Monday, February 10, 2020

Sermon 9/2/20 - Post-Brexit Reconciliation

All One in Christ Jesus

Leviticus 19:1-2;30-37
Galatians 3:28

One-off sermons. Wasn't sure what to preach and then on Monday morning this Leviticus passage came up in Morning Prayer and I knew.

I will tell you a little of my own story at the end. Most of what I want to say will, to the best of my ability, consist of analysis and theology. I will try not to get too personal until the end.

There may be some things some feel unreasonable. Please hear me say that this is clumsiness not deliberate. Do respond in any way you like.

Three things by way of introduction:

The first thing I need to say is hard but you need to hear me say it. If there is anyone here who holds the view that Leviticus 19:33-34 is not eternal, that the time for treating strangers as citizens is over, that our country should not be open to the alien in difficulty, that compassion should be somehow limited, then this church is not for you. And if, it turns out, that a majority hold those views, then, despite being the current leader, this church is not for me.

Secondly a question. What sort of Brexit did people vote for?

Vicar Giles Fraser was a prominent Christian Brexiteer. He took the view that our compassion to the rest of the world was more required than our compassion to EU member states and that our membership of the EU limited our ability to offer it. I don't think that was a majority view in the leave-voting community but it was consistent with Christian compassion.

The late Tony Benn was, all his life, a prominent Brexiteer. he took the view that the socialist government he wanted could not operate within the confines of the EU which he fundamentally considered undemocratic. I don't think that was a majority view in the leave community and, when it was set before the electorate at the last election it was rejected, but it was consistent with Christian Democracy.

In fact, despite many politicians starting a sentence with' 'What the public voted for when they voted for Brexit...' this could not be finished based on the 2016 referendum. The referendum demanded that different people with different views voted the same.

Thirdly, the one thing that gives the Brexit position its power, direction and unity is that little slogan 'Brexit means Brexit'. The government of the day, in 2016, did not have the power to act upon its promise that it would honour the public vote. That was the job of Parliament and Parliament has now done it. But if it did not, that would, for many, be the last straw for democracy. The next slogan 'Get Brexit Done' won the day.

So, for the main body of this, how do we move on to peace and reconciliation?

A few days ago I posted on Facebook this question:

'Now we have left the EU I am interested in what things people here think we have learned from the last few years.'

There were 57 comments. Many of them were of the 'I learned how horrid the other side were' variety. Apart from one nobody offered a comment about personal learning and how it had changed them. So I reposed the question:

'What have you, as an individual, learned and how will you change?' I gave two examples for myself.

This time there were only eight comments. I guess you could generously say that 3 were about personal learning.

It is a thin survey bit I would hazard a guess that we are not yet ready for personal learning.

Galatians 3:28 espouses an overall principle. Neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. Paul makes clear what the whole thing is by naming some of the parts. So there is also neither young nor old, fat nor thin, black nor white, Remainer or Brexiter - for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

The ultimate reconciliation is theological. The putting right of the problem of sin for a God of justice, is done in Jesus on the cross. The putting right of the dissonance between mortality and eternity is done in Jesus through the resurrection. The putting together of the flesh world and the spirit world is done in Jesus. You can be fully human and channel God's power says every healing, exorcism and resuscitation he did. The ultimate authority of good over evil, described as God versus the devil, is done by Jesus alone in the wilderness. Everything else is a little local difficulty.

This is a reconciliation grid.

                                                                 Attitude towards other's goals 
Attitude towards own goals
Not co-operative






It talks of how to reconcile opposing views, It was designed by a man who worked for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the 1970s and to sort out industrial disputes. Depending on how you feel about your own goals and the goals of others you will end up in a different box. Compromise looks like the best but that is lose/lose. Reconciliation is the best - a third way for disputants.

When I did the questionnaire that goes with it, some years ago, I ended up in the bottom left box. I have tried to learn to be assertive about what I want without becoming aggressive. You might like to judge if I have succeeded. Please be gentle.

But we need a good chunk of time before reconciliation can begin. The atmosphere is still toxic. This is because the grid is normally used in sorting things out before they come to a crisis. We have started with the crisis and now need to reconcile the aftermath. The decision is made. How do Remainers reconcile themselves to living with it? How do Brexiters own it and take responsibility for it?

In Ireland Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley governed the country together after the Good Friday agreement of 1998. The willingness of enemies to become friends was powerful. One wanted a united Ireland and one didn't but they could still fix the roads, improve schools and set taxes.

In South Africa after apartheid they formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It may have had limited overall success. Or perhaps better would be to say that the success of it is a matter of debate, it allowed oppressor and oppressed to to tell their stories and speak honestly without fear of oppression.

We have discovered that we live in echo chambers. We need to hear the stories of why the people who voted differently to us did so.

