the hokey cokey referendum

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There has been a lot of heat generated by the EU Referendum in the UK. The official campaigning period started last week but the rhetoric has been flying for many months beforehand and, in my humble opinion, has generated more heat than light. The news has been full of headlines that I summarise as ‘hokey cokey’ – “in, out, in, out, shake it all about”!

So this little bloggage is my attempt at offering some reflections that are not intentionally ‘yes’ or ‘no’ biased. It is intended to ask some Bible-based questions that may help me make up my mind: to consider what the issues are.

“What is truth?”

This question is not from Jesus, but was a retort from Pilate when he was questioning Jesus after his arrest (John 18:38). It’s a pertinent question, though. What is truth?

There has already been and will continue to be plenty of spin – so much so that our brains will be dizzy by the time we come to vote. One campaign will tell us that there are benefits to voting their way, or that there are negatives about voting the other way, and the other campaign will respond by telling us that this is not true.

In response to a lot of spin and conjecture about his identity Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The ‘truth’ he’s talking about here is himself – the truth about God – but for those who seek to follow him we seek to hold to his teaching and then we will know the truth that liberates.

So much of the rhetoric and discussion is about an unknown future. We don’t know what life would be like if Britain voted to leave the EU any more than we know what it would be like if we voted to remain. The future is uncertain and unknowable. So I ask myself, “What is truth, what is conjecture and what is spin?” And I will try to make my decision based on truth. And what aspects of Jesus’ teaching can help me?

What is the most loving option?

This is not about romance! This is about agape – the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s love for us, and the way that he wants people to love one another (especially, but not limited to, followers of Jesus). Jesus taught about this love being a radically different way that seeks the best even for those who oppose us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Agape is gracious not greedy; servant-hearted not power-hungry; and selfless not selfish. My question about the EU Referendum from this is two-fold: “Who are we to love, and which outcome will enable us to be most loving towards them?”

Who is our neighbour?

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he shocked his listeners by making the hero of his story someone whom they hated by virtue of his nationality. This was in response to a question, “Who is my neighbour?” and that in turn was in response to a summary of the Old Testament Law: ‘Love (agape) God wholeheartedly and love (agape) your neighbour as yourself’ (my paraphrase).

At the end of the story Jesus bounced the question back at the person who’d asked it – “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The (perhaps reluctant) answer was “The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus told his listeners to go and do likewise. So my question about the EU Referendum is, “Which approach enables us to show most mercy on those in need?”

“I have come that they might have life… to the full.”

Jesus made this statement (John 10:10) when he was teaching about himself and contrasting himself with people who were only looking for what they could get out of life and of others.

What does ‘life to the full’ look like? Many of the arguments I have heard so far are about economics, but there is much more to life than money. Accepting that part of what Jesus was talking about was a relationship with God (which neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’ can offer), but also that Jesus was talking about more than that too, my question is: “Which approach will enable people to have life to the fullest?”

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus said this in response to an attempt to trap him into a position that polarised opinion (Luke 20:20-26).  He refused to allow people to label him or push him into a corner. He refused to allow himself to be manipulated.

My question here is not about taxation. It’s based on a recognition that a ‘yes/no’ referendum is, by definition, polarising. However, deciding to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not mean that you have to agree with everything that is associated with that campaign. “Which outcome is least likely to mean that you feel manipulated into a position that you do not wish to be associated with?”

 

These few questions are not intended to be the exhaustive list of questions I am asking myself about this referendum. But they are intended to help me think beyond the rhetoric, beyond self-interest and beyond economics and think about how I can engage helpfully in the politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

maintaining your balance

balance stonesYesterday I blogged about my response to the ice bucket challenge and my desire not to be ostentatious in the way that I give to charity. Subsequently I realised that in writing that I don’t want to be ostentatious and then posting it on t’internet I have been ostentatious. D’oh!

And then this morning in my daily Bible reading the passage that was set was from 1 Chronicles 29, where King David was very ostentatious about his generous donation to the building fund for the Temple and that generosity inspired the people to give generously too.

Hmmm. It’s tricky isn’t it? How do you hold the two in balance?

