by Jonathan Tame, June 27th 2016
As I write this, three days after the surprise vote for Brexit, the media is preoccupied with the leadership crisis in both Conservative and Labour parties, as well as the wider economic and political turmoil in the UK and EU following the vote.
These concerns are likely to dominate the headlines for some time to come, and most Christians feel they can’t do much about them except to watch and pray, and come to terms with the outcome, whichever way they voted. However, behind the scenes a crucial window of opportunity may be opening to reform some of Britain’s deeply flawed economic and political structures.
Although people were asked to make a decision with wide-ranging and long-term consequences, neither the Remain nor Leave campaigns presented a clear vision for Europe and Britain’s future either inside or outside the EU.
For all the exaggeration, hubris and scaremongering on both sides of the campaign, the Leave side prevailed across so much of England in part due to disillusionment with remote Westminster politics and the disparity between the wealth and prospects of people around London compared to most of the rest of the country. That frustration was directed against the EU with its over-centralised bureaucracy and one-size-fits-all policy of free movement. However, Brexit alone will not change the underlying economic and political structures; a deeper reform is needed.
What can address the loss of roots and cultural identity that many feel in the former industrial heartlands of the Midlands and North? How can the growing inequality of wealth that has followed globalisation be tackled? And more immediately, what steps can we take to heal the deep divisions which the referendum has exposed?
Let’s look to the Bible for some wisdom here, and especially the jubilee laws in Leviticus 25 that have some striking similarities to our 21st century problems. God shaped the values and institutions of ancient Israel through the Torah, in order that she should be a light and example to other nations. Within those laws, there was a key mechanism to limit long-term economic inequality and a loss of roots and identity. Every 50th year, the jubilee was proclaimed: slaves were set free, property that had been sold in hard times was returned to the original family owners, debts were cancelled and people, clans and tribes reunited to celebrate God’s goodness and provision. This radical ‘reset button’ had social, economic and cultural implications: it prevented the build-up of intergenerational debt, gave a purpose to extended families, ensured that every household belonged in a community and provided every person with a meaningful stake in the economy.
This resonates with the rest of the scriptures: God created us as relational beings whose identity is rooted in family and place; he gave us the responsibility to fill the earth and bring order to the world; and showed us how to seek justice and reconciliation when things go wrong due to sin. This means the gospel is hugely relevant to the challenges of a post-Brexit Britain.
So let us ask God to guide us as we engage in the conversation about what kind of Britain we want to build. Now is an important moment to re-examine the biblical vision for society; some of our resources which can help you do that are the book After Capitalism (a series of Cambridge Papers giving a biblical perspective on the economy) and the Jubilee Roadmap (a short booklet introducing the Bible’s relational vision for society).
Our clear calling as God’s people is to be salt and light throughout this time of change and turmoil. Let us pray for servant hearts and wise strategies to help rebuild our society, leading to a broader participation in our democracy, stronger local and regional economies and flourishing communities of unity in diversity across the length and breadth of Britain.