EU Referendum: Call to Engagement
The EU referendum vote represents the UK’s most significant national decision in a generation.
Whatever the outcome, the choice we collectively make on June 23 will have a major impact on the shape of Britain’s future for our children and for theirs in turn.
The vote represents a turning point, one way or the other. For a Christian, it should not be primarily an exercise driven by fear, even if that seems to be the focus of political leaders on both sides of the debate.
For us, it is a moment of opportunity and one which we should engage with our eyes wide open, whatever our vote on the day. We should do so not simply for reasons of democratic responsibility – though our right to vote should remain a prized possession. Primarily, we inform ourselves because it is a godly thing to do.
Doubtless, there will be pros and cons with either referendum result. Either way, there are uncertainties for tomorrow. But facing the vote with a fatalistic sigh of resignation, as if our views will not matter, would be an abdication of a God-given responsibility and opportunity.
It would be an abrogation of our calling to be responsible stewards of the freedoms the good Lord has bestowed upon us. This includes the gift of a say in how we are governed – something which is much desired by people living in oppressive states.
It is especially important that leaders sharpen their understanding of the issues involved. We may not have day-to-day contact with the national implications of integration, security, economics and legal systems, as do politicians. But we do serve people and communities which are or will be directly affected by them.
As I have prayerfully considered the implications of the vote, it seems to me that Christian leaders should actively pursue clarity on the referendum issues. I say this for (at least) the following reasons:
1. If we don’t have a vision for the future shape of our cities (and nation), someone else’s vision of that future will reshape us.
“The best way to predict your future,” said Abraham Lincoln, “is to create it.” As Christians, we might take this statement only so far. In the end, God is sovereign in human affairs (Psalm 24:1). Yet he has ceded responsibility for much of the course of history into our hands (Psalm 115:16).
There is no room for human complacency when it comes to the future. We are Christ’s co-workers (1 Cor. 3:9) and he expects, when he returns, to find active and persistent faith in the earth (Luke 18:8).
2. Prayer is most effective in bringing change when it is combined with human effort.
Some churches are actively engaged in special prayer for the referendum. This is vital, as Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Faith without corresponding works, however, is “useless” (James 2:20, NIV). The Lord directs the steps of the “good man” (Ps. 37:23). Being the Great Teacher that he is, he will correct our homework and honour the fact that we’ve done it – but he won’t do our homework for us.
In a national decision as important as the one we face on June 23, every follower of Christ has a little homework to do. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that if we’re not willing to put in some effort, our prayers for the revealing of the Kingdom will be less effective. Church leaders have a double responsibility to be as informed as they can reasonably be.*
Our churches will pray with greater impact if people can pray in an informed way. Helping them to do so is the high and holy calling of church leaders.
3. Eschatology should not produce escapism.
As Christians, we are fervent believers in the return of Christ. It is our source of hope for the future and discipline in the present.
In my own studies of the New Testament, I can find no occasion where the Lord describes the end of the age in escapist terms.
Every parable on the second coming essentially deals with the wise management of present resources to bring about future growth, for the Lord’s greater glory.
These parables are given not so that we might find convenient reasons to avoid present realities. They’re intended to show us the importance of engaging present situations head-on and investing in them our unique gifts, so as to bring a measurable harvest on the final day.
The EU referendum represents an important opportunity for us to teach God’s people about engaged stewardship.
It is a Christian responsibility to be informed, knowing that our votes represent acts of custodianship, whichever way we vote. (Of course, modelling is the most effective form of teaching.)
In all of the above, I’m not suggesting that church leaders should direct people in how they should vote. That is an issue of conscience for the individual believer. However, I am suggesting that we should, at the very least, be able to answer folks who come to us for answers on specific questions.
I’m also suggesting that if we’re to avoid having our people – and those in our communities – wander aimlessly, casting of restraint, we need to provide a sense of vision (Prov. 29:18). Or at least to model proactive engagement.