Despite my deep European experience and connections (as well as affections), I decided early on in the referendum campaign to treat it like a real debate and listen to the arguments. The whole point of a debate is that those involved should listen and, if appropriate, be willing to change their mind. I wanted to be open to being persuaded either way. Consequently, apart from a couple of general observations about the nature and terms of the debate on the Reimagining Europe blog, I decided not to campaign for either side.

I then intended to put my personal conclusions into writing here around ten days before the referendum itself – on the grounds that after that there would be little or nothing to say or hear that had not already been said or heard. Then, when I was about to do it, Jo Cox MP was murdered in Birstall, West Yorkshire by a man who, in court, gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. In the light of this, and wondering what would actually constitute a “free” Britain, I have pondered further.

I had intended to do a longer piece, arguing my points thoroughly. I no longer have the stomach for it – and, anyway, I am now too busy with other things. So, I will keep this brief and to the point, but also point to the Bishop of Chelmsford's excellent and thoughtful piece as the context-setter for what follows here.

Baroness Brady wrote in the Sun – and I think she encapsulates very succinctly and well the struggle many people feel between head and heart – that her heart is saying:

I love my country, I want to protect it. We don't want anyone telling us what to do and we'd be OK on our own.”

And there, I think, is the crunch. A mature country, like a mature human being, is open to seeing itself as it is seen from the outside, and then learning from that. A country that can be interdependent is one that is confident in itself – confident enough to learn from others, to look at itself critically through the eyes of others, and big enough to know that no country “is an island, entire of itself”. It is big enough to hold others to account and to be held to account.

The campaign itself has been depressing beyond words. Project Fear was not a monopoly exercise on either side. But, what pushed me to the limit was the irresponsible quoting of figures and promises that were baseless in fact and unarguable in reality. 'Facts' turn out actually to be assertion or mere opinion. For example, taking the economic statements:

  • Trade deals require at least two parties. Assuming that, were the UK free to negotiate its own deals – as if this can be done independently and in isolation – it is entirely possible that the other parties will ultimately not allow us the best deals for us and on our preferred terms. In fact, countries we have slagged off for being incompetent and corrupt might not forget this when dealing with us in the future. It cannot be assumed that negotiations will always land us with the best deal – and the promise that we will get our own way is questionable on a number of grounds. As Wolfgang Schäuble said with typically German clarity: “In is in, out is out”. It takes two to tango and the other's affections cannot be taken for granted.
  • Access to the single market will require that we obey the conditions the EU will impose (including free movement, etc.), pay the money accordingly, but allow us no vote in the setting of the rules or voice at the table when they are being set. If anything is “undemocratic”, surely that is – it is better to be at the table where our voice can count.

But, the economic arguments are not the most important ones for me. No one can promise what will happen if we stay or of we go. Boris Johnson can say with total confidence (as he did last week) that “Yorkshire will thrive like never before if we vote to leave the EU”, yet he can offer not one shred of evidence that this will be the case, what it might look like or on what basis he can state it as bold fact. I would be interested to hear the argument, but none is offered because none can be made. It is all speculation and wishful thinking. So is much of the Remain case for what might happen if we do vote to leave. This is unaccountable sloganising for emotional impact; it just has little to do with reality.

Furthermore, as relatively little has changed in the banking system since the crash of 2008, it is little wonder that predictions of a further major crash are now coming thick and fast. The threats to the British people come not from membership of the EU, but from the same old sources: a financial system that has not been fundamentally amended since 2008, a growing rift between the rich and poor across the globe, conflicts to which we have all been party, and an increasing disconnect between populations and the political classes.

We know that security cannot be assured in isolation. If we are to be secure, then we also have to look to the security and interests of those alongside whom we live. Britain cannot look to its own security in isolation from the wider continent and the wider world. A fragmentation of Europe – which happened a century ago as the archetype of the Law of Unintended Consequences of series of small decisions that, together and uncoordinated, caused a world war – is entirely possible again. The UK will be affected by what happens elsewhere. The EU is the institution to hold the thing together politically so that we do not find ourselves having to react to decisions made elsewhere over which we have had no say because we have no accountable institutional relationship. Leaving the EU might sound attractive for the UK for certain reasons, but what then happens in the EU (and on the continent of Europe) will impact on our islands: we cannot simply draw up the bridge and pretend we can be secure alone, thrive alone.

