To Brexit and Back Again

uk-and-eu-flag-with-brexit-text_1017-3488 (2)I woke up at 5 AM on the morning of Friday 24 June to find my world had changed in a way that I didn’t want, wasn’t expecting, and, in my opinion, then and now, for the worse.

The UK had voted to leave the EU!

When I went to bed it all looked good – the Remain camp were expected to win, easily; Nigel Farage had already admitted he felt the result would go against him.

All was well in my world. I had no problem getting to sleep.

But them I woke up early and picked up my phone to confirm my expectations…..

I couldn’t believe it.

There was no way I could get back to sleep after the bombshell that had just been delivered. Thoughts ran through my head. I started to worry what this meant for my family, my country and for Europe. In fact, it got so bad that around 7 AM I had to wake up my wife because I needed to share the news with someone. She was equally horrified – and then she couldn’t get back to sleep either.

We got up at 8 AM in silence – both of us sad and upset, starting to grieve for what we felt we’d lost.

The days since the result have been full of mixed emotions.

Some comedian once defined ‘mixed emotions’ as the feelings you experience as you “watch your mother-in-law drive your brand new car over a cliff”. For me, at times, it has felt like my country, and possibly Europe as well, has been driven over that very same cliff by people who have a very different world view from me.

Mixed emotions indeed.

Do I think those people who voted for Brexit are stupid, racist or xenophobic?

No. That has never been my thought.

My thought has not been about them – my anger and grief are not directed at them.

As a Jesus follower, a Christian if you like, my overriding concern is that Brexit will make things worse for the poor and dispossessed in my country. That justice for them is now further away than before the Referendum. That rather than being a poke in the eye of the establishment, a ham-stringing of the elite, it will be the opposite. That things will become more polarised; that the pay gap will get wider not narrower; that the rich will end up getting richer off the backs of the poor and marginalised in our society.

That politics will swing to the right.

This has made me angry. Not angry at those who voted to leave the EU, but angry at the probable injustice of the result. Angry at the politicians who lied and schemed to get the result they wanted. Angry at the hate and violence that has already been unleashed against immigrants and people from other nations who have come to the UK to work and create a better life for their families.

I am angry at the fear that has driven people to reject the other in our midst, to ‘lift up the draw bridge’, to ‘think first of our own’.

To blame the EU for everything that is wrong in our society is disingenuous at best. The reason the poor are getting poorer, that jobs are more difficult to come by, that the NHS is failing, is not because of the EU, it is a direct result of the ideological choices made by our recent governments.

Has being part of the EU made the situation in the UK worse?  Possibly, in some ways, but in other ways it has held back the worse excesses of the ideological choices that have been made.

But now, with Brexit almost certainly becoming a reality, we might have opened Pandora’s box, started on a road that will make the current situation for the poor much worse – because that will be the political will of those who are in government as we negotiate to leave the EU family.

Should Christians be involved in politics? That is a decision for each individual to make, but we all as Christians must be aware of the effect of political choices that are made on our behalf.

Politics in its widest sense is about people; about how we interact as a society as we live together. As believers and followers of Jesus, our desire for and vision of the Kingdom of God here and now must shape and influence our ‘politic’, how we act towards each other, how we influence and enable the culture around us to be one that glorifies the One that we worship and claim to follow.

I don’t understand why any Christian would vote to leave the EU in the current political climate – because, for me, Brexit, at this time, stands in opposition to what I believe are Kingdom goals.

Others will disagree. I am fine with that. We all need to pray and then follow the lead of our conviction, animated and enlivened by the Spirit working in and through us.

What I don’t appreciate is when some who disagree with my position claim that somehow I am not following the will of God because I wanted the UK to remain in the EU. That, somehow, I am disconnected from God because I am angry at what I feel is injustice, or because they think I am a middle class turncoat who voted with the Establishment, whatever that is, in order to maintain the status quo.

That somehow my vote was in opposition to the work of the Gospel because I believe in open borders, in digging wells and building bridges rather than erecting walls.

That the votes of the 48% who wanted to stay in the EU mean nothing and have no value.

I am angry, but my anger will subside, because anger is a part of the cycle of grief.

