Confused about the EU Referendum?
Two LCF members, Stephanie Biden and James Crabtree, respectively explore the biblical arguments for staying in, or leaving, the EU. The articles were deliberately kept to 1000 words in order to capture each proponent's main points.
Biblical arguments for 'Remain'
"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…'" Matthew 28:18-19**
"And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:39-40
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9
I have to admit to feeling somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect of writing this article. Where to begin with the myriad of arguments about issues as diverse as the economy, security, nationalism, environmental protection, the refugee crisis, sovereignty, as we head to the polls to make what will likely be the most significant political decision of our lifetime?
I've chosen instead to start with three of the best-known sayings of Jesus and consider how they may apply as we decide how to vote.
Making disciples of all nations
First, I believe the freedom of movement that we enjoy by remaining in the EU presents great opportunities to Christians to go to all the nations in the name of Christ. We don't even need to go to the nations, because other nations live among and alongside us, including many from EU member states that are more secularised post-Christian (or post-Communist) cultures than the UK.
Freedom of movement also means that my friends who have been called to serve the Lord through church planting or student evangelism in places such as Portugal, France and Italy can do so freely without the bureaucracy and uncertainty entailed in constantly having to renew visas. Remaining in the EU keeps open doors for gospel work among our European neighbours ??" whether they come to live here or we go to them ??" but that access is likely to be restricted if we leave the EU.
Loving our neighbour
The UK is also almost certain to be treated punitively on leaving, to discourage others from following suit and the Union unravelling. The Leave campaign has rightly been labelled 'project fantasy' in the hubris with which it asserts we could leave and be entitled to the best possible terms for Britain.
But I'd suggest that we should not decide whether to remain in Europe out of narrow nationalistic self-interest, but on the basis of what is best for our neighbours. Is a person from elsewhere in the EU any less my neighbour than someone from my home town? What about the refugee from Syria, or the farmer in Africa facing a precarious future because of climate change? What decision will best achieve the international collaboration that is needed to help them?
The Bible is wary of centralised power ??" lack of accountability can easily be used to abuse and exploit others, in a world tainted by sin. But the EU was founded on the principle of subsidiarity drawn from Catholic social teaching. This requires that "in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level."*(1) We may question how well the principle is being applied, but allowing the EU to set common standards has enabled protection for workers and consumers from abusive corporate power, and massive advances in environmental protection, which would be much harder to achieve at a national level, where countries could look to undercut one another's minimum standards for competitive advantage.
Critics point to a democratic deficit, but is that all the fault of the EU? We don't teach about how the EU works in schools, and politicians are fond of blaming 'Brussels' for their failures, rather than celebrating the EU's successes. Article 1 of the EU Treaty calls for "decisions to be as open as possible and as close to the citizen as possible" ??" but we also need to play our part in the democratic process for this to work. How many of us turned out to vote for our MEP, know their name, pray for them or have written to them?
The EU's response to the economic and refugee crises lacks compassion. It is falling short of the core biblical principles of solidarity and respect for human dignity which are enshrined in its very own constitution*(2).
Where the EU is falling short, as any political institution inevitably will in a fallen world, we should be calling it back to its founding values of solidarity, subsidiarity and transparency. Together we must shoulder our fair share in the crises, including welcoming and integrating refugees here ??" not running away when the going gets tough.
Finally, we should not overlook the role of the EU in maintaining peace in Europe for an unprecedented period of time. Peace making was the vision and primary aim of the Christian democrats and others who founded what became the EU. The European Coal and Steel Community aimed to "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible". So successful has the EU been as a project to build peace, that it takes a leap of the imagination for my generation to conceive of Europe as a place where conflict seemed inevitable at least once in a generation. We can easily forget that both world wars started in Europe, with devastating consequences for millions within and beyond Europe. NATO may be there to intervene if conflict breaks out, but to attribute peace solely to NATO is to forget that prevention is better than cure.
Whatever the outcome, let's trust that all authority has not been given away to the EU if we remain, nor delude ourselves that it should or would be reclaimed by the British Parliament if we vote to leave ??" ultimately it lies with Jesus Christ. And let's pray for an outcome, and vote, in a way that we think would most honour him and bless our neighbours.
