As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
If the current situation has encouraged mission agencies in Europe to ask questions again about their core business and the values of service, radical availability, and sacrifice, then God will continue to be glorified, even in the midst of political turmoil and uncertainty.
Eighty-six years ago, Winston Churchill wrote “We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.”1 The 2016 referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU was not the first time UK voters had gone to the polls in an EU referendum, but it is certainly the one that history will recall in any post -2016 account of Europe.
In 1993, with the emergence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), voters had a determinedly Eurosceptical political option. The threat posed by UKIP to the electability of the Conservative party and its former leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron, was serious enough for him to support an EU Referendum Bill, first presented to Parliament in May 2013, and the subsequent European Union Referendum Act 2015 with provision for a non-binding referendum on the 23rd June, 2016.
After the referendum votes had been counted, it became clear that 52% of UK voters wanted the UK to leave the EU with 48% wanting it to remain. The stock markets reacted badly, the British pound collapsed, the political establishment was visibly shaken, businesses began calculating the cost of an independent UK, and the Prime Minister announced his resignation. Cities across Europe, including Paris, began immediately wooing the financial institutions that were deeply embedded in the City of London.
The newly elected Prime Minister, Theresa May, is now managing a post-referendum governmental machinery that is wholly consumed with the question of how and when to invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty, the mechanism by which a member state leaves the EU. Her EU counterparts, especially the French, German and Italian leaderships, are beginning their own Brexit discussions.
BREXIT: What are the implications?
When the UK invokes Article 50 it will take many years to deal with the political and economic fall-out as it establishes a new relationship with its European neighbours. Politicians concede, or capitalise on, the need to address England’s historic and constitutional relationship with the strongly pro-remain countries of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Ordinary UK and EU citizens who have relocated to another country will face the uncertainty surrounding EU residency, continuation of employment, and the threat to the status of missionaries from the UK working in other EU countries. British nationals who have retired to European countries face an uncertain future. Some of these are serving as pastors in British migrant churches in Europe.
Reports of racially motived hate crimes have risen fivefold since the referendum results were announced. Polish residents have been called ‘Polish vermin’ and ‘Polish scum!’, verbally and as graffiti in the UK neighbourhoods where they live. Muslims, Romanians, and Middle Eastern origin people have all been abused.
It is highly unlikely that the UK will wish to do anything other than negotiate access to the single market of the EU. The EU insists that the UK’s access to the single market will come at the cost of the free movement of people. Ironically, after a Brexit, there will be no legal mechanism by which the UK could return refugees, travelling from the European mainland, to the European country that they had first arrived in upon entering the EU.2
Soul-searching within the EU institutions laments the perceptions of its democratic deficit, its mismanagement of the migration crisis, the threat to the Schengen zone as a result of its failure to increase external border vigilance, and its failure to promote the benefits of the single market (especially the labour, digital, energy, and telecommunications markets).
The EU also has to deal with the consequence of Article 50 being invoked by the UK government. Initial indications from the President of the European Commission pointed to the desire for rapid exit. Since then, leaders from various member states have urged that pressure be taken off the UK government and that, in the interim, the EU should make every effort to help the UK understand what would be lost by its departure. Ironically, the presence of Article 50 in the EU Treaty weakens the case advanced by critics that the EU is an irreversibly federalist project. Whatever conclusion one draws about the inclusion of Article 50, it has been made clear by the EU leaders that no negotiation concerning terms of withdrawal will be entered into until Article 50 is invoked. When, where, and by whom this is invoked remains to be seen.3
EUROPE: The implications for mission within and beyond the EU
I arrived in Hungary to begin a new mission posting in January 2004, several months before Hungary joined the EU. Serving as missionaries after Hungary joined the EU was immeasurably simpler. Four years later I joined the faculty of a mission-training College in the UK where I was assisted by a Lithuanian intern and taught many EU students. Over the next five years the immigration screw was gradually tightened on non-EU students and the College was forced to re-focus its programmes. In the event of the UK leaving the EU, UK Bible and theological Colleges will face the increasing challenge of recruiting non-UK students from the EU.
I am a Board member of a European mission agency deploying UK and other EU citizens across Europe. We don’t work only in EU countries, but our operations are simplified significantly by our freedom to live and work freely across the EU. The likelihood is that a significant part of the UK conservative evangelical community voted to leave the EU. Their right to do so is not in question, but I wonder whether they have made the connection between their vote and the economic consequence of having to support missionaries across Europe.
Currency fluctuations are not new to overseas mission agencies but an economic downturn that is the direct consequence of a decision for which many evangelicals probably voted, surely requires those sharing responsibility for it to dig deeply into their pockets to ensure the continued presence of UK missionaries in Europe. Of course, some European missionaries who voted to remain have suggested that we need to have an ongoing confidence in God’s faithfulness, in our identity in Christ, and in confessing our primary loyalty to Christ, “for He was, is, and always will be the only hope for Europe; that did not change yesterday.” Less prosaically, another mission leader based on the continent simply wrote on his Facebook page “silly, silly, silly, silly, silly, silly Britain!”
Much as the churches spanned the political divide during the Cold War in Europe, it may prove to be the case that European churches manage to rise above mere nationalist agendas and share their witness to a missionary God whose heart of love extends to people of every nation. Playing their part in the move of God’s Spirit across the European continent, mission agencies will continue to engage the Good News of Jesus despite any increase in the levels of complexity involved in funding, placing, and supporting missionaries working within the context of any new political realities of Europe.
Missionaries and mission leaders across Europe have encouraged European Christians not to lose hope. They have urged those who support, those who pray, and those who are sent, to remain confident in their identity in Christ, to condemn of all forms of xenophobia, to continue supporting vulnerable refugees, and to work for societies that are genuinely open and welcoming.
If the current situation has encouraged mission agencies in Europe to ask questions again about their core business and the values of service, radical availability, and sacrifice that shape this, then God will continue to be glorified, even in the midst of political turmoil and uncertainty. Pray for the light of Christ to continue shining in Europe!
Darrell Jackson. Senior Lecturer in Missiology, Morling College, Sydney Board Member of European Christian Mission International
This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Vista magazine.
This is a condensed and revised version of an article published in the September 2016 edition of the Lausanne Global Analysis.
1. Winston Churchill, "The United States of Europe," in The Saturday Evening Post and John Bull, 15th February 1930.
2. EU legislation currently allows for a refugee who has been detained in the UK, and who can be shown to have travelled to the UK from another EU country, to be returned to the EU country that they first entered when they arrived in the EU.
3. The origins of Article 50 were sown in the 2004 draft versions of the EU Constitution (rejected by two referenda in the Netherlands and France in 2005). The insertion of Article 50 envisages a Europe of a rather different nature to that of the indissoluble nature of the federation of the USA (established by decision of the US Supreme Court in 1869).