I am grieving for something I know we will now have to lose – and many of the people I know who voted Remain are grieving with me.

What we need is some space to grieve.

What we don’t need is mockery, self righteous comments or to be patronised with calls for ‘unity’ from fellow believers who voted for Brexit.

Please don’t get upset with me because I am taking time to ‘get over it’.

I need to be allowed to come to terms with how my world has changed as a result of the Referendum. I need to be allowed to exhaust my democratic right to try and reverse the Brexit decision – even though I know it can’t be changed.

But I will be fine – all will be good again in my world. I am by nature a positive and optimistic person.

By the way, thanks for asking how I am, listening to how I feel, trying to understand where I am coming from by looking at the situation through my eyes – and if you haven’t done that yet, then at least try, because it will make the whole process easier for all of us.

In finishing this post I want to quote from an article that was posted by a friend on my Facebook news feed – it is by David Robertson, from his ‘theweeflea’ blog.

I disagree with so much of what he wrote in his assessment of ‘What Brexit tells us about the Church in the UK‘.

We come from different places in our Christian journey, we have different world views – not that I think mine is better or worse – it is just different.

Some of his comments I found patronising and self-righteous, some of his generalisations a bit broad and his stereotyping a bit strong, but, for me, his final paragraphs are spot on and sum up where we all should be a Jesus followers in a post-Brexit world:

“The Church of Christ is still here and still being salt and light. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York said, “As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contribution to human flourishing around the world.”

What we need to ask is how that comes about? If what the Bible says is true…then human being are ‘dead in sins and trespasses’. Not mildly sick. Not a little confused. Not falling a little short of our true potential. We don’t just need to Remain with the status quo, or to Leave a particular political system. We need to be made alive. We need new birth. We need a new beginning. We need renewal, revival and reformation.

I thank the Lord that all over the country there are churches where ordinary pastors are proclaiming faithfully what the Bible says, not changing their sermons to suit the political circumstances; where ordinary Christians are faithfully seeking to serve and minister Christ to the poor, hurting and hungry; and where people from many nations, languages, classes, genders and ages are worshipping together as the Body of Christ. We are not the spiritual wings of the Convertative/ Liberal/ Labour/ Nationalist parties. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, his body, his family, his bride, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Let us be!”

…..and some of us in The Church of Christ voted to Remain.

Just give us time and space and we will be fine.

In or Out? Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism?

hulahoops4It’s a serious question.

Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism? Who decides who is ‘evangelical’ and who isn’t? Who decides who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?

I ask this, because I have read a number of posts around the blogosphere over the last week or so that claim that so-and-so is no longer ‘evangelical’, or that someone should not call themselves ‘evangelical’ anymore.

Is the edge of what is considered acceptable evangelical behaviour being hardened – are the boundaries of the ‘evangelical’ set being fixed more firmly into position?

Whether you are ‘in’ or ‘out’ seems to be very important at the more ‘traditional’ end of the evangelical tent – I’ve recently read comment by Kevin Miller in Leadership Journal on Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren and Don Miller’s decision to ‘give up’ church (which has now been removed), and Brian Maclaren gracious response, Adrian Warnock’s pronouncement that Steve Chalke is “no longer an Evangelical by any realistic definition”, and now all the fuss over the World Vision decision to employ gay and lesbian Christians who are legally married – and then its decision to change its mind on the matter.

I can’t help but feel that lines are being drawn.

And not, it seems, lines drawn on the traditional theological areas of contention, such as the nature of the atonement, the centrality of the cross, methods of evangelism, the conversion experience and the ‘social gospel’, but on new issues that have become important within a wider post-modern cultural context, namely, the value of church structure and community, the role of women, LGBT rights and the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture (what ever that actually means).

Benjamin L Corey on his Patheos blog yesterday made interesting comments and observations about the World Vision controversy, reflecting on what it means for the wider evangelical community:

“Although it may not have always felt this way, Evangelical Christianity was a relatively large bubble that had room for a range of perspectives. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mainstream Evangelicals, and Progressive/Emergent Evangelicals were able to all be in the same space – though there was usually friction in areas of overlap, for a time it was big enough for everyone.”

Over the last few years, evangelicalism has become more and more centre set rather than bounded set – with boundaries becoming more and more blurred around a main central point of agreement, namely the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His bodily resurrection.

