To be honest, I hesitated before writing this blog. As a Bible-believing Christian, my first question when confronting any controversial issue is: what does Scripture teach? And we must admit that the Bible does not, for obvious reasons, have anything explicit to say about membership of the European Union. For this reason, I want to be clear that I have the utmost respect for those Christians who argue on moral and theological grounds that we should vote to leave the EU in the Referendum on 23 June. I am sure such convictions are deeply held and genuinely rooted in a prayerful reflection on Biblical teaching and Christian ethics. But in this blog I want to give five reasons why, from my own Christian and Biblical perspective, I would respectfully disagree with such sentiments.
1. We should not idolise the nation state
I am a patriot but I am not a nationalist. Patriotism is love of one’s country, while nationalism means promoting one’s country at the expense of others. The Leave campaign argues that our future as a nation is more secure outside the EU, but only as a result of viewing the issues of economy, immigration, sovereignty and security through the narrow prism of national self-interest. Boris Johnson has described the vote on 23 June as ‘Independence Day for Britain’ and that is clearly a nationalist rallying cry. But it seems that Leave supporters are making an idol of the nation state and of ‘taking back control’ (the strapline for their campaign). This is potentially dangerous territory for Christians. In his book The Four Loves, CS Lewis wrote that love of country ‘becomes a demon when it becomes a god’. And of course we are urged by God in the Ten Commandments to ‘have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). I worry that some people wanting to leave the EU may have made an idol of the nation state and of ‘British sovereignty’.
2. Indeed, we are obliged as Christians to think how our actions will affect others
The implication of a nationalist approach to EU membership is that the rest of Europe can go hang. We’ll do our own thing in our own interest. But is this a Christian attitude? In Philippians 2:3 Paul encourages us: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ This verse was of course directed primarily at the community of believers, but it should make us think: how would Brexit affect our European partners, or the continent more widely? Many believe the cause of European solidarity will be shaken to its core, perhaps even fatally so, if we vote Leave on 23 June. Other EU nations may hold their own referenda. Some in Central Europe, particularly Hungary and the Czech Republic, seem to be veering back towards the Russian sphere of influence, which hardly bodes well for democracy on the continent. What will the collapse of European co-ordination mean for the European economy, or for security collaboration, or for the environment, or for a co-ordinated response to the refugee crisis?
3. We should recognise God’s hand in the creation of the EU
Some Christians at the crankier end of the spectrum would argue that the EU is the devil’s work. The Oxford academic and Tory parliamentary candidate Dr Adrian Hilton wrote a book almost 20 years ago suggesting that the EU is a Papist plot to undo the Reformation and establish Vatican control over Britain. However, most serious observers acknowledge the Christian (Catholic and Protestant) origins and inspiration of the European project after 1945 and the EU’s benign role in preserving peace in a continent which has been tragically prone to the most devastating wars. The EU has also had a prominent role in establishing employee rights, which I believe is a Biblical principle (‘Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven’, Colossians 4:1). However, the fact that God may have had a hand in the establishment of the EU should not blind us to the weaknesses of the EU and its institutions, nor to its democratic lacunae. But if the EU is God’s handiwork, then surely our calling is to remain inside and try to improve it, rather than to flounce off stage left (or more probably stage right) in a huff? Paul’s words in Romans 13:1-3 are relevant, even if the context is slightly different: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.’
4. Community and solidarity with others rather than going it alone is Biblical
God created us to be in community. At the beginning of the Bible God said of Adam, admittedly in the context of marriage rather than international relations: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). But the general principle of solidarity and ‘stronger together’, and good neighbourliness, is a constant theme in Scripture. In the Proverbs (27:17) it is noted that ‘as iron sharpens iron. So one person sharpens another’. In Ecclesiastes (4:9) there is the famous aphorism that ‘two are better than one’. Jesus himself taught that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbours as ourselves. A key pillar of Catholic social teaching is that we are not simply autonomous individuals, but social creatures who live in community with each other and who should contribute to the common good. If this is true of individuals, is it not also true of nations? This is not to say that all forms of international collaboration are positive (who laments the passing of the Warsaw Pact?), but it does suggest that we should only break bonds of community in the most extreme circumstances, and certainly not out of what Paul would call ‘selfish ambition’.
5. Divorce is not God's ideal
Our leaving the EU after 43 years of membership would in effect be a divorce. We entered into a contract when we acceded to the Treaty of Rome on 1 January 1973, and now we want to exit the contract. Divorce is a tragic reality in our modern world, and it happens for all sorts of reasons, but that does not make it God’s ideal. On the contrary, he wants us to do everything we can to honour the contracts we freely enter into. ‘When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said’ (Numbers 30:2). The leave camp argues that the EU has morphed into an undemocratic monolith which is a totally different beast from the loose ‘Common Market’ which we joined in 1973. But this a specious argument. As a nation we signed up to the rules of the club (including its voting rules and their amendment over the years) and we have put our name on those treaties (particularly Maastricht in 1992 and Lisbon in 2007) which created today’s EU. If a marriage is struggling, our first duty as Christians is to work to save it, not to rush headlong for the exit. So too should be our attitude to membership of the EU.
As I say, many Christians will take a different view from mine. But what is clear is that our membership of the European Union has a moral and theological dimension as well as an economic and political one. Christians must consider this dimension before they cast their vote on 23 June.
Jeremy Moodey attends an Anglican church in Chesham, Bucks, and is Chief Executive of the Christian charity Embrace the Middle East. The views expressed here are his own and do not in any way represent the views of Embrace.