Is it better to stay in a broken relationship, or exit as soon as possible?
Guy Brandon, 20 April 2016
Anyone who has kept up to date on the EU referendum campaigns will recognise there are plenty of reasons to stay in, and plenty to leave. The problem is knowing which is which, since information can be spun and interpreted to make the case each way. There is also more than enough misinformation to go round. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) appears to be a favourite weapon of the Remain campaign, who offer apocalyptic forecasts of what will happen to our economy if we leave. But the Leave campaign are similarly promising safety and prosperity where there are no guarantees; how, after all, can you know that the grass is greener until you see it?
From a biblical perspective, there are principles that can help inform the debate, but no obvious knock-down argument that indicates whether we should vote to stay or go. Empirical data is hard to come by; reliable interpretation of that data might as well be hens’ teeth. Hence most of us don’t vote on the facts at all. Even more than a typical General Election, we vote on gut instinct. Stay or Leave might as well be a coin toss – and the latest polls suggest the odds aren’t far off that either.
What makes it worse is that few people seem prepared to change their minds. We are tribal and, in the worst way, Fundamental about EU membership, with all the rigidity and closed-mindedness that implies. Fundamentalists are simultaneously dangerous and, in the words of Peppa Pig, ‘A Bit Boring’. If you’re not open to a valid counter-argument, what discussion can be had? Hence playing devil’s advocate (or employing the Socratic Method) can often be a worthwhile exercise.
Technicals vs fundamentals
To use the same word to segue, we tend to treat the EU as if we’re trading on technicals, not fundamentals. Technical analysis, in the context of stock trading, looks at past performance and prices; there is an obsession with charts, which can be interpreted to suggest various different future outcomes. The correct one is only 100% clear with hindsight. It is typically a short-term endeavour that does not care about a company’s long-term viability.
Fundamental analysis, on the other hand, looks at the deeper underlying health of a company by examining its financial statements and other indications of its long-term prosperity. That can often give a very different picture to technical analysis. Value investors like Warren Buffett aim to pick up under-priced stocks that are trading below their intrinsic worth due to quirks of the market. They may then hold them for years or decades to reap the rewards.
The question such a comparison raises for us is, ‘Is the EU a buy-and-hold investment?’ Do we believe it is viable and worthwhile – not just over the next couple of years, but for the long-term? Do we like the fundamentals, the personnel, the leadership of EU PLC? Whilst this is couched in financial language (as is much of the Stay/Leave argument) it goes far beyond the narrowly economic and into the political and ideological.
A failed project
Unfortunately, there is a good case for claiming that the EU is not a good long-term investment for the UK. The Euro is flawed, quite possibly fatally so. Monetary union without fiscal and political union has proven disastrous, since Eurozone members with strikingly different economies, demographics and productivity, but the independence to set their own tax and spending, are forced to share the same currency and interest rates. The Euro is half-cooked: either much greater integration is required, or much less. As things stand it is badly misconceived and significant injustices have resulted and will continue to result. Moreover the Eurozone is in serious trouble, with persistently low inflation and now negative interest rates – which are not helping the problem, and by some analyses may make it worse. The ECB is doing things no one seriously contemplated a couple of years ago, and it doesn’t look like things are going to get any better any time soon.
Britain is, of course, not a member of the Euro – and there will be few who would now claim Gordon Brown made a mistake in preventing us signing up to the single currency. However, our continued membership of the EU would mean we were still tying our fortunes to an institution that we believe will ultimately fail, at worst, or is profoundly flawed and unjust, at best. St Paul warns us not to be ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6:14). Although this is referring to marriage between Christians and non-believers, it raises the same question: what are we doing, remaining in a partnership to someone with whom we simply have irreconcilable differences? Both economically and ideologically, there’s an argument for saying if divorce is inevitable, better get on and rip the sticking plaster off sooner rather than later.
We are, to quote Lady Gaga, Caught In A Bad Romance. We have found ourselves unequally yoked, landed in a relationship that wasn’t what we thought it would be. Or, rather, in a marriage that has changed over its decades-long course. As The Clash asked almost 30 years before Lady Gaga, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’
And here is where we butt up against an uncomfortable biblical truth. Faithfulness is a fundamental (that word again) good. The Hebrew word hesed is often translated as Mercy in English versions of the Bible, but it means something far more profound than that: it is Loving-Kindness, Covenant Love, unconditional loyalty. Hesed is a core aspect of God’s character and a constant in his dealings with humanity. ‘And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.’ (Exodus 34:6-7)
Since we are made in God’s image, we should reflect this in our own dealings with him and with each other. To continue the marriage theme, Israel was repeatedly compared to an unfaithful bride in the Old Testament. Hosea, Ezekiel and Jeremiah make this analogy, and the point that God displays endless patience. The UK is not literally married to the EU, and all analogies have their limits. God sticks with us even though we are fatally flawed, and we should not be so quick to display different behaviour ourselves.
‘Do not be yoked with unbelievers,’ argues Paul, and if we were outside the EU we might decide not to join. But it’s too late for that. A more relevant passage for us might be 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 – to summarise, unless there’s a very good reason, do not leave an existing marriage with an unbeliever. Faithfulness matters.
And, like any marriage, it’s not just about us. The EU debate has been framed in terms of narrow national self-interest: what is best for the UK? As Christians, we cannot accept that without question. Relationally, we have a duty to our partners and dependents. If remaining in the EU is the best way to secure justice, peace, solidarity, religious freedoms, environmental safeguards and more, both for us and for the other members, then we should.
Even if it is with gritted teeth.