My lifelong dream of living in the United Kingdom became a reality when we moved here nearly two years ago. I eagerly put down roots and dug in for the long haul, looking forward to the day I’ll be allowed to apply for dual citizenship to become both an American and a Briton. Given my citizenship goal and my British address, I can’t help but have a vested interest in the future of this nation, and, as such, in her recent vote to leave the European Union.
Before we continue, however, you should know that I did not vote in the referendum (nor was I allowed to), and I do not represent one side or the other. If anything, I heard many reasonable arguments from Remainers and Brexiteers alike over the past few weeks, and I simply felt grateful for the opportunity to listen without the responsibility of choosing a side. So when June 23 rolled around, I waited with bated breath to see what the country would decide.
As you know, the Brexiteers gained the slim majority needed to win the referendum, meaning that Britain will likely begin the two-year process of withdrawing from the EU. And though nothing official has actually happened (since Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty hasn’t yet been invoked), the markets and media have responded nonetheless. Instead of speculating about the positive or negative consequences of Britain’s vote, however, I want us to look at the way in which many Britons approached their choice, and at how the world responded versus how God calls us to decide and respond as Christians.
Fear vs. Faith
From what I observed and what the polls reported, we know that many Britons were motivated to vote—on both sides—because they were afraid. Some were afraid of the uncertainty that rocking the boat would bring, so they voted to stay. Some were afraid of losing national sovereignty and of insufficient representation, so they voted to go. Some were afraid that leaving would immediately hurt the economy. Some were afraid that remaining would eventually hurt the economy. Still others were fearful that Europe would turn its back on them if they left, while others worried that increased immigration would break their already overburdened healthcare system or, worse, allow another terrorist attack to take place. The point is that many voters were and are afraid.
But Britons are no different from us. We all share in the temptation to fear and the instinct to protect ourselves. We want certainty and safety in our homes, our jobs, our finances, and in our local communities for the duration of our lives. And we want things to be fair. Sure, we feel the draw to be part of something great and global. But when things get hairy, we want our rights to be protected and justice to be exacted. And this is where “Brexit” reveals something deeper than political preference. Too many of us on both sides of the Atlantic live in fear.
Yet this should not be so, especially for Christians. God calls us to care about something bigger than safety, something more important than rights. Agreeing to follow Jesus means carrying our crosses and giving up our very lives (Luke 9:23, 24; Matt. 10:38, 39). So whether we’re headed to the polls or to the office, our choices must be marked by faith and not fear. Faith in the good news that God is for us and will not forsake us. Faith that life is about more than economics and our time here on earth. Faith that God himself is interested in the final revelation of his kingdom on this planet, and that he will one day make all things right.
I may not know what a faith-filled vote looks like for a Briton, but I do know that I’m responsible for inviting God’s perfect love to cast out my fear. I must make daily decisions with confidence in the reality that the God of the universe knows and actually cares. If even death itself is not the end, then what do I really have to be afraid of? Nothing and no one but God himself.
Reaction vs. Revelation
What do you do, though, when you’re on the losing side of an important vote? There are a number of ways you can respond. Returning to Brexit then, let’s consider some of the reactions I’ve witnessed and read so that we can outline what a godly response to Brexit—or to any momentous event—might look like.
From the Financial Times to Facebook, fear-mongering headlines and hyper-critical posts continue to pour in through our mailboxes and newsfeeds. Commentators are boldly decrying the “real” reasons behind Britain’s choice to leave—calling them “senseless” and xenophobic—while heralding the doomsday destruction the UK has supposedly set in motion. Meanwhile, I’ve seen Britons cry about Brexit, rejoice over Brexit, and stress about Brexit as streams of shoppers nervously speculate about their post-Brexit future to the checkout clerks at our local grocery store.
More than a week after the vote, everyone continues to react, but on what grounds? And why is it that so many Christians get just as caught up as everyone else in the emotional frenzy of uncertainty, the polarizing practice of naming and shaming, and the overwhelming dismay of the cares of this world?
Have we considered the people behind the headlines? Have we met the Remainer who finally got his business up and running and can’t afford the loss if the markets react poorly right now? Or what about the Brexiteer who still remembers World War II and isn’t comfortable with giving money and power over to Europe? There are real people involved in every “current event,” and we must try to walk a bit in their shoes. After all, humility is a baseline requirement if we’re going to get along.
Perspective is important, too. Call it wisdom or readjusted expectations or revelation itself, the truth is that we need God’s help to distinguish the forest from the trees. His Word alerts us to the consequences of rejecting God’s authority. So why are we surprised by the world’s perpetual preoccupation with fear and politicking and division and nationalism when the globe hasn’t submitted to Christ as king? Doesn’t Brexit underscore the reality that even seemingly solid, decades-long inter-governmental contracts will not last? Surely we can admit that human government is far from the final answer, and that it is never going to create the unified, peaceful, safe-for-the-sojourner society we claim to want to see. Yes, we must continue to work together for positive change, but I’m suggesting we stop expecting God’s kingdom to come in all its consummate glory when we’re only fighting with make-shift tools and through man-made means.
We must not expect God’s kingdom to come in all its consummate glory when we’re only fighting with make-shift tools and through man-made means.
Possibly the most interesting thing that Brexit says to us is something Brexit doesn’t say at all. It’s the predictions of Frexit and Swexit and Texit and Califrexit that alert us to the unspoken desires deep within. It’s the threat of full-blown fragmentation that makes us think things might actually come undone. It’s the nagging sense that we are poking too many holes in the dam, and we don’t want the dam to come down. Even as we continuously divide, there’s something innate in the human race that hopes against all the “exits,” because we’re desperate for entrance to a place we all belong.
Above all, Brexit has reminded me that I’m a citizen of the kingdom of God more than I’m an American or a future Briton. My responsibility and allegiance is to him before it’s to a political system, a party affiliation, or even to a people group. Today I—you and we—can celebrate the fact that none of us knows what the future holds for the United Kingdom, for the European Union, for the United States, or for the world. We can choose instead to champion the good news that someone does know. That someone is our Father God, who unwaveringly cares for us. We can please God by putting our faith in his promise to bring about his redemptive reign in his kingdom without end (Luke 1:33; Heb. 11:6). We have the blessed opportunity to say no to fear, to humbly love our neighbors, and to stand firm when it feels like the earth is splintering and shaking.
If you really want a world nation without borders, without inequity, without discrimination, and without pain, then embrace your citizenship in the kingdom of God above all else. Advocate through prayer, prose, and purpose for the ultimate leader. Tell people about Jesus, the King above all kings, whose laws are perfect, whose judgments are just, whose heart is good and kind and merciful and wise, and whose kingdom is heaven on an every-tribe-and-every-nation earth.
May the Lord use this season of uncertainty to reorient our hopes to the one place they can be safely met—in the King who promises he will come again to reign over a nation of citizens who’ve been changed into his likeness. And may he redirect our yearning for unity, and our desire for peace, and our longing for security to the one person who said that his kingdom will come as we ask and live for his will to be done.
Related: “Hope After Brexit” by Bernard N. Howard