” whether we remain in the European Union or not. The European Union is a political construct, and a very recent and unproven one at that. It is not interchangeable with the continent of Europe, and it has no democratic legitimacy when it arrogantly claims to speak and act on behalf of the many diverse European peoples. There is a positive case for Brexit based on leaving euro-parochialism behind and engaging more fully in the world, and pro-EU Christians participating in the debate should at least acknowledge this fact rather than arguing against the two-dimensional cartoon Ukipper they hold in their minds.

But this is the very low standard of debate we have sadly come to see from those who claim to represent the Christian perspective. At its core, their argument amounts to little more than “the EU is about friendship and peace and cooperation, and Jesus was in favour of all those things, so what’s not to like?”

Or as the founder of Christians for the EU, the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, puts it:

“I think life is meant to be lived together in partnerships and collaboration. To walk away from an institution that was set up to pursue those ideals is a big mistake.

“Link that with the Genesis principle that it is not good for a man or a woman to be alone. The EU is very much not perfect, but the essential ideal and aim is still valuable. The world needs nation states to be grouped together in alliances that will be good for the human race.”

Because partnership and collaboration is only possible through political union, of course. The sheer superficiality of this thinking is mind-boggling.

Seriously – boil down most of the pro EU articles over at Reimagining Europe and they amount to little more than that. You’ll hear endless variations on the theme that because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, somehow it naturally follows that we should be united under the same supranational political umbrella – though curiously the Church of England never wastes its time clamouring for Asian countries to merge together, or for Canada, Mexico and the United States to institute a shared parliament.

Ben Ryan of Theos does a good job of summarising the many-layered complexity of Europe:

Yes, Europe is a Christian continent. But it’s not only a Christian continent, and that’s important to note. It’s a Christian continent, but it is also a ‘Greek’ continent, it is also a democratic continent; which is to say that the space that we call ‘Europe’ is not really a geographical thing. There is no border of Europe, geographically speaking. There are islands off the coast, there is no clear Eastern border.

Instead, what defines the border of the space that we call Europe is a cultural and intellectual thing. It is a space which is defined by what has come before; it is defined by Christianity, and by Greek philosophy, and by a number of other cultural and intellectual movements. So, it’s a mistake to think we are actually a real continent. There is no such thing as a ‘geographical Europe’, it can only really be seen as an intellectual space.

Sadly, many within the Church deliberately ignore these awkward facts, and have convinced themselves that pressing ahead with a uniquely 20th century vision of uniting the diverse under a single supranational government is a wise and moral thing to do – democracy be damned. And they do damn democracy through their actions, because what little organic desire and impetus for European political union there is always comes from the political elites, and not the ordinary people.

As a Catholic eurosceptic, it is frustrating to witness so many fellow Christians accepting the pro-EU, pro-Remain position almost by default, without actually engaging their brains or making considered reference to their faith. I’m no theologian myself, but I’ve read my Bible and I know that the New Testament offers little by way of clear instruction or even guidance as to how any entities larger than individuals and faith groups should organise or govern themselves, while much of the Old Testament reads as a “how not to do statecraft” manual.

If we restrict ourselves then to the teachings of Jesus, from where do Christian EU apologists draw their inspiration? The EU is not a democratic entity, nor is it likely to become one any time soon. What is so Christian about defending an organisation which insulates a continent’s leaders from the practical and political consequences of their rule? What is so Christian about sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and loudly repeating the mantra “the EU is about peace and cooperation, the EU is about peace and cooperation”, while ignoring the known history of European political union and disregarding the fact that fruitful inter-governmental cooperation could take place just as well outside the EU’s supra-national structure?

Canon Giles Fraser, founder of Christians for Britain, gets it:

“If the Tower of Babel teaches us anything, it is, when man tries to control too much and usurp the power of God then God disperses them,” he said. “Government that is centralised tends towards corruption: that is the history of human nature.

“The biblical pattern is not always for agglomeration of power. God also divides in order that powers would be controlled.”

As I say, I’m no theologian. But I’ve been on the lookout for a more substantial Christian case for the European Union which is not based on wilful ignorance or wishful thinking about the EU’s true nature, and so far I have come up short. Meanwhile, Brexit offers at least the chance of democratic renewal in Britain, potentially giving people (including the faithful) greater control over their lives and communities.

Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that much of the Christian case for Remain rests either on a lazy “agree with the Left by default” mindset, or the desire to virtue-signal generally “progressive” values across the board. I will be happy to be proven wrong, and to be presented with a serious Christian case for the EU based on the argument that staying part of a supranational political union unreplicated in any other part of the world is 1) what Jesus would do, or 2) what is best for Christians in Europe. But I’m not holding out much hope.