The dismissal of 'elites' by… er… elites is bizarre. The constant belittling of 'experts' is both miserable and inane – especially when the same politicians will be building their political cases on the support of experts from next Friday onwards. Migration is a global phenomenon and it will not cease to impact the UK if we vote to leave. The debate has used migration in a way I hoped had been left in the 1930s; few of those who speak of it have actually been out of the comfort of England to see the reality lived with in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya. For years migration has been a toxic subject in our public discourse, Concerns are real; domestic solutions cannot be found in isolation from the global.

“Take back control” sounds marvellous, doesn't it? Yet, it assumes we do not have control of our country. Is that true? If so, in what way? Shared sovereignty is not the same as lost sovereignty. Decisions made in the EU are not done to us, but with us. Yet, the rhetoric pretends that we are victims of powers beyond our control – as if we were absent.

Like many others, I am not blind to the need for substantial reform of the EU institutions. Its democratic accountability and financial probity need serious attention. We can only drive these if we are at the table, holding others to account. I believe we need to be in if we are to hold others in. And, contrary to much of the Brexit discourse, we cannot cannot uphold the interests of Britain without paying attention to the interests of our neighbours and listening to their critique of us. Not always getting our own way is not the same as being subject to a lack of democratic process.

Finally, the language of pure, selfish, tribal self-interest – economic, cultural, social and political – is not one that translates into my understanding of Christian identity or justice. When Paul the Apostle wrote to the Christians in Philippi that they should “have the mind of Christ” and “look not to their own interests, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves”, I don't think he was indulging in other-worldly piety. A confident people is strong enough to face this, not to close it down.

So, everyone must come to their own conclusions on Thursday. Promises and predictions made on both sides should be weighed for their realism and integrity: are they wishful (or fearful) thinking, or are they rooted in something accountable in some way? And how might they be subject to “events” that will inevitably confound both the promises and predictions made before “events” happen? I respect the judgements people will make – there are cogent arguments on both sides, even if these have largely been sunk beneath the tide of bile and sloganising that has characterised this dreadful campaign.

I conclude (as there isn't time to do this properly) with an observation. Closely connected with churches in other EU countries, we will continue – whichever way the vote goes – to work with humility and without hubris for reconciliation and closer relationships with our neighbours. Christian theology might not indicate which way people should vote on Thursday, but it does set a context for hopeful (rather than fearful) imagination; it demands that we do not misrepresent our neighbour's case (the ninth Commandment); it calls for the establishment of relationships of love and grace; it opens up the possibility of generosity and security rooted in a recognition of our mutual humanity; and it calls us to pay attention to the constant and ongoing need for mercy and hope.

I will vote to remain in the European Union. And I will do so because I want to ask not just what Europe can do for us, but for what we can do for Europe … and that means being committed to the European Union.

Whichever way we vote, and whichever way the vote goes next Thursday, who and how will we be on Friday?

 

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The spiritual leaders (bishops of the Landeskirchen) of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland has today published a statement in response to the challenges posed by mass migration and the current refugee crisis. The English text can now be read here. The press notice can be read here, and the link to the signed statement is at the bottom:

The statement reads as follows:

Zur aktuellen Situation der Flüchtlinge Eine Erklärung der Leitenden Geistlichen der evangelischen Landeskirchen Deutschlands

„Wie köstlich ist deine Güte, Gott, dass Menschenkinder unter dem Schatten deiner Flügel Zuflucht haben!” (Psalm 36, 8)

1 Gott liebt alle seine Geschöpfe und will ihnen Nahrung, Auskommen und Wohnung auf dieser Erde geben. Wir sehen mit Sorge, dass diese guten Gaben Gottes Millionen von Menschen verwehrt sind. Hunger, Verfolgung und Gewalt bedrücken sie. Viele von ihnen befinden sich auf der Flucht. So stehen sie auch vor den Toren Europas und Deutschlands. Sie willkommen zu heißen, aufzunehmen und ihnen das zukommen zu lassen, was Gott allen Menschen zugedacht hat, ist ein Gebot der Humanität und für uns ein Gebot christlicher Verantwortung.

2 Der Mensch steht im Mittelpunkt aller Bemühungen. Viele Menschen sindweltweit auf der Flucht. Die große Herausforderung besteht darin, jedem Einzelnen gerecht zu werden. In ihrer Not begeben sich Menschen auf der Flucht in Lebensgefahr. Es ist humanitäre Pflicht, alles zu tun, um Menschen aus Seenot und vor anderen Gefahren zu retten. Gegen menschenverachtende Schlepperbanden und mafiöse Strukturen innerhalb und außerhalb Europas muss mit polizeilichen Mitteln vorgegangen werden. Die wirksamsten Maßnahmen gegen die Gefahren auf der Flucht bestehen in legalen Zugangswegen nach Europa. Wir fordern deshalb legale Wege für Schutzsuchende und begrüßen Diskussionen über ein Einwanderungsgesetz, das neue Zuwanderungsmöglichkeiten für Menschen auf der Suche nach Arbeit und einem besseren Leben eröffnet.

