Church of England

Reimagining Europe: Church wades in to EU referendum


“In less than two years we will have a referendum on our place in Europe,” writes the Archbishop of Canterbury on ‘Reimagining Europe‘ – the Church’s new blog dedicated to “Encouraging ethical reflection and a values based debate on Britain’s relationship with Europe ahead of the referendum”. And straight away we hit the epistemic distance between the spiritual vision and the political reality: this is not a referendum about Britain’s place in Europe, but Britain’s place in the European Union. They are not synonymous, though it manifestly suits the paracletes of ‘Yes’ to raise the narrative spectre of political paralysis, cultural solitude, historic negation, economic exclusion and geographic isolation of life outside “Europe”. One cannot have a “relationship” with that of which one is intrinsically, essentially and congenitally already a part.

“There will be passionate arguments on both sides,” says Archbishop Justin. Indeed there will be, and one has to hand it to the Church of England that it has created a blog to encourage reflection and debate on both sides. While there is no doubt about which side the bishops are on, they are manifestly facilitating debate and, hopefully, listening to the laity. The Archbishop continues:

People will say that we should not take the risk of leaving, others that it is less of a risk than staying. There will be talk of national sovereignty, of national confidence, of repatriation of laws, or being bound by European laws over which we have no control. The only certainty is that there will be much heat, probably slightly less light, but that it is a hugely important decision, with thoughtful and committed people, including Christians, on both sides.

Impeccable via media. It would indeed be good to have ethical reflection which shines more light than it produces heat, but that is a matter for the blog’s editors and its commenting community, should it acquire one. And that acquisition will depend very much upon the breadth of contributors invited to participate (..before you ask, the answer’s yes. [Ed.]), and the extent of the freedom of speech permitted in the comment threads. There is nothing more frustrating than “ethical reflection” with a pre-ordained ethic; or “values based debate” which censors those values with which it does not agree.

“But what about those in the UK for whom our membership, or withdrawal, from the Union, is not a major question,” the Archbishop asks. “Those for whom the needs and responsibilities of each day take precedence, and mention of political debates such as this leave them cold?”

With enormous respect to the Archbishop, “the needs and responsibilities of each day” naturally take precedence over all “political debates” – even for political anoraks – by essential subsistence and breathing necessity. No one is debating “Europe” before eating breakfast, putting out the rubbish or driving their kids to school. And yet “Europe” affects every one of the “needs and responsibilities of each day” – an endless stream of food taxes, working directives and transport regulations over which the people have no power to change or appeal to repeal. Those for whom our EU membership “is not a major question” are simply unaware that it is, and the mission then becomes one of education. But a good first lesson would be dealing with the primordial flawed “Europe” supposition, and inculcating the corrective equation: Europe ≠ EU.

Reimagining Europe is not solely a Church of England initiative: the Church of Scotland is also on board, “..whose mediating and reconciling role during and after the Scottish referendum campaign is something we should all look to as a model for how the Church can engage in divisive debates”. Their Moderator, the Rt Rev’d Dr Angus Morrison, writes:

I hope that through this blog we can counter a merely self-serving attitude by encouraging readers to reflect rather on these questions: ‘How will your vote help those less fortunate than yourself?’ and ‘How will you show unselfish consideration for your neighbour?’

It seems an affront to Christian compassion to respond: “By restoring my neigbour’s right to self-determination.” And yet that is the beginning of political wisdom, or, at least, along the road to self-realisation and a liberated assertion of identity. If a man cannot be free in fellowship, he is not whole in the world. The Moderator takes us through a few questions of identity and matters of nationhood. But then we get:

Unlike the Scottish independence referendum, where the Church of Scotland chose to remain impartial, our General Assembly does have a longstanding view that continued EU membership is in the best interests of Scotland, Britain and the EU. This of course does not mean that we will be telling people from the pulpit how they should vote..

And yet it does tell people how they should vote: the pulpit might not be an architectural construct, but the sociological truth is conveyed by the word. A “longstanding view” of “best interests” is not an ex cathedra pronouncement (of the sort recently issued by the Catholic Herald, seemingly incapable of distinguishing between nationalism and democratic self-determination), but it is clearly one which apprehends the Church’s universal mission in the context of contending against xenophobia, nationalism and crass assertions of populism, which, we are repeatedly told, the European Union exists to fulfil.

But the Moderator’s asservation highlights a fundamental theo-political disparity which he does not address, perhaps because he can’t – at least with rational integrity. Why should a church which remained scrupulously impartial on the matter of Scotland’s membership of a greater political union be so incontrovertibly partisan about the UK’s membership of a greater political union? What questions of national identity, sovereignty, freedom, justice and democracy are posed by Scotland’s membership of the UK which are not similarly tendered by the UK’s membership of the EU?

