One thing is certain about the result of the referendum: there will be some very unhappy people.
In March, as the campaigns for the referendum on our membership of the European Union were heating up, a couple of events struck me. The first was after a meeting at a large UK scientific facility with a very international staffing. After the meeting of 7 people of 5 nationalities, it became evident that the non-Brits were disturbed by the public debates – they used to enjoy working in the UK, but were beginning to feel less wanted.
A couple of days later, at a conference on the UN Sustainable Development goals, the questioning of the panel of speakers diverted from this topic, of vital importance for our world, to that of the referendum. Clearly, people wanted the guidance of individuals from the Christian organisations involved, people whose values they shared and trusted. Rather reluctantly, the panel agreed, the result being 8-0 in favour of continuing to be members of the EU. The EU was seen as a positive on environmental issues, and the act of withdrawal did not sit easily with folk acquainted with Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the Mount! My own view is very much in tune with this. For all its imperfections, the EU has been a significant factor in promoting values of peace, respect and community. I am able to remember the dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, and the revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia as memories of worse times.
One thing is certain about the result of the referendum: there will be some very unhappy people, whatever the outcome. The graphic shows the faces of happiness or triumphalism on the winners, and of fear or grimacing on the losers. The acidity of bitterness can etch into our society, and open up fissures.
Triumphalism will only exacerbate that. Tensions can rise when fear and distrust have been amplified by the result of the vote. After the referendum there will be need for reconciliation. That does not mean getting all to agree quickly, but to honestly and sensitively hold people with different views of the world to work together for the community. Reconciliation can be a hard, arduous process. Reconciliation needs a change of attitudes.
In the pinnacle of his description of what it means to be an apostle of Jesus, Paul says that all are called to the ministry of reconciliation:
“Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called on us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world sure with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God had given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.”
2 Corinthians 5:17-20, The Message
The gift of the ministry of reconciliation is integral with God reconciling the world to himself – it is the responsibility of the whole community of faith, as it is reconciled to God and drawn under the rule of Christ’s love. Jesus was pretty forthright about us realising our own responsibilities, including those as dispute breakers:
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way”
Luke 12:57-58, NIV
We are likely to have ample opportunity following the referendum to exercise the ministry of reconciliation as individuals, and as faith communities. We are charged to get on with what we know to be right. I think the approach that we should adopt has been beautifully described by Barbara Glasson in one of her prayers of commitment:
“In God’s name I commit myself:
to taking more notice,
to thinking more kindly,
to being more grateful.
In Jesus’ name I commit myself:
to taking less umbrage
to thinking less meanly,
to being less greedy.
In our town’s name I commit myself:
to taking less readily,
to thinking more closely,
to judging less quickly.”
“Positive Prayers for Cities”, Barbara Glasson,
Kevin Mayhew, Stowmarket, 2015.