And if that’s what this is really about – cheering on the EU because it signals that one holds the “correct” progressive opinions in other areas – then they picked a really lousy time to do it. Our politics is suffering a crisis of legitimacy, and yet many in the Church have taken the decision to cheer on the one entity which best represents the interests of a narrow European elite overriding the interests of ordinary people.

For the Church as a whole, the consequences of coming down on the wrong side of this issue – or at least failing to come down convincingly on the right side – could be profound. One way or another, now or twenty years down the line, Brexit is coming. And when it does, many leading authority figures within the church will have placed themselves firmly on the side of governing elites rather than the people who fill their emptying pews.

This should be provoking a great degree introspection and self-reflection from Britain’s most high profile Christian leaders. So far, one gets the distinct impression that it is not.

 

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The Bishop And The Brexit Debate

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Apparently, Brexit constitutes a “nightmare scenario” for the Bishop of Guildford. No surprise, coming from an established church with such a dubious record on democracy

Should bishops in the Church of England (or indeed the leaders of any other religious denomination) be free to speak their minds on the subject of Brexit and in advising their flocks how to vote in the coming EU referendum?

Of course they should. To suggest otherwise would be an unconscionable encroachment on religious liberty – the only exception being the intolerable Lords Spiritual whose anachronistic and unwelcome presence in the House of Lords makes Britain, like Iran, a technical theocracy.

But while non-political bishops have every right to express an opinion on Brexit, so we have the right to criticise their thinking on the subject, which tends to be woolly at best, and arrogant with a twist of elitism at worst.

King of the woolly thinkers is the Bishop of Guildford, who shared this recent gem on Twitter:

Adrian Hilton of Archbishop Cranmer dissects the Bishop of Guildford’s europhile ramblings over at Reimagining Europe:

So we read that the Brexit “nightmare” would be “very sad” because it would mark a return to “competing nationalisms” and “very dangerous times”. The EU has been “integral in delivering seven decades of peace and economic security”.We must resist the “widespread rise of populism” because “we are European” and “have nothing to fear or to lose if we remain so”. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, wants a ‘Third Way’, but that isn’t on the ballot paper. And the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, aims directly for the Tories, but this isn’t a general election. As you see, it’s all impeccable political neutrality with rigorous episcopal impartiality.

The laity and other clergy will, of course, make up their own minds, but what manner of neutrality is it when CofE comms tells the media that the institution is neither for remaining nor leaving, while many in the House of Bishops preach the Gospel of Remain? Would a bishop ever tweet that his (or her) “nightmare” would be to wake up to a Corbyn premiership? What guilt does the prospect of voting for the Bishops’ (it probably is plural) Brexit “nightmare scenario” inculcate in the spiritually-discerning democratic intellect of the laity and subordinate clergy?

And here is the crux:

Some say we’d be poorer; others that the cost of holidays would rise; still others that our power stations would go dark and terrorism would increase. There is equal expert opinion to the contrary in every case, and it’s hardly four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse stuff, is it? The matter of whether our national destiny is to be bound in perpetuity to an anti-democratic United States of Europe which is creeping, ratchet-like, toward continent-wide assimilation and uniformity cannot simply be distilled to short-term economic interests or security scaremongering.

I can understand Bishop Andrew’s desire to sustain a political union which is ostensibly based on sound Christian principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity. But, as Philip Booth has shown, the EU is antithetical to the very concept of localism, notwithstanding the letter of Maastricht. And I feel sure that the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and Portuguese might balk at assertions that the EU project is any longer concerned with fraternal solidarity, mutuality and social harmony.

This isn’t an organic social contract for diversity, liberty and limited state power, but a fabricated mechanism for the enforcement of national assimilation. When you’re locked – seemingly irrevocably – into a model of “economic governance” which hinders growth, destroys jobs, increases poverty, and leads mothers to abandon their children on the streets and fathers to commit suicide, I have to put to Bishop Andrew that his Brexit “nightmare scenario” would be welcomed by millions of Greeks as a dream of Grexit bliss.

The bishops’ willingness to swallow pro-EU talking points and then arrogantly sound off in public about how the EU has “kept the peace” and “delivered prosperity” is not just intellectually lazy. I would charge that it is a failure in their duty of pastoral care to all Christians in their flock, to accuse those who want Britain to leave the EU of trying to bring about a “nightmare scenario”.

Since when did believing in national democracy and sovereignty based at the level of a commonly understood demos represent a “nightmare” for the Church of England? Since when did the concept of self-determination (as opposed to slavishly following a pre-determined path toward unwanted European political integration set in motion decades ago) become unwelcome? And why is the Church willing to wring its hands and worry about human rights abuses and dictatorship abroad, but turn a blind eye when the rights of its own fellow citizens to determine the course of their own future is suppressed by Brussels?

