It was beginning to seem like there would never be a Brexit bishop. Advocating that the UK should leave the EU is viewed in episcopal circles as decidedly insular and nationalistic, not to say a xenophobic and anti-Christian pursuit. The Church of England’s stated neutrality has been tested to the point of apocalypse as just about every bishop and archbishop who has spoken or written on the EU Referendum has come out for Remain.
The Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, tweeted a few weeks ago that waking up on 24th June to find that the British people had voted ‘Leave’ would be one of his “nightmare scenarios” (the other being a Trump presidency). Other bishops basically concur (if in less apocalyptic tones). The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said he would be “very sad” if the vote favoured Brexit. The Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, said on Twitter: “Roots down, walls down. We are European; we have nothing to fear or to lose if we remain so.” The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, is unequivocal about the virtues of the EU: “Its borders are threatened by uncontrolled migration. Its political structures are threatened by the widespread rise of populism. And, on its Eastern border, it faces growing Russian military power. If the alternative to Europe staying together were to be a return to the competing nationalisms of small states that marked the opening years of the last century we would be entering into very dangerous times.”
The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, is of the view that the EU has been “integral in delivering seven decades of peace and economic security to Europe and has been behind countless projects and initiatives that have helped the poorest” (ie, we should Remain). The Bishop of West Yorkshire & the Dales, Nick Baines, is more nuanced: he wants a via media ‘Third Way’; wanting to stay in (“recognising our place in Europe”), while “being strongly critical of the institution of the EU and working to see it change” (ie, we should remain). The Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, says the EU is “the most successful project for peace, freedom and democracy the world has ever seen” (no hyperbole or ahistorical nonsense there). And the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, went to the fons et origo, expounding that the “European project” contained a moral and religious vision embedded in Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage, “embodied explicitly in most of the Christian Democrat parties on the continent, who drew on Roman Catholic social teaching”.
But wading through all the sociological waffle of cohesive peoples and shared bonds; of common culture and interdependence; of “keeping the peace” and “delivering prosperity”; of a “reformed EU” and a “special status” which safeguards our sovereignty and security while pursuing solidarity, a Brexit bishop has finally (and bravely) come out for democracy, national sovereignty and self-determination.
The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev’d April Hooker, is adamant that political power must be accountable and transparent: “God’s regular and hierarchical arrangements are a carefully woven tapestry of polity which has evolved over centuries,” she said. “Only when we may hold government to account and get rid of those in power can justice flow like a river.” The principle is one of consent: “We can only fellowship where there is truth; and where truth cannot confront power, there is tyranny.” But here’s the crux of her argument:
The UK hasn’t been wrenched from the organic fraternity of the Commonwealth by subversion, but fused to the European Union by what I shall charitably call political expediency. Our spiritual and temporal arrangements have since oscillated between self-doubt and denial; between discord and deception. In pooling our national sovereignty with the anti-democratic European Union, our civil order has been disturbed and our customary devotion eroded.What manner of Supreme Governor can be subject to the judgments of foreign courts, or the diktats of a foreign parliament?
Brotherly love does not demand political union, but fraternal cooperation. The surest expression of Christian civility is meekness. It bears witness through the ages of our politics and the faith of our forefathers. It is nowhere to be found in the secular, Godless, anti-Christian polity of Brussels, and we deceive ourselves if we think we can reform it toward a true and just order. I am mindful that some of my episcopal brothers and sisters take the view that to leave the EU amounts to a revival of the pestilent evil of schisms. I say to them, in all humility, that the spiritual powers and political lusts in Brussels are as dangerous as any theological heresy or religious cult in Church history.
At last, the Church of England has a Brexit bishop who grasps the imperative of church governance fitting the English regime, civil as well as religious, in accordance with our ancient customs and laws, under one supreme head and governor, who is sovereign.