3 Unsere Gesellschaft steht vor einer großen Herausforderung, aber auch unsere Kräfte sind groß. Wir sind dankbar für die vielfältige Hilfsbereitschaft! Allen, die ehrenamtlich oder beruflich, aus Kirche, Zivilgesellschaft, Staat und Politik helfen, eine Willkommenskultur zu leben und mit einem beispiellosen Einsatz für die schnelle und menschenwürdige Aufnahme und Unterbringung von Flüchtlingen zu sorgen, danken wir von ganzem Herzen! Mit Entschiedenheit wenden wir uns gegen alle Formen von Fremdenfeindlichkeit, Hass oder Rassismus und gegen alles, was eine menschenfeindliche Haltung unterstützt oder salonfähig macht. Sorgen und Angst vor Überforderung müssen ernst genommen werden, dürfen aber nicht für menschenfeindliche Stimmungen missbraucht werden.

4 Als Kirche prägen wir das Zusammenleben in dieser Gesellschaft mit. Daher treten wir dafür ein, gelebte Willkommenskultur und die damit verbundene Integration zu einer zentralen Aufgabe unserer Gemeinden und Einrichtungen zu machen.

5 Mit Sorge sehen wir die Hintergründe und Ursachen der Flüchtlingsbewegungen: Klimaveränderungen, Kriege, Verfolgung, Zusammenbruch staatlicher Gewalt, extreme Armut. In diese Fluchtursachen ist auch unsere Gesellschaft vielfältig durch globale Handelsbeziehungen, Waffenlieferungen und nicht zuletzt durch einen Lebensstil, der die Ressourcen der Erde verbraucht, zutiefst verwickelt. Eine Umkehr von diesen ungerechten Verhältnissen ist an der Zeit.

6 Uns in Deutschland ist aufgrund unserer Geschichte in besonderer Weise bewusst, welches Geschenk es ist, Hilfe in der Not und offene Türen zu finden. Ohne die Hilfe, die uns selber zu Teil geworden ist, wären wir heute nicht in der Lage, mit unseren Kräften anderen zu helfen. Wir als Leitende Geistliche wollen uns dafür einsetzen, dass Europa jetzt gemeinsam handelt und seinen humanitären Verpflichtungen gemeinschaftlich nachkommt. In der Gewissheit, dass Menschen unter Gottes Flügeln Zuflucht haben, bringen wir die Not aller Menschen in unseren Gebeten vor Gott und bitten ihn um Kraft für die vor uns liegenden Aufgaben.

The EKD previously pubished a helpful statement here on the refugee challenge (9 September) in Europe and it helpfully contains links to other church/Christian statements.

The World Council of Churches has published the following statement:

Today the countries of Europe are confronted with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. But compassion and action seem to be tragically insufficient to meet the pressing need. This is so despite the tragedies reported daily from the shores and borders of Europe – let alone from the countries from which these people have been forced to flee by conflict, oppression and extreme poverty.

It is now absolutely and critically necessary that all European states take their proper responsibility in terms of reception and support for people seeking refuge, safety and a better future for themselves and their families. This cannot be left only to the states where they enter first.

Taking responsibility for human beings in desperate need must be done without discrimination on any criteria other than their needs. We are shocked to hear of some countries rejecting refugees on the basis of their religion.

Today, Europe – both West and East – is being tested on the strength of its commitment to human dignity and rights. This is a test of our human values and Christian legacy.

Some churches are taking a lot of responsibility in this situation, even beyond their capacities. WCC member churches in many of the affected countries are providing support to refugees and migrants, and raising the awareness of their congregations and state authorities to the need for a compassionate response, in spite of limited resources and of their own difficulties. The WCC encourages churches in countries of arrival, transit and ultimate destination in their efforts to welcome the stranger, and to model a compassionate response to people in such desperate need. We need ecumenical cooperation in these efforts, in order to ensure that they make the greatest possible contribution to alleviating this terrible suffering.

The WCC and its member churches’ commitment to supporting refugees and displaced people is part of its original condition and calling. When the World Council of Churches came into existence in 1948, the disastrous humanitarian impacts of the Second World War were still a very present reality. The international community was still struggling to cope with the massive population displacements caused by conflict and crimes against humanity. Churches and their specialized ministries were key actors in the humanitarian response to this unprecedented suffering, and have continued to be in the forefront of assisting refugees and immigrants, from emergency relief to long-term support.