But this now seems to be changing, as Corey explains:

“Yesterday however, we saw a merger between mainstream evangelicals and fundamentalist evangelicals. Together, they were able to merger to the point that it fractured the [evangelical] circle, sending the rest of us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] outside of what used to be a diverse evangelical tribe.

[….] What we saw the death of yesterday obviously wasn’t the theological category of “evangelical” but the culture of “evangelicalism”, it was a death of the tribe as we knew it. The fundamentalist and the formerly ‘main stream’ evangelicals drew hard lines in the sand, merged together, and made it clear that they are not interested in big tents or leaving room for the “other”.”

Interestingly, he drew parallels to Jewish Temple worship in New Testament times:

“Basically, if evangelicalism had a Court of the Gentiles, the other two groups [fundamentalist and mainstream evangelicals] just set up a bunch of tables and told us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] to go wait outside.”

In other words, the fundamentalist and mainstream evangelical ‘elites’ have decided that they want to control who is allowed ‘in’, and who should be left ‘out’, of the evangelical tent, and they are using cultural issues, rather than traditional theological issues, to draw the line.

As Corey concludes his reflection on the pressure put on World Vision to withdraw its diversity policy with regard to employing married gay and lesbian Christians:

“As a result, Evangelicalism as we knew it, died. Instead of affirming the trinity and the inspiration of scripture in order to be called an evangelical and leaving all other theological debates open for charitable disagreement, the New Evangelicals have now added neutrality on same sex marriage something that must be disavowed before signing on. When leaders wished World Vision “farewell” and declared this “apostasy“, they made the lines dark and clear: you can’t be an evangelical if you don’t agree with them.

It was a requirement that didn’t need to be added and has at best, created a “New Evangelicalism” with very little room for diversity, let alone outsiders.

It’s clear they’ll now go in their own direction– without us. Not by our choice, but by theirs. Not because we left, but because they left.”

You can start to see what will happen in this ‘New Evangelicalism’.  Soon, progressives and emergents will not be welcome anymore – opinions will harden, the questioning of central dogma will no longer be allowed, those who disagree will be asked to leave, or asked to stop using the evangelical ‘brand’.

It also shows that these ‘New Evangelicals’ have missed the cultural move away from authoritarian and static structures to relational and fluid structures – they are mixing up holding to theological truth with maintaining a cultural expression – saying you can only be theologically true if you stick to our fixed cultural understanding – hold to our traditional position or you are can no longer identify yourself as evangelical.

I think this is a mistake – and once again shows that evangelicals are as influenced by the worldly culture as anyone else – it’s a power trip, a land grab, trying to put a wall around land that doesn’t belong to them.

Mainly because it belongs to Jesus.

It’s His church, not theirs, and they need to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, He wants ‘in’ those that they want ‘out’.

The paradox of choice

I love these short videos from RSA Animate, they are so inspirational and really make me think.

This one, ‘The Paradox of Choice’ by Renata Salecl, is a really good observation about ‘choice anxiety’ and why, culturally, we are never satisfied with what we have…..and for me, this is as relevant in the church as it is within our wider society.

If we think that we are not influenced by such things in the church then we are naive – one of the big issues for me is how consumerism and choice anxiety, and the search for the ideal choice, are pulling faithful people away from a scriptural experience of life, mainly, one based on service, community and ‘body’ ministry.  We all think we are living scripturally, but in reality we are living tribally, being influenced by the same societal pressures and drivers as anyone else…….which, when you think about it, is frightening!

Stanley Hauerwas on Evangelicals and tradition

Some interesting thoughts from theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

He admires the evangelical zeal and their high regard for the Christological centre of Scripture but highlights what he sees as the disconnect between the emphasis on a ‘personal relationship with God’ and the historical experience of the church at large – because the contemporary evangelical concept of faith is founded on the presumption that you can “make God up for yourself” without mediation through the lense of tradition and the two thousand year history of the church.

Carl Trueman: Consumerism and the church


There is an exert of an interview with Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, on the Q portal which I though interesting, so I have reproduced it in full below:

Q: You argue at great length about the negative impact of consumerism on the Church. How has it influenced us?

