The Church of England is officially neutral on the matter of the EU referendum. By ‘Church of England’ here we mean the institution; not its pulpits and people. It is the tombstones and cornerstones that are officially neutral; the living stones are officially perched on their podiums and spouting from their media platforms that it is God’s will that we build the ‘House of Europe’ because Jesus prayed: ‘That they all may be one..’, and told believers: ‘Remain in me..’ In order to remain in him, it follows that we must “remain in Europe”. (Don’t, whatever you do, refer to this as ‘theological illiteracy‘).
Fr Simon Rundell (yes, that one) posted the featured ballot paper to his Facebook page. Apparently, a number of Church of England clergy have done so, but this is the only evidence seen. He doesn’t respond to polite or reasoned enquiry: he just blocks, berates and appeals to his Twitter followers to affirm his poor judgment. Unwilling (or unable) to respond rationally to any courteous objection to his views, he adduces an agitated comment thread as evidence of theological ignorance and moral depravity (please, whoever called him the AntiChrist, please don’t do it again: i) he’s obviously not; ii) it’s not very polite; iii) he simply uses it to bolster his prejudice against Christians of a conservative disposition).
It’s one thing to believe (as he patently does) that Conservatives are racist; it’s quite another to tarnish those who favour leaving the EU as “a bit racist”. On current polling, that’s 49.5% of the country (it may be more if a few undecided’s finally incline toward Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson and Rupert Murdoch). He probably thinks this is funny, and so posted it to his Facebook page as “a joke”. Setting aside the offensive “for fuck’s sake” exasperation and patronising “running home to mummy” characterisation of those who favour Brexit, how is it any kind of acceptable humour in a Christian minister to taunt people for their political beliefs and stain them with the whiff of racism? Really, how is that funny?
Some might call it ‘undue spiritual influence‘ (racism being a manifest sin). Others find it “ugly and uncharitable” and “abusive“. It is one thing to have an opinion (which clergy should, of course, be free to express); it’s quite another for a member of the clergy to state that opinion in such an obnoxious manner that people find it abusive. Margaret Pritchard Houston, the Children’s Missioner in the St Albans Diocese, leapt to support Fr Simon Rundell, calling Leavers fascists. She is an appointed Church of England children’s missioner, and “is keen to help parishes grow a culture where children and families are fully integrated into the life and worship of the church”. Unless, of course, they want to leave the EU. She doesn’t want to minister to the children of fascists.
The desire to leave the European Union is neither racist nor fascist: it may be reasoned scripturally (see HERE) and contemplated virtuously (see HERE). It is not primarily a question of immigration or economics, but one of democracy, sovereignty, accountability and transparency. It is about how and by whom we are governed. If Church of England clergy and missioners can get away with saying it is ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ to believe in and advocate for national self-determination and the ability to sack those politicians whose policies or behaviour one finds objectionable, then the glory has really departed. “I believe in Europe…” Ichabod.