In his ‘State of the Nation‘ address to the General Synod of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling the nation to prayer because “social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years”. He explained:
Brexit is not the subject of this debate. It is crucially important, a historic moment, and views here will be as divided as across the nation. But one way or another, better or worse, life will go on – and God’s mission is not stopped by such events.
Rather we are called to rise to the challenge, here and across Europe – in the Diocese in Europe, which is particularly effective – loving and caring in ways that show, whatever the shocks, we remain confident and active serving the risen Christ in the power of the Spirit.
But Brexit has revealed how our politics and society have, for many decades, not paid sufficient attention to the common good: that shared life of a society in which everyone is able to flourish.
That pain and exclusion continues in this country. If we do not as a nation pay attention, it will cause greater division and, as the Archbishop of York said recently, ultimately strife.
So concerned is Archbishop Justin about the state of the nation after 29th March (Brexit Day [D.V.]) that he is preparing us for five days of prayer. Nicholas Hellen in the Sunday Times writes: “Under plans discussed at Lambeth Palace, Justin Welby wants to pray in public with the leaders of the Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed churches on the day after Britain leaves.”
The same story is churned in the Daily Mail: ‘Church of England plans five days of PRAYER in a bid to help Britain’s departure from the EU as Archbishop of Canterbury says “life will go on” after Brexit’.
It is reported that the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are “being sounded out” to join in with this call to prayer (though Jeremy Corbyn is not known for his fervent faith in Christ). The hope fear is that Brexit will inspire depress people so much that people will flock to the pews to beseech The Almighty for deliverance. A senior Church of England source said: “I would hope that it will resonate with the wider nation, that this is the time for turning to something deeper in the human spirit than legal arguments and philosophical discussions, and to seek wisdom from God.”
It is good to pray, as the Archbishop of Canterbury noted in his address: “As Christians, we pray not because we are fearful, but because we seek to be faithful to St Paul’s encouragement to ‘pray without ceasing’, as our MPs say each day in Parliament, ‘Your kingdom come and Your name be hallowed’.”
But why five days of prayer for Brexit?
Is the destiny of the nation so much more in peril than it was in 1918, when King George V called a National Day of Prayer on 4th August for the people to intercede for peace? The King and Queen joined MPs and peers at the Church of Saint Margaret, Westminster, and services were held in every parish the length and breadth of the country. And it worked: God brought peace later that year, and the Great War finally ended.
And King George VI called a National Day of Prayer on 24th May 1940, when British troops were stranded at Dunkirk, about to be annihilated. People queued to get into Westminster Abbey so they could fall to their knees and pray. Millions upon millions went to their local churches and chapels which were so full that congregations had to stand in churchyards or pour out onto the street. And the King made a broadcast to the nation, urging people to repent and turn to the Lord. Then a storm arose over Dunkirk which grounded the Luftwaffe, and the English Channel became a sea of tranquility which allowed hundreds of little boats to rescue 336,000 soldiers. And so the miracle of salvation was sent by God, and the multitudes gave thanks and praise for their deliverance.
The King also called a National Day of Prayer on 11th August 1940, when the Battle of Britain began, and another for D-Day. There were others – seven in total; each one a single day at a moment of acute national crisis.
But Brexit gets five.
There is no call for repentance or for people to turn back to the Lord, but for strength and wisdom for our leaders; for the voices of the poor and marginalised to be heard; and for Christian hope and reconciliation. It is all sound, scriptural stuff, and all so very via media. It is as though the nation is being called to prayer not in the hope of a miracle of deliverance from war-waging principalities and powers or spiritual wickedness in high places, but for some sort of compromise – a ‘People’s Vote’, perhaps – by which we might all be magically reconciled and just get on with loving our neighbour.
Is the Church of England exhorting people to intercede for a smooth Brexit, or for deliverance from Brexit? We all know that God is in solidarity with the poor and marginalised, and that He instils hope and guides souls toward reconciliation, but to intercede on behalf of the nation demands discernment. Yes, we must pray for those in authority (1Tim 2:2), but in these five days of prayer for Brexit, there may be a temptation for people to think we are somehow changing God’s will or reminding Him of His duty. Is God’s goodness better manifest by remaining in the EU or by leaving it? Clearly, there is division and dispute about this – within the Church and without – hence five days of prayer for Brexit which hangs somewhere between the mystery of God and the freedom of man and simply says: ‘Thy will be done.’
Some will be praying for Brexit, and some will be praying against it: where there is no vision, there is confusion. But in the very calling of the nation to five days of prayer over Brexit there’s a ‘Project Fear’ feeling of apocalypse-stoking about it all, as though the crisis is 5x Dunkirk; or Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, D-Day and the Great War all rolled into one; so a ‘no deal’ Brexit on 29th March, instead of opening windows of opportunity for a ‘wide and liberal future‘, would constitute a grave and ‘moral failure‘; a moment of national catastrophe and international humiliation the likes of which we have not seen since 1066.
This is not a time to heap hot coals on the nation’s head or to torture people with guilt like the prophets of Baal cutting themselves with knives to call down fire from heaven; it is a time to commune with God, to recognise our total dependence on Him; to preach repentance from sin and proclaim the hope of salvation. Or does that sound “a bit batty“? If we are to pray for God’s mercy, love and blessing in the name of Jesus, it begins with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, which begins with the fear of the Lord.
And if God can work the miracle of Dunkirk from a single National Day of Prayer, He doesn’t need five to deliver us from the EU.