In contemplating these weighty matters, please be mindful of the greater need for luminescence over incandescence: God forbid that we might disagree badly.

  • CliveM

    “What questions of national identity, sovereignty, freedom, justice and democracy are posed by Scotland’s membership of the UK which are not similarly tendered by the UK’s membership of the EU?”

    Good question. I suspect the simple truth is that the Church of Scotland would have liked to have had a position on Scottish Independence, but knew that such was the depth of feeling on the issue, that it would have been a poisonous subject to address, leading to divisive long term ill feeling within the Church.

    It clearly doesn’t seem to feel the same about an In/Out vote on the EU. Probably because in general Scotland is less passionate about the issue and more united in support of the EU.

    However another interesting aspect of the question, for many Unionists such as myself, is that many of the arguments for independence from the EU are mirrored in the arguments for an independent Scotland. So for those who are pro-Union, but anti EU (as I say like myself) why?

    • David

      When you collect sufficient answers to your question, please send them in my direction, as my “twin” views are as yours.

    • Shadrach Fire

      and more united in support of the EU.

      Is that because they get so much from the EU?

      • CliveM

        Possibly. Also Scotland already feels like a junior partner in a union dominated by another, so the EU doesn’t feel so different.

        And for some it’s enough that the English appear to hate it.

  • “Good Fences Make Good Neighbours.”

    • David

      When I worked in Somerset some 35 years ago, local worthies insisted that the saying you’ve just presented us with above, was a “Zomerset saying”. Tthey asserted this “fact” with conviction.
      Wherever the saying comes from it’s been one of my mine ever since my Somerset days, because I think it’s absolutely true !

      • Little Black Censored

        Cf, “All’s fair in love and war, as we say in Yorkshire”.

  • preacher

    IMO our membership of the E.U, ( Formerly known as the Common Market ) was accomplished by a tissue of lies, false promises & deception.
    We have attempted to be gracious & give it an opportunity to prove itself a benefit to all it’s ” Members “.
    Sadly it has proved itself an unworkable, unelected juggernaut of old politicians, steering a leaking boat full of wet often penniless & fearful people towards a non existent utopia & charging them a fortune in toy money for the privilege, whilst hoping to be rescued by a nameless providence.
    That’s the good news ( According to the Eurocrats ).
    The bad news is, there is no good news on a fast sinking boat only the lost & those that survive by getting off in time & swimming for shore.

    • dannybhoy

      Hear Hear! It was lies and deception, and it continues to be deception.

  • Dreadnaught

    In two years time the situation in the EU could have changed drastically. Discussions today based on economics as to whether we should be in or out, will pale into insignificance as Europe begins to resemble New Orleans during and post, Hurricane Katrina. The very fabric of component nations has been undermined in what the borderless EU has sought to create. It has become increasingly unable to justify this experiment in mass social engineering any longer.
    Notice how the Greek bankruptcy story has ceased to hold the front pages?
    ISIS openly announced many months ago that they would use terror to create mass panic and a Tsunami of immigrants into the West, into which opportunist gatecrashers have swelled those numbers.
    *According to Tim Marshall there is much going on between the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia to attack ISIS even if it means Assad hangs on to power a bit longer.
    The big question that will still remain is whether the ordinary people of Europe and the UK will remain as passive at the prospect of the unsolicited changing of the face of their own national cultures and autonomy.
    The Anglicans have shown little resistance to changes within or from without, that apart from the Monarchy and Remembrance Sunday they have all but marginalised themselves, their relevance and profile; don’t expect them to shoulder the responsibility to defend Britain in any shape or form.

    • David

      “The Anglicans have shown little resistance to changes within or without …etc…in any shape or form”

      I agree with the broad thrust of your post, but please remember that what the Church of England episcopal establishment says, in its confusions, is a very far cry from the attitudes of the rank and file pew perchers (who pay for the whole thing), let alone the growing body of evangelical characters like me, who happens to be of a distinctly conservative (in all things) and orthodox stance. Most of the regular worshippers are, as I am, very patriotic people.

      • Dreadnaught

        Pew Perchers’ chuckles inwardly – nice touch David!

  • David

    We were tricked into joining one of the previous iterations of what is now the EU.
    Is anything good ever built on a deception ?
    The only common factor shared by the nations of Europe, is its Christian heritage.
    Yet the EU’s legal framework is based on French revolutionary Humanism.
    The foundational documents of the EU deliberately ignore its Christian foundation.
    Our laws used to be loosely based on Christian precepts.
    Our formerly Christian laws are now being replaced by Humanism based ones.
    Is this good for the future of Christianity in any EU country ? No !
    Is it good for those countries ? No !

    I fail to see how any Christian who seeks to live in a country with laws reflecting Christian wisdom, can support the duplicitous EU, let alone any political party that is committed to us remaining embedded it.

