Ok deep breath...Brexit happened. Now we have to live and minister in this new reality.
We could probably debate all day the rights and wrongs of both campaigns and the final result...but let’s not. Whatever the vast array of differing opinion regarding our place in the EU within our Baptist family of churches, our union with one another via our union with Christ transcends all other relationships, political ideologies and loyalties.
With that caveat, we cannot ignore the new reality in which we are called to minister, and the facts seem to be that the new reality is going to be a very difficult one. The Pound continues to fall along with the value of shares, investment is being cancelled, multinational companies are preparing to move out of the UK and we are bracing ourselves for hundreds of thousands of job redundancies. Today the chancellor has announced that he expects us to go through a prolonged period of financial instability that will require much more severe budget cuts and austerity measures as well as tax rises.
That is the new reality that we now live in and it is the new reality that we must now minister in. According to organisations like the Joseph Roundtree Foundation and the Poverty Alliance, the present austerity measures have pushed half a million families into poverty. It is likely that the new austerity measures, coupled with significant redundancies and tax rises will push far more people into poverty. The two most significant areas of poverty in the UK currently are food poverty and fuel poverty (which may get a lot worse if the Hinkley Point Nuclear plant is cancelled as looks likely, like Brexit there seems to be no plan B regarding energy, except possibly to allowing fracking). Furthermore, an inescapable consequence of the Leave campaign has been the normalisation and acceptance of racism, an evil that is contrary to everything the gospel of Christ stands for. It has left many in our communities feeling very vulnerable, and afraid.
The Baptist family of churches in Scotland must now urgently begin thinking more constructively about how we can reach out beyond our church buildings, or even open them up to community organisations, in order the meet then needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities. Let us not be in any doubt that many social services, already strained, will be cut back significantly or cut out altogether. My own local authority was already facing a £20 million gap in its funding for next year. We must now begin gearing up and begin thinking about how best we can respond to these challenges and minster to the people in our communities.
Is there a community council in your area or a tenants and residents association. If so, get on it and fight for your community services. If not start one.
Is your church building near a school? Can you start a breakfast club to ensure that children get something to eat at the start of the day?
Is there anyone in your church that can help people with free legal advice?
Can you start a food bank?
Can you start a hardship fund (probably best administered in partnership with Social Services or similar group)?
What can you do to befriend immigrants living in your community, to help them to feel loved, and welcome?
Please do not write off such suggestions as socialism, this is the gospel in action.
The South African missiologist David Bosch has written that, “Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.” One of the ways that we alert them to God’s reign, is to be a demonstration and foretaste of the kingdom of God to them. In the Kingdom of God people are not abandoned, they are not left to go hungry or cold.
Such care has always been part of the life and mission of the Church. About 300 years after the Book of Acts was written the Roman Emperor Julian complained bitterly that the influence of the Christians was so great they were in danger of taking over the Empire. Although Christianity was the main religion in the Empire by this time, Julian viewed the early Christians as atheists because they did not worship the old pagan gods of the Empire. He understood Christianity to be a kind of sickness plaguing the Empire and wanted to restore the old religions. Julian wrote to his officials demanding they embark on a programme of social welfare, he said, “We must pay special attention to this point, and by means affect a cure. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the priests, then I think the impious Galileans observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy…through the credit they win for such practices…and the result is that they have led many into atheism.” By atheism he meant Christianity.
I really do not care at all if you voted Leave or Remain. Our primary loyalty is not to any sense of national identity or political party or ideology, Queen or country. Our primary loyalty is to Christ and he has called us to a mission. As a family of Baptist Churches in Scotland, we must more than ever speak up for those who have no voice and defend and care for the widow and the orphan, the poor and the vulnerable and the marginalised, the foreigner and the stranger living among us.
Whether our nation realises it or not it needs, now more than ever, for the Church to be the Church.