Whether you voted or not and whatever your opinion, Brexit will affect us all. So, what might the future look like for the church? There is no way to be completely sure what will happen either way, but there are some key things to consider...
The first is that the predicted economic dip following Brexit will mean that some of the poorest communities will suffer. The Institute for Public Policy Research (ITPPR) calculated that almost £1,000 a year would be added to household spending under the worst-case scenario of a hard Brexit, which it said would cause significant red tape, World Trade Organization tariffs and increased labour costs. Even a so called ‘soft Brexit’ could result in an extra £245 on household spending – the ITPPR have predicted that a typical meal for four would go up by £9 and the price of a pair of trainers would rise by about £7. For some families, these increases could be the difference between food on the table and going without to pay the bills. As the church, we need to be ready to serve members of this demographic whether that means operating night shelters, continuing to run food banks or organising community meals.
Secondly, we need to consider the refugees in our communities. Surveys have shown a rise in nationalism in the country since the referendum, and this is already having an impact on those who have fled wars and conflict. A YouGov study carried out in the months following the vote found that one fifth of participants would now describe themselves as ‘English’ rather than ‘British’. YouGov suggests that this shows a substantial number of the population have changed how they think about their identity. In England and Wales, hate crime offences recorded by the police rose by 17% to 94,098 in the 12 months before March 2017. This represents an increase of 123% since 2012-13, when 42,255 hate crimes were recorded. In Leviticus 19:33-34, we see a clear instruction for how we ought to treat refugees and displaced people: ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.’ We have an incredible opportunity to love people and show the rest of the nation how to accept them – the church needs to be at the forefront of this by extending the warmest welcome possible to those who may be being rejected by the wider community.
Bishop Robert Innes, the Bishop of Gibraltar, has told Premier Christianity of the potential struggle for the Church of England to recruit clergy from Europe after Brexit. He expressed his concerns in an article, commenting that ‘currently it’s very easy for us to move clergy between the UK and Europe whereas when we leave the EU we might face issues of visas and restrictions on the entry of religious workers. So we are concerned about that too.’ This could have a very real impact on the number of people responding to the call of God to enter ordained ministry. With more potential restrictions on both sides of the water, this could affect the diversity of the clergy and people considering ordination may become more hesitant because of extra complications surrounding visas and work permits.
A recent Channel 4 dramatisation, ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’, gave an insight into the way the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign was promoted online, and left us wondering how this will impact other political campaigns around the world from now on. For the first time, campaign advertisements were able to change and adapt in real time depending on the algorithm which was generated by a particular person’s social media activity. According to the BBC, ‘the official Vote Leave campaign spent more than £2.7m on targeting ads at specific groups of people on Facebook.’ That is an incredible amount of money! An amount that should make us stop and evaluate whether claims are true, or just compelling. It is important to be aware of where we are getting our information from. The term ‘fake news’ has been widely used of late and it is a real issue. It is important to re-evaluate our sources and search for the truth in the midst of a lot of confusion. 1 John 4:1 says: ‘Don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you.’ John is speaking about false prophets, but this verse is also applicable here - it is important to think carefully and weigh up information before coming to a conclusion.
From the Bible, it is clear that God is used to our tumultuous political systems and attempts at controlling people and places. You can see it throughout the Old Testament when the Israelites were taken captive by different empires and it’s extremely visible in the New Testament through the Christians’ constant struggle with the Roman Empire. This is a comfort which can be drawn from difficult political situations – none of this is new to God. He has seen it all before and knows the resolution before we even try to gauge it ourselves. He is sovereign. We do not know the future of our nation, but we do believe, trust and know the One who does. We take Him with us into every discussion we enter into and He has the power and ability to breathe life into stale and often toxic debates.
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