If we had a commission to do this post-Brexit who could be trusted to lead this? A commission of the good and the great, cross-party. I can already hear the criticism that these are 'elites'. Running for leader of the Tories Rory Stewart had the interesting idea to resolve Brexit with a people's commission that one served on, not unlike jury service. To listen to evidence and draw a conclusion. It never took off. He was not chosen as leader.

We have discovered a problem with elites. People don't like them. I hope all of us felt a rumble of dis-ease when popular newspapers described Supreme Court judges as the enemies of the people. These are the people those same newspapers wanted to have control of our laws. We need to watch out for a definition of elites as 'influential people we don't agree with'. Elite doesn't mean unfairly powerful. In the sporting arena it simply means very good.

Isabel Hardman wrote 'Why we get the Wrong Politicians'. Fundamentally, she said, you need to be able to afford to be a politician. To risk a career to campaign and maybe not be elected. To give five years of your life in public service and then have your self and your staff rejected at the ballot box. You need private means to do this. Those from other elites tend to apply.

There are at least three requirements before reconciliation can begin:

1. Truth. Jesus is the truth, we believe. Issues of justice need to be taken into account. We really need to hear if the government has evidence of the referendum being tampered with. The Electoral Commission, which enquires into the validity of public polls, said it could not give an opinion on the referendum because it was only advisory. We believe the government is sitting on the evidence. Why?

2. Listening. All parties need to feel that their views are being heard and valued. We have all discovered that we live in echo chambers. We are simply not subjected to different views enough. One piece of learning from a Remainer on my Facebook question was that he should 'get out more'. In a healthy democracy we need to allow opposition to continue to be heard after the election. After a war we talk about the terms of future relationships. What did God's voice from heaven say when his Son was transfigured. 'Listen to him.'

3. All parties need to be prepared to move from their stated positions. This will take time and many conversations. We need to keep talking about it. We all need to own it. Remainers have every right to ask Brexiters if this is what they voted for and if it faithfully represents Leviticus 19 and Galatians 3. Brexiters should not be blamed for all the world's woes. We all need to denounce the racists, the people who troll politicians and the anti-foreigners. It is not, as far as I can see, racist to say that if your Lincolnshire village now has a population that is 70% Polish then you will feel something has changed; you have lost 'home', something of home.

This will take time.

Two conclusions:

Conclusion 1 (Theological)
Leviticus 19 was written at a time of land-grabbing, as borders of new nations were being established through conquest. It set out the requirement to treat what we might call 'innocent losers' decently. Galatians 3 was written at a time when unity within the church needed to be re-stated. When you come to church with your wife or your slave (men were told) they are the same. You are not more saved than them.

Conclusion 2 (Personal)
What I want to say next is more personal. Without claiming parity with St Paul it is a bit like when he drew a distinction between what was 'of the Lord' and what was his personal view. What follows is my personal view.

Others are free to have a platform to tell me how they feel. In fact the job of a listening pastor has involved me biting my tongue in many conversations this last two years.

I woke up on June 24th 2016 to hear the result. I was a Remainer. I felt profoundly disappointed, sad and yes, surprised. Unlike the election results that occasionally do not go the way I voted, this did not take a few sleeps to come to terms with. How should I behave?


I have felt profoundly disappointed and sad every day since. I personally believe this is a monumental piece of stupidity. What should I do with that view? Can you help me?

You see I still believe it was wrong but that reversing it would not be good either.

If I might propose one thing it is about language. Oppositional politics lends itself to the language of winners and losers. But people who narrowly fail to gain a majority for their point of view, not just Brexit, are not 'losers'. They are unelected or marginally unconvincing.

If I am to be reconciled to my Brexit-voting fellow church members I do not need to feel that I am a loser.

I cannot help in this project. I cannot offer any advice as to how it might be better carried out. I simply don't know. I hope you share my alarm that members of the press were forced to walk off a briefing this week because some were asked to leave. I hope you share my alarm that cabinet members now avoid serious interviews and choose to broadcast for themselves on social media. You may share my alarm that the NHS and the BBC might not survive this.

Brexit is a process not an event. Get Brexit Done was a lovely slogan. We are now out but nothing is done. If a magnificent trade deal is assembled before 31st December to everyone's satisfaction and the analysis of our economy shrinking by 7% is incorrect I will eat these words and say I was wrong.

President of the Methodist Conference, Barbara Glasson wrote this prayer:

'However we feel about today, we mark this Brexit Day as people who grieve or celebrate together. . . let us hold this day gently, giving ourselves permission to leave without elation or despair, determined to love our neighbour, support the weak, and welcome the stranger.'

That is where my musings take me. However you voted in 2016 will you join me in having more strangers in your home, more projects that help the poorest in society and more mentions of Jesus in your conversations? Please can we agree on that?

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