    And that’s just one of the multitude of excellent reasons for us, as Christians, opposing our country’s membership of the EU.

  • Inspector General

    Good show Cranmer! I say, this is stirring stuff you’ve given us today. Those of us who want nothing to do with the Germanic new order of Europe are doomed to be portrayed as Satanic Mass attending, chicken slaughtering, virgin bothering heathens who dare to defy their idea of the sublime height of man’s civilisation to date, to wit, the marvellous EU.

    Let this dirty fight commence immediately, what! And let no quarter be given or prisoners taken. Trample them underfoot as we go, and despatch the traitor priests as they appear and we grab them…

    All for England, of course. “The Chancellor of Germany shall have no jurisdiction in this land”. Come on fellows, cry it out loud!

    God Save the Queen!

    • Little Black Censored

      Hear, hear! Stirring, even by your own standards.

      • Inspector General

        God bless you, little black whatever…

  • dannybhoy

    I am so tired of hearing this social gospel held up as the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason the Church pushes this social gospel is because by and large it doesn’t believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ which forgives, reconciles and changes people from within.
    The problem is that the Church has to preach it, and the Church by and large doesn’t want to, because it doesn’t want to upset anyone by holding up Christ as Lord and Saviour to the exclusion of all else.
    The EU upholds secular humanism rather than Christianity, Human Rights rather than the Ten Commandments. So the only way the Church can support the aims of the EU
    is to play down the uniqueness of the Gospel…

    • Anton

      The Established church is in a difficult position in a society that has become secular. Christ never intended congregation leaders to conduct funerals and weddings of nonbelievers. It puts them on the spot impossibly and let us not be too quick to criticise. The issue is Establishment. It would be rude of me to say more at this of all blogs, but let us at least clarify the issues.

      • Martin


        The only difficulty is in perception. If they want to go with society they should leave the Church and make it plain they have done so.

      • David

        You’re right. Establishment has become a millstone, now that the nation is overwhelmingly secular, post-Christian.
        As an Anglican, though a very conservative, orthodox one I feel that disestablishment will reinvigorate the denomination.
        But I think we’ll be stuck with the token Christian funerals for effectively, unbelievers. The Anglican Church of Wales was disestablished in 1919, but was still tasked with these token services. But on the bright side it is an opportunity for some evangelism, sometimes.

    • David

      Amen to that.

    • preacher

      AMEN !!!. Many Churches embrace the social gospel because the true one is too hard to handle, ministers are not preaching the Cross & the Blood as the only way that mankind can be redeemed. This diluting of the truth has resulted in Christians reaching a spiritual plateau with no direction or reason to go on. They feel there is more, but the leadership is poor, or often non existent so in frustration they turn to social good works, which in themselves are good but of no eternal value.

      We must dig deeper & reach higher if we want to be attain the knowledge of the Almighty God, King of Kings & Lord of Lords, the one who the devil himself must bow to. The Power who created the Cosmos & sustains it. Who calls us to be His Children & to go & tell of Him by the power of His Holy Spirit.

      If our ministers are not preaching the gospel or teaching the truth about the Almighty God we serve, we have every right to ask them why. Risky ? yes ! but we cannot continue to follow blind guides or fearful leaders if we are to complete the task that Jesus started & told us to complete.

      We may be ostracised or rejected, laughed at or ridiculed, the question is are we ready willing & able to enter the fray ? the plans & politics of men, have failed to achieve anything of note that lasts.
      God waits for a generation that will believe His word & preach His gospel.
      Are we that generation ?.

  • chiefofsinners

    “While there is no doubt about which side the bishops are on, they are manifestly facilitating debate and, hopefully, listening to the laity.”
    Bishops? Listening to the laity? Are you mad? Oh, sorry, you probably aren’t listening.

    This will be another case of ‘Fog in the chancel – communicants isolated’.

    • David

      ‘Fog in the chancel – communicants isolated’

      Brilliant adaption !

      • chiefofsinners

        Sadly not a patch on the original, which is one of the greatest expressions of self-confidence to come from this blessed plot. No wonder the French love us so.

    • Little Black Censored

      Yes, I did wonder about that word “manifestly”.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Your Grace,
    Very well argued and a purposeful rebuttal to the AofC’s wishy washy statements on the referendum. If he has nothing of benefit to say he should stay quiet.

    • Inspector General

      Good idea Shadrach. He should keep his own counsel anyway, unless invited to give it, and even then he must weigh up his responsibilities as leading churchman to BOTH sides.

      • He’s the leader of the Church of England. Christ’s representative in England. He should speak his mind as he sees fit, according to the Gospel. He’s not a politician, balancing different factions and interests. His duty is to God and leading souls to salvation.

