This week saw quiet success for the Liberal Democrats. Across the country, people took to the ballot box to have their say in council elections, regional elections and mayoral elections. The Liberal Democrats were the only party to gain control of a council; the Liberal Democrats gained the most number of new councillors; the Liberal Democrats gained the highest increase in national vote share. This is proof that the values of liberalism and the Liberal Democrats did not die completely in the wake of our election defeat last year, in fact it shows that people are keen to see a return to the mainstream of liberal ideals. So now that the local elections are done with, everyone’s attention will turn to the upcoming EU Referendum. Tim Farron spoke at great length during the party’s Spring Conference back in March of unity, openness and equal opportunity for all; values which are better served inside the EU. If, like me, you’re bemused and baffled as to the economic and business-related arguments of why Britain is better off in, may I suggest that we consider a different approach to back the IN campaign? Let’s consider a Christian approach.
Christians are all too familiar with the concepts of loving one’s neighbour, being charitable and generally just being a good person. For most this probably comes naturally, but we all have those people in our lives who we’d rather not see on a daily basis and so do everything in our power to avoid those awkward exchanges through gritted teeth. From time to time though, such an exchange cannot be avoided and so you smile and say “good morning” as you cross paths, in order to ensure that any future situations that require cooperation, are not tarnished by ill-feeling and dirty looks from across the room.
Our relationship with the European Union is far from perfect; I was on the side of voting to LEAVE not that long ago. No the EU is not entirely democratic and yes we have to give away some of our law-making powers as part of our membership, but what the LEAVE campaign seem to be absolutely rubbish at, is seeing the bigger picture. Let’s return to our less-than-favourable work colleague example. No your working relationship with them isn’t perfect and there are plenty of things about them you really aren’t the biggest fan of, but you work together when it is needed in order to achieve great things in the interests of those you work for.
Our involvement and cooperation with the EU follows a similar principle. By working together with our neighbours, we can achieve great things that benefit not just our country or the countries of Europe, but the world as a whole as issues like climate change and international terrorism are fought more effectively, when countries work together in order to achieve great things in the interests of the people to whom our politicians and representatives are responsible. That, is the bigger picture.
But we’ve heard this sort of message from Tim Farron, Nick Clegg and other Lib Dem politicians when making the case for Britain to remain in the EU. Yes Christians are good people, but what else about the UK remaining within the EU makes it an issue Christians should care about?
It is my belief that Jesus was a unifier – sorry Donald, I feel you misunderstand what unification actually means – he came to break down barriers between people to lead to a society where everyone cooperated for the common good. Philippians 2:2 says “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose”. The important aspects here are to be united and intent on one purpose. Now of course, the EU wasn’t around when the passage was written so I’m not going to be so bold as to claim that the author was making the case for the IN campaign, but it can certainly be applied to the situation we find ourselves in today. Only by remaining within the EU can we be united in spirit, intent on one purpose, whether that purpose is tackling the environmental crisis or the refugee crisis.
Moreover, I fully believe Jesus was a liberal. I don’t think Jesus would want to see a world divided by differences of nationality, race, culture or religion. This isn’t to say he wouldn’t have deemed these things important to one’s identity, but as tools to divide us and hinder cooperation is something he, I and every other liberal must stand against. The European Union is the greatest example of where cultural identities whilst celebrated, are not used as weapons to divide the people of our great continent. It is the greatest example of “loving our neighbours”, even after all the conflict and war that has befouled our history. It is the greatest example of how 28 nations can come together to tackle the biggest issues facing our society today. The EU is the Good Samaritan; if Britain were to leave, I fear we would be seen as one of the passers-by.
This referendum is our opportunity to lead by example, to show the world and the rest of Europe that we are prepared to stand up for openness, fairness and equality, and that we are committed to cooperate, united in spirit and intent on one purpose to make not only Europe, but the rest of the world a safe and free place to live. These are values I hold dear; these are values Liberal Democrats hold dear; these are values I’m certain Jesus held dear. These are values that Christians must hold dear. Let faith be a call to action.