In May 2015 the Conservative Party’s General Election manifesto contained a pledge to hold a referendum on whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. With their election victory this campaign pledge has become a reality and we now know that on the 23 June each of us will be asked to answer the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” While the overarching question may itself seem simple, the sub questions it contains are multiple and complex. How then should we as Christians make sense of this complexity? What should provide the lens through which we sort through all the information with which we will no doubt be bombarded over the coming weeks and months and come to some decision with integrity and in good faith?
In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, while the second is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments, we are told, hang the law and the prophets (Matt 22:36-40). That Jesus presents a commandment outlining the human relationship to the divine alongside one regarding our relationship with one another is not, some would suggest, accidental. Our relationship with our fellow human beings is both informed by and part of how we relate to God, the two are intertwined.
But what does this have to do with the Schengen Agreement, the single market and a whole host of other things that seem distant, dry and bureaucratic? The answer, I suggest, is that each of these things refer to and directly impact upon ways in which we relate to each other as individuals, as businesses, and as countries. Whether it be questions of sovereignty, the free movement of people, or where laws are made and their jurisdiction, these are things that influence and effect our relationships, and as such our faith has much to share.
To what extent then does the European Union enhance or hinder our ability to love our neighbour, and in doing so our God? Which neighbours are we talking about: those in our local communities, in Europe, in the wider world? Does economic union help our relationship with some nations while hindering others and how does that impact the person living down the road? Does the way the European Union makes laws, policies or procedures aid or impede our Christian duty? These are the questions that I think should be of primary importance as June approaches, these are the questions that we should be asking as we search for our response.
It is important here to note that there may not be one definitive answer to this question and that there should be space for everyone to explore the issues and come to their own conclusion. As Christians we may not, and almost certainly will not, have a unified answer to the question of the UK’s membership of the European Union. But as we begin to explore the issue further I would like to suggest that in Matthew 22 we have a common frame of reference through which we might bring our thoughts, our principles and our prayers to bear on this issue, allowing each of us to answer the question before us in good faith.