A: In economies that depend upon people buying things, there is a need on the one hand to instill the notion that, in some sense, the meaning of life is to be found in the acquisition of goods, or, perhaps to be more precise, the process by which one acquires goods; on the other hand, there is a need to constantly recreate markets or find new ones. The impact of this is huge and I cannot give an exhaustive account here, but the following would be examples, in no particular order.

In society in general:

First, it fuels the the infantilisation of society. Youth is a huge market, and the selling of goods to such a market not only appears to have fostered a view among young people that they are of central importance and much wiser than their elders, it has also created a situation where the desire to be young and trendy percolates through all age brackets. That flies in the face of biblical teaching, where a premium is generally placed on age and experience.

Second, it encourages huge levels of personal debt.  Economists know that a certain level of debt is good: it oils the wheels of the economy, fuels creativity, helps with social mobility, etc. But unsecured debt linked simply to purchasing can very quickly grow to a level where it is actually hindering all of those things. When the values of the culture link status to possessions, and when credit is easy to obtain, the recipe for bad debt is clear; and that, of course, is a large part of the economic problem, both macro and micro, with which we are facing today.

Third, and more subtly, it produces notions of truth and ethics that are as malleable as the market place.  By placing individual purchasing power at the heart of the system, public morals are made dangerously vulnerable to all manner of transformation. The right of private choice, the centrality of consent, and the need to avoid hindering the economy are all related to consumerism. We see this in the arguments in California about how anti-gay marriage legislation is bad because it impacts the economy by discouraging gay tourism; similar arguments can be, and have been, made about abortion. If it makes my life better and does not hurt anybody else, how can it be wrong (see the current debate about the Columbia professor who had an incestuous relationship with his adult daughter)? And if it helps the economy as well, surely it must be right?

In the church all this is evident in a number of phenomena: the obsession with youth culture; a model of ministry that judges success in terms of numbers, not faithfulness; a culture which disregards the past; a dislike of anything approaching discipline, as the church is there for my needs, to scratch where I am itching. When church is just one more product to buy or leave on the shelf, then marketing, not theology, become the driving forces in her life.

Any thoughts or comments?

Read the original article here.

Being Church through Jesus Centred Living


I have been preaching recently about the nature of church, because I think we get confused about what church actually is, or more importantly maybe, confused about what it isn’t.

Church is not a building, it is not a Sunday morning service, and it is certainly not an exclusive members only club.  More importantly, it is not irrelevant and unnecessary, and it is absolutely not about you and me.

Church is about Jesus.

It is where he abides with us, in the midst of his people, present with us through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He is away from us, sat at the right hand of the Father and yet is near to us, and where he is, with us, that is church.

Why do we always feel the need to make it more complicated than that?

As far as I am concerned, whenever there are two or more people committed to one another in order to be obedient to the commands of Jesus as outlined in the Bible – meeting together regularly to worship and value him, seeking the Word together, being disciples and making disciples, baptising and encouraging others to follow him and his ways – then they are being church.

Which means that as a Jesus follower, whenever you meet with somebody else, you can be church!

And I think it is essential that we all start to see church in this way in order to break the consumer culture and sacred-secular duality that is so prevalent amongst contemporary believers.  I can’t help but feel that the future of church, certainly here in the rural parts of the UK, has to be more about building networks than maintaining traditions, even if those traditions are good and of value.

Hold on, I hear you say, what about Elders and Deacons, heresy and authority, meetings and programmes?  Essential issues that need to be considered in detail.  But fundamentally, if Jesus isn’t at the centre of all that we are doing then we are not being church – everything else is superfluous if we don’t get this right in the first place.

What do you think?

Defining church

Interesting article today across at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog asking “what is church?”.

God is creating a community–a cross-cultural community—that is, a people that consists of folks who may be very different from one another, but who share a “common unity” in Jesus Christ. That is the NT vision of church. Our unity does not consist in the fact that we all have tattoos or like grunge music or meet in a pub. Nor does it consist in the fact that we are mostly conservative middle-class suburbanites. Nor does it consist in our whiteness or blackness or the specific ethnic culture in which we live. Nor is it about organs, hymns, robes, and pews.

