Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Brexit Article for Hampshire Chronicle

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

“A person who thinks only about building walls… and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel”, said Pope Francis about the recent Republican Party Primary in the United States. It could also be a warning in post-Brexit Britain as our long standing and widening social divisions have become more evident than ever: younger divided from older; the “left behind” divided from the professionals; rural divided from metropolitan; the United Kingdom is anything but united. We have two party leaders stepping down and one hanging on (at the time of writing) amid acrimony and recrimination. A European priest colleague, ministering in this country, feels like a bargaining chip amid the “brutalisation of political language”. With some justification commentators have referred to a culture war. This is a time for bridge building.

As we look forward it’s right to acknowledge both the bereavement and joy which the referendum has brought, along with the political and economic uncertainty which is our current reality. The majority of British people voted to leave the EU and the vast majority of these did so for good and honourable reasons. A tiny proportion will have voted out of prejudice but this is a good time to follow the advice of Elizabeth 1st, given during an earlier time of religious and political turmoil, “I will not open windows into men’s souls”. It’s wrong to make sweeping judgements about those who voted differently from us and phrases such as “little Englander” or “liberal elite” have no place in the reconciliation of our country.

People on both sides of the debate voted to build bridges rather than erect walls but they came to different conclusions on how this was best done. For some the EU had become a wall against the wider world and they voted to leave. For others, the EU was a necessary bridge to the wider world. What I’ve found concerning about the debate is the number of people who’ve said, “I don’t know anyone who voted to leave”. There’s a danger that we’re comfortable only among friends and colleagues who are similar to us, and we’ve lost the friendship and shared experiences of people whose world view and social circumstances are different from our own. The south London priest Giles Fraser put it like this, “We have become strangers to each other and it’s high time we got to know each other again.”

The central act of Christian worship is often called Communion emphasising the fellowship which is built up. We celebrate a collective meal of bread and wine cementing us into a relationship both with God and one another. We think of the altar as God’s table and we recall how Jesus welcomed the outsider to meals. With Jesus, the tax collector or prostitute could be alongside the religious Pharisee. Jesus’ best loved story, the Good Samaritan, embraces the humanity of the despised outsider. We need, more than ever, this spirit of social inclusion as we explore what it means to be a generous and progressive country outside the EU.