A society based on God’s values?
Andrew Bryant wonders what kind of country we want to be as we prepare to leave the European Union.
It has been an uncomfortable time listening to the stories of family members of the Windrush generation who have fallen foul of the latest attempts to tighten up Britain’s immigration policy. It has been heart-breaking to hear stories of employment being denied, medical treatment being refused, and loved ones trapped abroad unable to return to the country that they thought was home. Is this really the country we want to be?
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All this is part of the government’s desire to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration – a “deport first, ask questions later” approach in order to drive down the immigration figures. Meanwhile the Labour party is being asked to face up to – and deal with – issues of anti-Semitism within its ranks.
But before we use this as another excuse to give our politicians a good kicking, we need to pause and consider our own part in all of this. A major part of the EU referendum debate was about taking back control of our borders. And newspaper headlines have regularly screamed about driving down the levels of immigration. And this was the argument that won the day. But is that the kind of nation we want to be?
As a society we are reaping the seeds we have sown. Where were our voices when those seeds were being sown? As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminded us in his recent Thought for the Day on Radio 4: All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. Today I see too many good people doing nothing, and I am ashamed.
So what kind of a nation do we want to be?
Britain is leaving the European Union. It is time to stop replaying the referendum debate and willingly, and with enthusiasm, embrace this new future. What matters now is the kind of country we want to be. Will we choose to embrace the Christian heritage that has shaped this country for the last 2000 years or will we turn our backs on that heritage and become a more inward looking, less caring and more self-focused society?
As we come together to understand our nation’s future role in Europe, and the wider world, this needs to be a conversation that embraces more than the usual decision makers. For too long too many people have felt unheard by, and unrepresented by, the mainstream political parties (and mainstream churches). So they have been willing to be wooed and won by smaller and often more extreme, parties, feeling they are the only ones that are listening. We need to travel into this new future for our nation together, striving for the genuine common good – a future that is good for the many and not just for the few.
Again and again in the Bible, the people of God are told they will be judged by their care for the most vulnerable in their midst. What matters, they are told, is not the number or size of their sacrifices but whether they have learnt to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. A Christian society can never tolerate creating a “hostile environment” for any members of its community. Whatever future we are to build together it must begin by reaching out to the poor, the forgotten and the neglected.
All the heartache our nation is currently going through over Brexit will have been for nothing if we just continue the same inequalities and injustices that blight our present society. Surely if our Christian heritage is to mean anything then we must emerge a more generous, compassionate and tolerant community, or surely there will be nothing great about Britain.
The Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry here and can follow him via his new Twitter account @AndyBry3.
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