The EU - in or out? - Kensington Baptist Church




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The EU – in or out?

 

When I was in my teens, the European Union – then known as the EEC – had just nine members. Out on the sillier fringes of Christian beliefs about the end-times, there was the idea that when a tenth member joined, the organisation would fulfil the picture of the ten-horned Beast of Revelation 13. A quick search on-line reveals that updated versions of this view are still around, even though the EU now comprises 28 members. Sadly, Christians can be just as gullible as anyone else!

 

In this article I want to set out a few thoughts about the approaching referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. This is a really important issue for our country and – like many other issues – it divides Christians. It’s possible to find articulate and well-argued material on both sides of the debate.

 

My intention here is not to tackle every argument – that would take far too long and go well beyond any expertise I might have! And I’m not going to touch on the process and the politics that led up to the referendum itself. Instead, I want to suggest what the priorities should be for Christians making up our minds, and try to point out some gaps or mistakes in the arguments we are being offered.

 

The priorities for Christians

 

At the time of the last election, I argued that ‘gospel freedom’ should be right at the top of Christians’ priorities in deciding how to vote. I think the same in this case too, though the arguments are now a bit different. It’s not just about our freedom to practise and proclaim our faith in our own country, it’s also about freedom to take the gospel to where it needs to be heard. All Christians should be clear about this: what Europe needs more than anything else is not economic prosperity, clean beaches, green technology or equal rights. It needs the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is one of the most desperately needy of the world’s mission fields – most parts of the continent of Europe have far fewer Bible-believing Christians than the UK. It is also a place where representatives from the world’s most closed countries can be found, and can potentially be reached.

 

In general, peace and stability favour the spread of the gospel. While I don’t think that leaving the EU would make it much harder for British citizens to visit or work on the Continent, it remains a possibility – which is an argument in favour of remaining ‘in’, though not a very strong one.

 

The other aspect of this argument is religious freedom at home. European courts have sometimes defended, and sometimes failed to defend, the rights of British citizens to freedom of religion. Legislation both in Britain and in many continental countries has moved rapidly away from biblical morality in recent years, and this trend seems set to continue. For that reason, I believe it is difficult to argue convincingly whether membership of the EU in the coming years would help or hinder religious freedom in the UK.

 

Is it OK for Christians to vote in a way which will improve economic prosperity? Yes, of course it is – it just shouldn’t be our top priority. We want people to be prosperous, and we want to be able to give more too. The great majority of economic commentators are saying that the economic risks of leaving are greater than those of staying. I can’t see any reason to disagree with them.

 

One of the most pressing topical issues is that of refugees and migration. The point of this article is not to argue the case for or against allowing more refugees into Britain. Clearly, our EU membership has not prevented Britain from controlling access or the right to settle for refugees and asylum seekers. We may well want to argue that Britain should accept more refugees, and as Christians I think we should certainly be arguing for much better treatment of asylum seekers (especially in detention centres), but I don’t think that EU membership makes any difference to these arguments. As for economic migration, and the freedom of movement that is one of the EU’s core principles – leaving the EU clearly would give us greater control over our borders, but not the absolute control that the pro-leave camp often claim. I’ll return to this point.

 

One more priority for Christians. I want to make a strong plea for courtesy and kindness as we debate the issues. Real Christians will be characterised by a desire to listen, to think the best of one another and to be fair to other people’s views. We will not mock, abuse or caricature each other. Especially on social media, that character is very often missing.

 

Blind spots in the arguments

 

Let’s look at a few important points that proponents of each side of the debate are liable to overlook.

 

Arguments overlooked on the pro-stay side

 

 

Arguments overlooked on the pro-leave (Brexit) side

 

 

Which way will I be voting?

 

As this article will have made clear, I am absolutely no fan of the EU! However, I think I will reluctantly be voting to remain. I will be holding my nose as I do. I think the risks of leaving are too great and too hard to quantify. Guaranteed freedom of movement, in all directions, is of benefit to the spread of the gospel. And I don’t want to risk the end of the UK.

 

Other things to read

 

Reliable and neutral sources of information: the Office for National Statistics (www.ons.gov.uk) and the charity Fullfact (www.fullfact.org/europe).

 

John Stevens has written a very helpful blog post at http://www.john-stevens.com/2016/04/should-we-stay-or-should-we-go-deciding.html, which covers ground fairly similar to this article and with a fuller introduction. He also refers out to a couple of other articles – pro-stay by Timothy Garton Ash and pro-leave by Gisela Stuart (which I didn’t find as well-argued). A fascinating (and long) article giving first hand insights into the internal machinations of the EU, and its lack of accountability, is at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/yanis-varoufakis-why-we-must-save-the-eu –  written by Greece’s former finance minister, who had good reason to feel very sore about it.

 

PS

 

Remember, I don’t claim to have covered everything – far from it! I’d like to hear what people think, and perhaps there will be another article in a few weeks’ time.

 

Steve Wilmshurst

April 2016

Steve Wilmshurst

Steve is Director of Training for Kensington. He's married to Andrea and they have two daughters, Sarah and Anna. Steve also runs the Cornhill+ training programme.