One uniting factor of both sides in the EU referendum is their emphasis on the supposed benefits for “us.” For example, the 6 key facts listed on the leave.eu website are all ways in which it would be good for “you”, “us”, or “the UK”. And nearly every paragraph in the equivalent section on strongerin.co.uk includes the word “our” or “we”.
It is human nature to think first of the effects on ourselves. But is it consistent with who we are called to be as Christians? And if there is an “us”, who is to be included?
Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
At first sight this offers a very direct and plain answer to our question. We are not to act in accordance with what benefits us, but what will be advantageous to others, who are of more value that ourselves. A closer reading shows that it is a little more complicated, as this is very much in the context of relationships within the church, but in that context at least others are more important than ourselves. So on a very practical level, if voting one way will make me better off financially, but will cause the person in the next pew to lose their job, there is a question to be asked.
Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
One of the most quoted of Jesus’s commands. Once again it raises our eyes, beyond what this will mean for me, to the effects it will have on other people.
James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
This is just one of so many verses I could have chosen to illustrate the continuing message of scripture that we have a duty in everything to be considering the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized.
All of which seems to be pointing us beyond “my” interests, to consider the impact of my vote on a larger group of people. The question is, how large? Should I vote for what will most benefit the people of Beverley, or Yorkshire, or England, or Britain, or Europe, or the world? Or perhaps it’s not geographical, maybe I should focus on the effects for the poor, or the disabled, or children, or the elderly?
Some of these may be good groups to focus on, as they may be less well equipped than others to cope with any negative effects from the result. But I would suggest the Bible really only allows for two possible definitions of “us” in our considerations.
Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Primarily scripture leads us to a definition of “us” as humanity. We are called to a global vision. All people have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), all have sinned and are in need of the grace of God (Romans 3:23-24), Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14). There is no division on grounds of ethnicity, religious background, gender, class etc. (Galatians 3:28) – I don’t like ‘proof texting’, but I believe all of the above to be the clear teaching of the whole of the Bible, and I just offer some verses as examples.
So primarily we are called to consider the implications of our vote on a global scale. It is of course impossible for us to know all of these, but there are questions we can ask. For example, if we believe strongly that to remain in the EU would grow the UK economy, we must also ask what effect it will have on the economies of other European countries, and indeed those outside Europe too. If leaving the EU will increase job opportunities for British people, we must also consider its effect on employment in the rest of Europe. This is not natural for us as innately selfish beings, but it is part of the radical call of Christ on our lives.
If we are to narrow the definition of “us” at all then I would suggest there is only one subset of humanity which the Bible allows us to give preference to. Returning to our Galatians verse we are to especially do good to “the family of believers”, in other words to Christian people. This is not something we commonly hear these days, and perhaps sits uncomfortably with us, but if we read the New Testament carefully the early church does seem to have been focused inwards. Acts 2:45, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” in context implies those within the church who had need.
That was of course a particular context of a small, new, persecuted movement. And Jesus’s teaching, not least the Good Samaritan, challenged people to look beyond their own religious communities, both in giving and receiving help. So I’m not entirely convinced, but I can see there may be an argument for taking special account in our voting of what will benefit Christians in other parts of the world, for example the persecuted church and those living in countries which do not allow freedom of religion.
But the main point stands, that there is no Biblical defense for looking out primarily for “our” interests. We are called to have a bigger picture, to consider the impact of our vote on all those God loves, in Britain, Europe, and the world. And particularly for those in a vulnerable position – the poor, the homeless, the unemployed – who are less able in some ways to look out for themselves.
As I finish this post there is a graph circulating on Facebook which shows that there has never been a year where the UK has received more from Europe than it has paid in. This is presented as a bad thing – how we’re not getting our money’s worth. But in the light of our thinking above I question whether this is right. The UK is the world’s 9th largest economy, the 2nd largest in Europe. So surely we should celebrate that for nearly 40 years we have been committed to a system that, flawed and imperfect as it is, redistributes our resources to countries who are more in need. Jesus would, I am sure, approve!