Our only true oneness is in Christ. We accommodate to “where people are” to reach them in the world for Christ, making them disciples. But then, when we baptize them and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded us, we call them into the practice of cross-cultural love within the new family God is creating. What the world needs to see is faith communities made up of people vastly different from one another who have laid hold of that.

That’s church.

Is it?

What do you think?

Read the full article here.

Emerging revolution – the church should watch and learn


Kester Brewin has posted an interesting article on his blog today about the part that social media is playing in contemporary revolution – both inside and outside the church:

….change occurs when normal people are given the opportunity to communicate with one another, unmediated by the powers that be. It is irrelevant whether that is Twitter or Facebook or otherwise. What is important is not information dissemination, but shared conversation. Not about ‘this is the news’ but ‘this is where we’re going to meet to make the news.’ Mubarak was toppled because people spoke to one another and decided together that enough was enough. If power-politics is about ‘Divide and Rule’ then social media is the antithesis of this. It is about ‘Unite and Change’ and though these networks themselves did not bring down the government, they facilitated the huge protests and encampments that did.

This, I believe, is how we can see a line joining the revolution in Egypt to the whole emerging church movement: things happen within seemingly dead and immobile institutions when people begin to talk to another and believe that a new way is possible. I don’t believe that it is coincidence that the rise of the internet was paralleled with the rise of the emerging church movement. It wasn’t that the internet made a new way possible, but it did give permission to new forms of connection and communication: people were able to disseminate ideas and discover that they were not the only ones feeling a particular way.

I think this has always been the case, and part of the core code of the gospel is this base-level communication. Jesus didn’t send out edicts or write proclamations. He simply walked around and spoke to people. The message of Pentecost is not about fire-power, but simply this: speak to one another in language you can understand.

I’m optimistic that social media – if it can escape the grip of promoted tweets and constant advertising (which I’m not sure it can) – will continue to be a powerful tool to make powerful structures more accountable. Not because information will be shared, but because people will simply be able to share how they are feeling, and work to act together.

I think he has something here. Revolution is by nature a bottom-up rather than a top-down phenomenom. Real change cannot be forced on someone, it has to come from within them.

In the 1962 film of The Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who is in prison for life. The film to some degree focusses on the relationship between Stroud and Harvey Shoemaker, the Warden – played by Karl Malden. After 35 years in prison, Stroud has seen what justice and rehabilitation in the penal system is all about and he writes a book which Shoemaker finds in his cell.

They then have a conversation about what rehabilitation means and Stroud says this:

“I wonder if you even know what rehabilitation means.  The unabridged Webster’s International dictionary says that it comes from the Latin root word ‘habilis’, which means to invest again with dignity.  Do you consider that part of your job, Harvey, to give a man back the dignity that he once had?  Your only interest is in how he behaves.  You want your prisoners to dance out of the gates like puppets on a string with rubber stamp values impressed by you, with your sense of conformity, your sense of behaviour, even your sense of morality and that’s why you’re a failure, Harvey, because once they are on the outside they are lost souls, just going though the motion of living, but underneath there is a deep, deep hatred of what you have done to them.  So the first chance they get to attack society they do it and the result is that more than fifty percent come back to prison”.

Stroud recognised something significant.  Edicts from above can change and condition your behaviour, but they can’t change your heart – make you do, feel and believe what is right and just.

Only a change of heart will impact your worldview – and that has to come from within you.

This is just as true in a secular context as in a church context – and it is this change of heart, when it occurs in a ‘critical mass’ of people, that can start the chain reaction and leads to the ‘tipping point’ of revolution.

To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does”

The problem is that so often revolution takes place as a result of anger, hate and the desire for revenge – and these are not good characteristics on which to found a vision for the future. For reformation to follow revolution then the anger needs to be replaced by a common sense of purpose and shared identity that is inclusive of all – a true sense of ‘communitas’ if you like, the compassion and intimacy that develops amongst people who share an experience of transition and vulnerability.

This is my prayer for Egypt, as well as my prayer for the church – hopefully with social media fuelling the spread of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.

In the one case, my hope is that it will result in equality, equity and lasting peace for the Middle East, and in the other, lead to revival.

Read Kester Brewin’s full article here.