The EU Referendum: What would Jesus think?

This week I wanted to post about the EU referendum, but I had a feeling that I knew someone who could write much better on this subject than I could myself. Therefore, this post is guest-blogged by Oli May. Aside from being my very good friend, Oli is a former law enforcement officer who now works in the field of international humanitarian aid.

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If you held a competition to rank all the moments of my life in order to identify my finest, the fiercest competition would be for the bottom places – not the top. One of the hottest contenders for last place occurred at a Delirious gig in Southampton, at which I was stewarding in my teenage years.

We were given bottles of water, and Martin Smith (FOR IT IS HE) invited anyone who had decided to follow Jesus to make a practical commitment by approaching a steward and receiving a physical ‘anointing’ with the water. A man and a woman came up to me.

‘Are you a steward?’ Asked the man.

‘Yes,’ I smiled, oozing spirituality.

‘It’s my wife,’ he said. ‘She’s thirsty.’

I nodded sagely, channelling my best inner vicar. ‘You need the water of life,’ I replied.

She nodded enthusiastically. ‘Oh, yes!’

They seemed a little confused when I suggested that I lead them in prayer first, and thanked the Lord for her courageous decision and for bringing us together.

As I began to dump the water over her head, she leapt back, exclaiming: ‘No, no I’m actually thirsty!’

‘What are you doing?!’ Shrieked the husband.

Not my finest moment.

Alas, this EU Referendum campaign has been far from Britain’s finest moment. Rather than informed debate that showcased the best of British thoughtfulness and civility, it has proved to be divisive and frightening. Age, ‘class’ (whatever that is) and education level are all, apparently, dividing us. We’ve also seen people on both sides abandon careful analysis and rely on base emotions – especially fear. Whatever the outcome, the social damage could be deep – risking any ills that derive from it being blamed on the ‘winning’ side.

Let’s be clear on something. The idea that God would want the church to vote a certain way, and that you know what it is, is dangerous. I am convinced that God is more interested in why we vote one way or the other, rather than how we vote.

Every one of us, whether we’re a grizzled old lifer or a fresh-out-of-the-shrink-wrap new Christian, is undergoing discipleship – learning how to think like Jesus in our daily lives. Voting is one of many opportunities to take a step back and think, what values would Jesus want me to take into account as I make my decision? It’s not so much ‘what would Jesus do,’ as ‘how would Jesus think?’

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll be voting to remain. But this is not a Christian case for ‘Remain.’ Instead, in this post I’ll explain how some of the important values in my faith interact with that decision, in case these values are helpful to either side, or anybody still undecided. A range of Christian values could offer guidance for us, but there are three that I’ve found particularly helpful – here they are, and how I am interpreting them.

God calls us to be outward-looking

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”’

Mark 12:30-31

God calls us to genuinely love others. Not just our families, or those with British passports – everyone. So despite the best efforts of some politicians and media outlets, I want to live out a real ‘love’ for people beyond the borders of the country I happen to live in.

If I love someone, I want to partner with them, co-operate with them (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12), help them – and be helped by them. I don’t mistrust that person, pillory them or accuse them – especially if its something somebody else has told me about, rather than something of which I have first-hand knowledge. Love, for me, is about service – how can I serve, rather than be served?

‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Mark 10:45

If I wanted a country that reflected my faith, it would be one that was prepared to take some risks on the basis that what we put out into the world is more important than what we take from it. For me, agreeing to pool power and funds with others, in order to obtain a greater good for all, seems consistent with this.

How about you? How will your vote reflect your love for others?

God calls us to do good in the world

‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’

James 1:27

I passionately believe that true faith shows itself through a desire to help our fellow humans, fight injustice, and – life by life – improve the world.

But some of these problems are too big for Britain to tackle alone, and now that the world is smaller, we can’t ignore them. This is now a world where villains in Nigeria can directly contact vulnerable people in Swansea and defraud them. Where an Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone could hit the streets of Manchester in days. Transport and telecommunications mean that other countries are now, basically, next door.
Tackling international problems is hugely complicated, with a blistering array of barriers. The EU gives us bridges. And while Britain is a member of many international associations, none gives us the reach and influence of the EU. As a former law enforcement officer, I’ve seen first-hand the amazing capability of European Arrest Warrants, and the information and intelligence-sharing organisation Europol to tackle transnational crime. Working in humanitarian aid and international development, I am convinced that Britain’s EU membership heightens its ability to deal with humanitarian crises like Syria and the refugee crisis.

It seems to me that we don’t tackle these problems by increasing the barriers between us and other countries, but by decreasing them.

But what do you think? How will the need to help others less fortunate than you inform the way you vote?

God calls us to humility

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.’

Philippians 2:3

My wife is a doctor, and I am very much not, which is why it’s sensible to listen to her when I’m ill and not embark on my usual approach to healthcare, which sits somewhere between the Boy Scouts and the Middle Ages. Apparently, when I accidentally sliced my hand with a kitchen knife, a visit to the Emergency Department was more sensible than my A-Team-esque attempt to use our Charlie & Lola themed sticking plasters. Who knew?

Now, I am neither an economist, nor a political scientist, EU expert, nor futurist. I, like almost everybody in the UK, struggle to evaluate some of the arguments – especially the economic one (although some proper grown-ups have helpfully provided Ladybird-esque summaries, check out this one from Nicholas Barr).

‘For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.’

Romans 12:3-5

It’s easy when we’re involved in debates to dismiss experts with an opposing view with a wave of the hand: ‘Oh, that’s what they would say’. Similarly, we need to be careful not to reduce highly complex issues to over-simplified ones which we can understand – that would be like trying to repair a nuclear power station by thinking about it like a toaster.

Instead, I find it wise to allow one’s views to be shaped by those who might know more, provided that I have considered from where their opinions might derive. At present, the list of experts supporting ‘Remain’ is blistering.While some economists have supported ‘Leave,’ for example, they are dwarfed in number by those writing for ‘Remain.’ The benefits for scientific research mean that UK universities have largely backed the campaign to Remain, and only this week concerns over what Brexit might mean for the NHS led to Dr Sarah Wollaston switching sides in the campaign.

What about you? Who are you allowing to shape your views – and what are their qualifications?

Conclusion

The world is an ambiguous and complicated place, and when we’re talking politics then we’re discussing the most ambiguous and complicated issues of all. Often, things that seem instinctively ‘right’ start to change and shift upon closer analysis. For me, helpful insights derive from the core values of my faith.

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