This commitment is shown in many parts of the world also today. During these last days I have seen how the churches in Latin America are responding to the situation of migrants and internally displaced people in their own contexts.

The WCC continues to challenge churches worldwide to rediscover their identity, their integrity and their vocation as the church of the stranger. For we are the Church of Jesus Christ, the child refugee (cf. Mathew 2:13).

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35.

This is the text of an op-ed article I published in the Yorkshire Post this morning:

The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK’s response to the refugee crisis has to engage both head and heart. He is right. To divorce one from the other is not a good thing to do.

It has also been argued that policy should not be made on the basis of an emotional reaction to a distressing photograph on the front page of a newspaper. Yet, the photograph of a drowned little boy became the icon that transformed “swarms” and “hundreds of thousands” into the raw and defenceless humanity whose fragility is easier to relate to. There is a human face to each individual refugee.

So, the current migration crisis in Europe – driven by the destructive violence of dysfunctional countries in the Middle East and northern Africa – is a tragedy of such enormous proportions that we have to respond with the heart (and our hands) in order to address the immediate plight of stricken people. There is little point holding committee meetings to discuss politics if the people the policies are aimed at helping die before the deliberations are complete.

Yet, the Prime Minister is right to insist that the head be engaged. We can rightly be caught up in the immediate anguish about the plight of so many refugees – particularly children who have no family, no home and no obvious future. But, we also need to do the cool work of assessing the implications of the compassionate response we offer.

So, it seems to me that the massive popular response of practical compassion is both powerful and moving. It is also challenging: are we prepared to still be supportive in ten or twenty years time when the consequences of our compassion have to be lived with?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been clear in recognizing the complexity of the situation, but also in demanding a clearer response by the UK Government to the crisis: “Now, perhaps more than ever in post-war Europe, we need to commit to joint action across Europe, acknowledging our common responsibility and our common humanity. As Christians we believe we are called to break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today… We need a holistic response to this crisis that meets immediate humanitarian need while tackling its underlying drivers.

This statement recognizes the challenges of finding a common strategic response to a situation of chaotic origin. It should not be surprising that millions of people feel they have no option but to flee from appalling violence, nihilism and destructiveness. And it should not be surprising that they want to come to Europe when we have spent generations praising the standards of living and relatively peaceful nature of the Europe we have created since the Second World War. It has become a test of our humanity as to whether we respond with practical compassion to our fellow human beings or leave them to their own fate.

Some politicians and commentators are suggesting that we can't solve the problem (principally, but not exclusively) in Syria by simply taking more and more refugees – and reasonably make the case that to do so simply feeds the human traffickers. They are right to insist that more strategic attention has to be paid to tackling the problem at source – especially as so many of the problems have arisen partly as a consequence of western military intervention in places that have now collapsed into violence.

But, this is not an ‘either-or’ conundrum. The Prime Minister has been reported as saying that “we can't take any more”. But, this is not a given – it is a choice. We can take more refugees – we choose not to. That is a different matter.

Conversely, we can choose to take any number of refugees we like, but only if we do so knowing that we must then – willingly and generously – pay the price for doing so. After all, many countries in Europe took in millions of migrants during and after the last world war, and this at a time of poverty, crisis and economic privation. We now have more than the means to address our human and moral obligations; the question is simply whether we choose to do so or not.

To do nothing is to choose. And that choice also is a moral one.

Perhaps the compassionate and costly response of Germany has something to do with a living memory of such humanitarian need on their own land and caused by their own choices. There is no reason why we on our island should not demonstrate a similar compassionate imagination. Furthermore, if not already being done with some urgency, other Middle Eastern countries (probably excluding Jordan which has already absorbed huge numbers during the last few years) should be pressured to take refugees – something they seem not to be keen to do.

Many groups in society – including churches – have responded with remarkable love and care, seeking partnership with local authorities and other groups. We must be prepared for the long haul and not just the quick fix.

There is a fundamental question underlying responses to the current migration and refugee challenge in Europe. In the question behind the title of Primo Levi's arresting book, it is simply: what is a man? What is a human being?

If the answer is that a human being is valued according to their economic contribution, potential or liability, then that will have a profound influence in shaping our response, both emotionally and intellectually.

If, on the other hand, a human being has inherent value – not simply because she exists or is valued by those who say she has value, but because she is made in the image of God and infinitely loved – then the response will be consistent with that. A Christian response must begin with a biblical understanding of what makes a human person – everything else has to flow from that.

It sounds a bit academic to ask a question of (what I call) theological anthropology in the face of such immediate need, but it is important that we do. It is important that our political leaders are clear about their answer to this question and why they think what they do think.

