Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Let's call the whole thing off

If - as very occasionally happens - a discussion at one of my Church Council meetings has ended up producing rather more heat than light, rather more emotion (anger? frustration? incomprehension?) than clarity of purpose, rather more introspection than a sense of wisdom being received and discerned... then the last thing I think of suggesting is that we take a vote. Much more likely is that we agree to go away, sleep on it, reflect, pray, talk together some more (in one-to-ones and small groups as well as in the formal confines of a Council meeting), try and listen to each other better... and then re-convene to see where all that has got us to. Voting 'in the heat of the moment' is almost always going to give some a brief sense of the elation of victory, give others over to a bitter sense of disenfranchisement, and all of us wounds that are likely to run deep, and last for a long time. The process of seeking healing for those wounds is almost always longer, more painful, than that process of 'active pausing' would have been.

I don't feel like I have much wisdom to share in this week of a big, big decision in the history of the UK. But I'm increasingly passionate in one plea.

To those of my friends, neighbours and sister- and brother-citizens who are thinking of voting 'Leave' this week: please don't.

Not because I think there are no credible, thought-through arguments for why 'Leave' would be better for the UK (although I would suggest the weight of credible, thought-through arguments does seem to be tipping rather heavily towards 'Remain').

Not because I think everyone who wants to vote 'Leave' is xenophobic, or racist, or a 'little Englander' with no broader view of the world (although there do seem to be quite a few in those camps).

Not because I have any clear sense of what the future holds if the UK votes in either direction.

But for one reason that I would suggest trumps (pardon the rather untimely word) any others. Because the 'debate' in the lead-up to this vote has been crap. Utterly, appallingly crap. Angry, and fear-mongering, and divisive, and full of lies and half-truths and claims entirely lacking in evidence. On both sides. And so a decision this week to dramatically change the status quo (to 'leave the EU', whatever that will even mean in practice) that is made in the midst of all of this - whether that decision is 51% to 49% or 99% to 1% - will quite certainly open wounds not just across the continent of Europe, but within the UK itself: deep, divisive, open wounds that will take many, many years to find any kind of healing. A deep sense of bitterness, blame, and resentment - if not palpable fear.

So if you think 'Leaving' is the right thing to do, let's decide it properly, and with a good dose of British caution and care thrown in for good measure. Let's agree to put it off for a bit. Let's give ourselves a couple of years to do some proper research, some proper discussion, some proper listening to each other. Let's try and capture a bit of what they had in Scotland before their independence referendum in 2014: a genuinely grassroots conversation about 'what kind of country we want to be', that happened in pubs and village halls and schools and shops and churches and mosques and around kitchen tables. Let's make a decision that we can all say we've genuinely had a part in deliberating and discussing - not one made by gut responses shaped by the rich and powerful. Let's make sure the conversation includes a much clearer sense of what we want 'Leave' to mean - and, indeed, what we want 'Remain' to mean. We could even try and take it beyond the crude and crazy binary 'In or Out' of this Thursday's ballot papers.

So if you really, passionately want to 'Leave' - let's get there in a decent, careful, British kind of way. Let's give ourselves a bit more time. Let's 'keep calm', 'have a cup of tea' and talk it through properly. Because this week's no week to make such a crucial decision.

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