        • Martin


          No man is Christ’s representative.

          • Anna

            Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV)

            Are we not Christ’s ambassadors? If Christ had a special apostle to the gentiles, then why not a special representative? Justin Welby is in a unique position in being able to make this
            appeal on behalf of Christ before a vast audience in England.

          • Martin


            Written to the believers at Corinth, not to unbelievers, specifically about their problems.

            Sadly Justin Welby seems reluctant to condemn those things that God condemns, and unwilling to address unscriptural practices in the churches.

        • Little Black Censored

          He behaves like a politician and should be treated accordingly.

  • chiefofsinners

    From the news yesterday and this morning it seems that David Cameron has received a double slap-down on his attempts to rig the referendum. First the question is altered, then the purdah rules are enforced.
    It seems the AoC’s prayers for honesty and openness are being answered, at least.

  • michaelkx

    Having read the posts below I wonder this. ‘I do not know
    about you fellow communicants, but if we dare to read that book called the
    Bible you will see in its pages, that as the Judgment of GOD draws near, that
    the world will believe in lies and delusions. All we seem to hear form our political
    and religious leaders is just that. Could it be we really are coming to the end
    of earth’s history? And our Lords return’?

    • Dreadnaught

      The billions in China and India for instance may not necessarily agree with you.

  • Graham Wood

    Cranmer. An excellent post. The history of our relationship with the EU, from accession to the present day, is one of usurped power – whether condoned and passed “legally” through our parliament or not.
    Government and governance is all about functional power, and for us in the UK the exercise of democratically elected governments – electable by the people and dismissed by the people.
    That is why the central issue which needs to be opened up in the coming debate must of necessity be that of the paramount priority of the return of democracy and the return of powers given to the EU by a succession of governments WITHOUT a mandate from the people.
    In a sense every other question of domestic policy radiates out from the EU – whether economic, political or social. It claims complete hegemony over its member states.
    Now is the time to terminate that error and return the UK to a position where it can decide its own governance and destiny

  • Albert

    What’s impressive about this, is that it is saying it legitimate to vote to come out. That’s quite a concession for those who are in favour! I notice there is now some wrangling over whether political Ministers will be able to speak on these issues before the referendum. That too will result in the field being more open for those who want to vote to get out.

    This could turn out to be quite interesting.

  • IanCad

    I know I keep saying it, but every time this referendum issue comes up I have to question the legitimacy of such a process within our system of representative government.
    To me such an act of populism should have no place. It is the business of the elected government, not the voters to decide on matters so weighty.
    OK! We have a referendum – it fails. We are chained to the EU monster for a further generation. Madness, madness, madness.

    • dannybhoy

      Ian, if you accept that an aspiring politician of any party must toe the party line in order to advance their career, how can they then be trusted to want the best for their country?
      Ted Heath hid the truth about the Common Market’s ultimate goals from the British people. Tony Blair took the British people into the Iraq war despite the manifest disapproval of the people. Blair’s government in particular was guilty of various acts of deceit, connivance and duplicity.
      A representative government works well -as long as it is in tune with the values and concerns of the people it represents. Once it starts to abuse that trust we are all in trouble. That’s why we can’t leave everything up to them, because inevitably the democratic part of representative democracy suffers..

      • disqus_yekkRScZhT

        Danny, Disqus is giving me fits – it’s changed my login, my post is zapped and I will have to remain silent – unless I can get a five-year-old to figure what’s gone wrong.
        To repeat: No referendum!! Not on the EU or anything else.

        • IanCad

          Sorted! And I did it all by myself.

          • CliveM

            Well done!

          • dannybhoy

            Yes well done Ian. Although it may well happen again, and at your advanced years, like me you probably won’t remember how you fixed it…..

  • IrishNeanderthal

    From French and English, by G.K.Chesterton

    «It is obvious that there is a great deal of difference between being international and being cosmopolitan. All good men are international. Nearly all bad men are cosmopolitan. If we are to be international we must be national. And it is largely because those who call themselves the friends of peace have not dwelt sufficiently on this distinction that they do not impress the bulk of any of the nations to which they belong. International peace means a peace between nations, not a peace after the destruction of nations, like the Buddhist peace after the destruction of personality. The golden age of the good European is like the heaven of the Christian: it is a place where people will love each other; not like the heaven of the Hindu, a place where they will be each other. And in the case of national character this can be seen in a curious way. It will generally be found, I think, that the more a man really appreciates and admires the soul of another people the less he will attempt to imitate it; he will be conscious that there is something in it too deep and too unmanageable to imitate.»

    This first appeared, I understand, in 1908. Pretty ironic it was, too, to see Michael Portillo visiting the Peace Palace in the Hague, the brainchild of Andrew Carnegie and friends, opened in 1913.