In spite of the fact that the Bible has more to say about the distribution of wealth, social justice and the welfare of nations than ever it does about eternal life, Christianity and religion have gently been tidied away by many to the sidelines of political life. To ask therefore about a “Christian Brexit” might provoke the response “Why should there even be talk of such a thing?” While fear of religious extremism may have fuelled the leave vote, Brexit is trumpeted as a clinical economic exercise, perhaps with a little national pride thrown in but free from ideological fancy. So many might wonder why would religion get mixed up in it?
In fact, Christian philosophy is something woven into the very fabric of British society. It undergirds many of our attitudes and values, even if the rationales have become obscure, and the foundations repudiated by many. Christianity came to us from the continent, and bound us to the continent, whether it was the mission of Pope Gregory to the Angles on the cusp of the seventh century, or the repudiation of one sort of Europe (the Catholic) in order to embrace another (the Protestant) in the sixteenth. Even if we’ve chosen to renounce the politics of European integration, this doesn’t imply a rejection of a shared European culture – which is just as well given that most of British culture derives from a classical and Christian European past. Could there even be a Britain without Christendom, the Angevin Empire, and the struggles for the European soul played out in the Napoleonic and World War conflicts?
So which Christian values do I wish to see thrive in a Britain set apart? One of the worst aspects of the Brexit vote, much commented upon, was the permission unintentionally given for xenophobia. Too many immigrants (even to the third or fourth generation) are now made to feel unwelcome; too many folk have been given licence to be rude or violent. I want to see a Britain which affirms our human connectness and the fundamental attitudes of respect and hospitality. We need a people centred Brexit, which respects the individual choices and irrevocable commitments that immigrants and ex pats have made about their futures in the expectation of a border free Europe which is now slipping away from us.
I want to see a Britain which reasserts its care for the weakest in its own society and in the citizenry of the world; which is committed to international development and international exchange. We need a culture which is open to and accepting of heterogeneity. In such a future, “British” should not stand in contradiction to “European”, but incorporate an international spirit: a continuing commitment to lowering barriers and not raising them.
In other words, I am hoping that the values and attitudes that we imbibed from the continent when Britain received the Christian Gospel do not become part of the detritus we dump as we say goodbye to the EU.
Brexit may not be a spiritual or religious enterprise, but we do have to defend the best aspects of our national life to build a future of which to be proud. All the churches, including the Church in Wales, have to engage vigorously in the public debate about Brexit and our society as advocates of a Christian vision of social inclusion and people centred politics. In challenging times of change it falls to us to demonstrate what loving our neighbours really means.
About the author
The Rt Revd Dr Gregory Cameron has served as Bishop of St Asaph since 2009. He was previously the deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office in London, involved in the work of the Church at global level. He is also co-chair of the Anglican Oriental Orthodox International Commission.