As we consider how to vote, we have to begin by identifying the question we are answering. On a very fundamental level this is a debate about political identity. Some of the campaign material presents a choice between being British or European. On a human factual level I could be said to be both, but as a Christian there is a sense in which I am neither.
Philippians 3:18-21, “…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ… Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The implications of this for our current issue are clear. Our primary identity is not to be found in connection to any earthly political entity, but in Jesus Christ. We are first and foremost citizens of his kingdom, and this is where our primary loyalties must lie. This radically changes the question when it comes to the referendum. It is no longer, “Do I identify more with ‘Britishness’ or ‘European-ness’”, but rather, “What will best enable me to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Hebrews 11:13-16 says of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
The idea of being “foreigners and strangers” has been wrongly interpreted by some to suggest we should keep a distance from this world – cling on and hope heaven comes soon. That is contrary to the message of the Bible as a whole. But there is a sense in which we must not become too bound up in the things of the here and now, because we are ultimately called to look forward to something far better which is to come.
Which is one of the reasons why too overt patriotism makes me uncomfortable. The next post in this series will deal in more detail with the fact that both sides frame the question in terms of “What will benefit ‘us’?” and whether that is a right question for a Christian to ask. But even if it is, we do have to consider who “us” is.
I used to be very proud of my Welsh heritage, and I still identify with much of what that has to offer. Many years living in the South have made me a proud Northerner (even if I was born in London). But over time I’ve come to realise quite how much of an idol both of those identities can become at times, and how both need to take a much lower place in my life than my identity as a child of God in Jesus Christ.
The non-Conformist tradition used to be very strong on this issue. In contrast to the established churches, where religion and state were inextricably entwined, Baptists and others argued for a healthy separation. Loyalty to the state as long as that didn’t require us to go against the teachings of Jesus, but a recognition that all nation-states are man-made constructs, temporary in their nature, and our ultimate allegiance is to God alone. I think we need to recover some of the more radical elements of this.
So I am not proud to be British, though my passport tells me I am. I am not proud to be European, though my passport also tells me I am that. I am not proud to be Welsh, or northern, or living in Yorkshire. What I am is blessed to be a citizen of the only Kingdom that matters.
And so when it comes to voting, please don’t vote on whether you would rather have a British passport or a European one. Vote as a citizen of a higher kingdom, a heavenly city. And ask what will best enable you to express your service of the King of Kings as you look forward to the day when his Kingdom shall come and his will be done on earth (Britain, Europe, and all of it) as it is in heaven.