At its root, the pro-European instincts of many bishops seem to rest in a desperate, stubborn insistence in seeing the world – and the European Union – as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is. As Hilton suggests, the idea of the bad aspects of nationalism being eroded and replaced by shared European values of a vaguely left-wing bent of “subsidiarity and solidarity” is all well and good. But there is no European demos, and the relentless march toward further integration in the absence of a shared feeling of European-ness above national identity will only compound the simmering resentment.

The Church of England would clearly love nothing so much as to operate in a world where the nation state was consigned to the history books, and where we are primarily governed at a European level – no doubt as a stepping stone toward one world government. And they are entitled to that worldview, premature and perverse though it is.

But the Church and her bishops should at least show some embarrassment and contrition at the fact that by casting any concern for democracy aside and throwing their lot in with the European Union, they are helping to impose an elitist vision of a politically united Europe which more people vehemently oppose than have been scared and bullied by the Remain campaign into meekly supporting.

It is not the job of any Christian (least of all me) to judge another’s adherence to and practising of their faith, and so I will pass no comment on whether Andrew Watson’s gnawing fear that the British people might vote for self-government makes him a bad Christian.

But I will say without hesitation or apology that it does make him a bad citizen, a weak example of a community leader and an emblem of everything that is wrong with the established church’s continued role in the political life of our country.

 

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Bottom Image: Abbreviated cartoon by Dave Walker

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Britain’s Strong Tradition Of Liberty Trumps Enforced European Unity

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More good sense emanating from Reimagining Europe, the Church of England’s contribution to the EU referendum debate, this time courtesy of Adrian Hilton of the Archbishop Cranmer blog:

No-one seems to have much memory any more of the centuries of incremental British liberty, stability and fraternity which preceded these past few decades of European equality, bureaucracy and oligarchy. The pebbles of 1973 and 1975 grind down the cornerstones of 1215, 1534, 1628, 1679, 1689, 1701, 1706, 1829, 1928… I could go on, but few of these dates resonate any longer against the incremental attrition of ‘ever closer union’ couched beneath ‘unity in diversity’, in which cultural difference and historic detachment must be subsumed to an overarching judicial-political construct by which our national freedoms and individual unfreedoms are now defined.

Very true. And Hilton’s conclusion is also spot on:

Now we are to decide our European destiny again by referendum, but this time we must be told the truth: we either leave to pursue a future that is contiguous with our past, or we stay to be absorbed into a United States of Europe, which is already being rolled out as “economic governance” – just ask the peoples of Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The “democratic deficit” cannot be fixed: the whole project was designed at its inception to bypass the capricious and unenlightened will of the people. Democracy is an inconvenience: the epistocracy knows best.

We were lied to. Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s the history. If my parents and grandparents had been told back in 1975 that their voting to remain in the EEC would eventually mean that a market trader would be arrested for selling a pound of bananas, or a young student could be carted off to a Greek jail and deprived on his ancient rights of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury, they’d have voted to leave. And that’s what I’ll be doing, whatever honest, sincere or cast-iron guarantees they decide to give.

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Why Can’t We Raise The Quality Of The Debate On Europe?

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The stakes could not be higher for our country, and yet the debate about Britain’s place in Europe takes place in a febrile atmosphere where blinkered partisanship and confected outrage on social media draws a larger audience than reasoned argument. No wonder we are incapable of disagreeing with honour when it comes to our place in the EU

Why can’t we disagree well on Europe?

That is the question posed by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a thought-provoking intervention posted at Reimagining Europe, a new Church of England blog examining Britain’s place in Europe and the world from a Christian perspective.

In his piece ‘Learning to disagree well on Europe’, Welby writes:

People will say that we should not take the risk of leaving, others that it is less of a risk than staying. There will be talk of national sovereignty, of national confidence, of repatriation of laws, or being bound by European laws over which we have no control. The only certainty is that there will be much heat, probably slightly less light, but that it is a hugely important decision, with thoughtful and committed people, including Christians, on both sides.

But what about those in the UK for whom our membership, or withdrawal, from the Union, is not a major question, those for whom the needs and responsibilities of each day take precedence, and mention of political debates such as this leave them cold?

[..] How can we revitalise ideas such as sovereignty and subsidiarity – ideals formed out of Christian faith whose political dimensions capture their meaning only in part – and help encourage a clearly values-based approach to Britain’s future relationship with the EU; one that includes, but does not end with, economic and political perspectives?

All worthy questions. And in the spirit of making a constructive response, I would offer two main reasons that the quality of the debate has been – and is likely to remain – so desperately low.

First, the stakes of the debate are so high: we are not talking about tweaks to the tax code or welfare system which can be easily undone by a future administration, this decision will shape the future of our country, and the way in which the whole world responds to the challenges of globalisation. And secondly, the quality of our political discourse in general is driven by the internet and social media, democratising in their way but also a megaphone for those with the loudest and most outrageous opinions to seize control of the narrative.

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