Taking this seriously will help us to distinguish between a response dominated by cost benefit analyses and one shaped by a humanitarian assumption that chooses to make a choice of principle and then pays the price (socially, financially, economically, and so on). Yes, the economic and social questions need to be raised and faced; but, do they follow a committed response to immediate need or precede it?

When listening, viewing or reading coverage of the current challenge and political responses to it, I think this is the question to ask in order to understand what motivates the response.

(I wrote this while listening to a lively debate at the EKD (German) Kirchenkonferenz on what statement to make about these matters. The statement will be published next week and I will publish it on this blog as soon as I get the final published version.)

 

Actually, the crisis is not in Europe, but in the appallingly destructive states from which millions of people are fleeing.

If, as some politicians and commentators are suggesting, we can't solve the problem by simply taking more and more refugees (and, which has some truth to it, thereby feeding the people-traffickers), then more strategic attention has to be paid to tackling the problem at source. And that is where it gets embarrassing – many of the problems have arisen because of western military intervention in places that have now collapsed into violence.

The Prime Minister is reported as saying that “we can't take any more”. This is not a given – it is a choice. We can take more refugees – we choose not to. That is a different matter.

Perhaps the compassionate and costly response of Germany has something to do with a living memory of such humanitarian need on their own land and caused by their own choices. There is no reason why we on our island should not demonstrate a similar compassionate imagination. Furthermore, if not already being done with some urgency, other Middle Eastern countries (probably excluding Jordan which has already absorbed huge numbers during the last few years) should be pressured to take refugees – something they seem not to be keen to do.

The mass migration – from which we in the UK have largely been protected since the aftermath of the Second World War – we are seeing now demands a strategic European response. Anything else will be both incoherent and inhumane. That is the political demand in a humanitarian crisis.

 

Well, that's the sort of title to set the cat among the pigeons.

It sometimes seems impossible to have an intelligent, informed and adult conversation about Europe, it's future and its value. A bit like mentioning immigration in the British press. It could be thought that this isn't the best time to be opening a new conversation about Europe: the news is dominated by the refugee and migrant crisis across the continent, and views vary about what should be done.

But, a new blog – Reimagining Europe – has been launched this week precisely in order to open a different sort of conversation. A wide range of contributors from across the spectrum of opinion has been invited to write. The idea is that people can listen and contribute to a debate that needs to be had. Whatever the future holds and whatever shape Europe takes politically, we will still have to live together in a common continent.

So, this is the church's invitation to a better conversation. Set up by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, it is a case of the churches creating a new space for another dialogue. I hope it will get around some of the polemical polarisation we have become used to (and weary of) when the question of Europe is posed. As we approach the referendum in due course, this blog should prove useful.

 

So, the BBC is being hounded again as if the producers are leftie, hand-wringing imbeciles. Songs of Praise is coming from Calais, and some people don't like it. Nothing to do with the French, of course.

Songs of Praise usually gets slagged off for being … er …Songs of Praise. Often the critique is that it is bland or anodyne. Well, not now it isn't.

The decision to record in the Jungle of Calais, right at the heart of where migrants are trying desperately to find a new life in a place of safety, is absolutely the right one. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Christian Faith is about God in the real world, not relegated to some imaginary fairy land where it can't do any harm or embarrass anyone. The Psalms – the hymn book Jesus used – are full of lament, question, anger, frustration and challenge: why do the rich always prosper, why are the dice always loaded in favour of the powerful, why do the oppressors seem to get away with it? In other words, faith impacts on politics.
  2. Worship, as suggested above, does not happen in the abstract. It pours out of hearts and minds and bodies and mouths of real people – often where the realities of life are the most difficult. The Incarnation – seen particularly in the cross of Calvary – is about God opting into the reality of human life and suffering and not exempting himself from it. He comes to where the pain is most acute and does not turn away.

So, why does broadcasting from Calais cause such a wild reaction? Part of the answer lies in the ideological drum being banged by those – particularly in the media – who want to sell off the BBC and turn it into just another media outfit. Stuff the world reputation and its inherent value. But, I wonder if Calais is just too difficult for us when we feel human compassion, but intuit its clash with political preference.

If we don't like being exposed to worship from Calais, then it is for us to face the hard question of why – not simply to project this on to the soft target of the BBC.

The BBC is doing precisely what it is there for – something no other channel would do, probably. Instead of being dissed, the BBC and its producers of Songs of Praise should be praised for doing their job and doing it well.

(I have just seen Steve Chalke's good piece on the same theme here.)