I think that the difference is that David was in a leadership position and was trying to inspire his people to be generous to the project for which he was responsible by leading by example.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association is a very worthy cause, doing great work to help people whose lives are blighted by this horrible illness. If you are inspired to support them in any way, even by drenching yourself in icy water, please do so. I am not against that at all.

But I am not personally committed to them as an organisation in the same way that I am committed to supporting other charities. And while I am in leadership of a church, it’s not my place to tell people to give to charities of my choice – in our church the charitable giving to other agencies is agreed by the church membership.

But if I am saying that David’s experience is different because he was inspiring people to give to a cause that he was leading, does this mean that I should be telling people how much I give to our church?

Hmmm. It’s tricky isn’t it?

On balance, I don’t think so. Because when Jesus said that we should not be ostentatious in the way that we give to good causes his concern was that people were making the act of giving in public into a virtuous act. It’s almost as if the people he was criticising were gathering a crowd around them as they put some money in the busker’s hat, bought a copy of the Big Issue or put a donation in the collecting tin and then turned around to receive their round of applause. They had turned charitable giving into a self-promoting publicity stunt to raise their own reputation rather than to raise funds.

I want to encourage as much generosity as I can. I hope and pray that our society will become even more generous in the way that we support those who are working in so many amazing ways to improve the life and circumstances of others. I hope that we will do it gladly, joyfully, cheerfully, even hilariously. I hope that we can inspire others to give (and sometimes by our own example).

Perhaps too we will reflect on what impulse is within us to want to support and bless others. Why do we give to charities? Is it guilt? Is it a way of salving our conscience? I would suggest that at its best it is an echo of our Creator’s generosity to us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Here be dragons

It may help you to read yesterday’s bloggage at this point and then come back, in order to set a context.

Done that?

Good.

old mapOn ancient maps, so we are told, where the map maker had run out of knowledge at the edge of the map they would write ‘Here be Dragons’ or similar warnings to keep sailors from sailing into unknown perils.

I have a sense that it would be easier to put a similar warning for churches about our future. Because of changes in legislation in the UK we face some difficult decisions and discussions on the question of same sex marriage.

Some people would rather we did not discuss this, reckoning that we are sailing in dangerous and uncharted waters or preferring not to have to talk about such things in church.

Others (on both ‘sides’) have already made up their mind about the issue and are just waiting for the moment to express their view in a meeting. They welcome the opportunity to persuade others to their point of view but I fear may not be so ready to be persuaded themselves.

Some people are still trying to work out what they think, trying to make sense of what the Bible says and are confused. If they had to make a decision now they would struggle.

Some are worried that this issue could divide the church.

And (we must always remember this) some come to this with personal experience – it’s not a theoretical discussion but affects friends and family.

As a church we are hosting a day with Revd Paul Goodliff, Head of Ministry at the Baptist Union of Great Britain (28th September) where we will explore the social context, what the Bible is saying to us and consider a Christlike response. I have been part of a day like this before and it is incredibly helpful. If you can be there, do.

Following that, in the nearish future, we have some difficult decisions to make and discussions to have. Because of the change in the law it is possible that our church could be approached to see if we would conduct a same sex wedding. What do we say?

As things stand I am sure, from conversations that I have had with people in our church, that if we as a church made a policy decision not to conduct same sex weddings there would be some people who would leave our church as a matter of conscience and principle. I am also sure, from conversations that I have had with people in our church, that if we as a church made a policy decision to conduct same sex weddings there would be some people who would leave our church as a matter of conscience and principle.

At this point I am tempted to stop and simply write ‘Here be dragons’ over the whole issue and not go there. Perhaps it would be easier if we did not conduct any weddings at all (which I think is the equivalent of ‘Here be dragons’). But that is not a helpful response and is not a Christlike response.

Instead I am praying earnestly for God’s grace, guidance and wisdom in this. Because the division and departures are only inevitable if churches are human institutions. If we truly are people and places that are full of the Spirit of Jesus, people of love and grace, then there must be a way ahead that does not lead to argument, hurt and division.

Please join me in praying for that for our churches and for ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing.