On June 23rd this country will be making a historic decision as we go to the polls for the referendum on our membership of the EU. As David Cameron has said, this is potentially “more important than a general election”, so it is important that we all engage with it. Many people have been wrestling with the decision which has not been made any easier by the ferocity of the debate and the nature of the claims and counter-claims. But how should we approach the referendum as Christians?
There is of course no easy answer and in reality Christians will be represented on both sides of the debate. However I want to suggest a couple of areas that Christians should be particularly interested in when it comes to assessing whether or not we should remain in the European Union.
Firstly, to what extent does the EU advance the ‘common good’? Much of the debate has centred on whether the EU is good for our economy or not, but as Christians God calls us to a bigger vision. The bible tells us that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’, Jesus told us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (which includes “enemies” as the parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear) and Christian tradition has always sought after the common good, which includes people from all nations and cultures. Rather than simply seeing our membership of the EU in terms of what it can achieve for us, the question we should be concerned with is: does our membership enhance or hinder the advancement of the common good in the wider world?
A second and related issue is to do with the exercise of power in the pursuit of justice and peace. St Paul writes in Romans that ‘there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God’ and that it is ‘God’s servant for your good.’ Paul’s vision for the world is that human institutions are part of God’s pattern for the world to bring about justice and order. In a democracy we all have the privilege to be part of that system and to hold it to account. But the question is not so much about who gets to have the power, as has often been the focus in the debates, but what they do with that power. Does the EU effectively contribute to a just and peaceable world? Is it an effective institution in advancing some of the requirements God places upon us, namely to care for our planet, to look after the poor, marginalised and vulnerable?
There are of course many other matters to consider and we all have plenty of thinking to do. My encouragement is that as we do, we do not divorce our faith from these decisions but approach them prayerfully and reverently before God.