(1) Article 5 Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, click here to read
(2) Article 2 (ibid)
**All biblical references in the above article are from the ESV.
Biblical arguments for 'Leave'
Brexit would be beneficial for our country, taking into account the important biblical principles of stewardship and accountability, which need to be upheld and applied if we are to have good government, as God has ordained. There would also be no damage to Gospel ministry.
The chief duty of all governments ordained by God is to minister for our good *(1), justly and righteously and with wise stewardship of resources.
"Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom…By me kings reign and rulers decree justice…." Proverbs 8:14-15**
Jeremiah exhorted kings to "do justice and righteousness" and to deliver the oppressed "from the hand of the oppressor…" Jeremiah 22:3
When "Righteousness exalts a nation… " Proverbs 14:34, there is national benefit.
Wise stewardship requires the prudent allocation of national resources, notably tax revenue.
It is intrinsic to the biblical obligation to pay taxes that tax revenue should be used in ministry for our good; this is one of the bases on which we are called to honour our government.*(2)
Our EU membership shows that the transfer of substantial tax revenue to supranational institutions, not obliged to spend that revenue for the benefit of the paying nation, impairs wise stewardship of public funds. Both past lessons and the trajectory of future developments require consideration.
From the past emerges the cost of regulation relative to economic output. EU integration and harmonisation projects have led to excessive regulation and stifled competition. The European Commission's own figures, from 2006, reveal the annual administrative cost to European businesses of EU and national regulation as 600 billion euros (excluding compliance costs) *(3); remarkable when the single market contributed a mere one fifth of this figure to EU GDP. This was before the eurozone crisis, which still pursues its destructive path through European economies, alongside yet more regulation. Plans to reduce business regulation by 25%, by 2012 (boosting EU output by 150 billion euros) *(4) have never been implemented. In addition, the EU's share of world GDP, aggregating the economies of its member states, fell by more than 50% between 1973 and 2015 and is still contracting.*(5)
No reversals are in sight, whether of economic decline, or of costly regulation. Membership of the EU entails financial commitment to an over-regulated and economically deteriorating customs union, whose operations are immensely complex, absorbing billions in tax revenue. How can biblical principles of stewardship be reconciled with such an investment?
Particulars of the EU's trajectory appear in the EU's "Five Presidents'" Report of June 2015.*(6) This Report summarises steps for completing economic and political union by 2025, asserting that the euro "is more than just a currency. It is a political and economic project", entailing "convergence within European societies, to nurture our unique European model." The Report unveils a "convergence process …that would be defined in EU legislation, as sovereignty over policies of common concern would be shared and strong decision-making at euro area level would be established."
A "common macroeconomic stabilisation function" is planned, comprising "a pool of financing sources …. specific to the euro area.." and to be "developed within the framework of the European Union". It follows that the problems of the eurozone become the business of all member states; ongoing EU membership will therefore result in financial transfers to the haemorrhaging eurozone.
If investment into operations sharing the same negative characteristics and open to a similarly complex and costly prognosis would be unthinkable in business, it should not be tolerated in public affairs, applying biblical principles of stewardship to the deployment of national resources.
As John Calvin observed, revenues under the control of government "…are not so much their private chests as the treasuries of the entire people …. which cannot be squandered or despoiled without manifest injustice".*(7)
This leads us to accountability, a thread woven throughout the Bible. All governments are accountable: to God, as well as to man.
"Now, therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear…" (Psalm 2:10??"11). Jehoshaphat exhorted the appointed judges to "Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord…" (II Chronicles 19:6).
Charles Hodge, the great commentator on Romans, helpfully noted:
"Magistrates or rulers are not appointed for their own honour or advantage, but for the benefit of society… they are the servants of the people as well as the servants of God,…. the welfare of society is the only legitimate object which they as rulers are at liberty to pursue."*(8)
However, EU membership undermines service and accountability, precluding our government from having unqualified power to make laws designed for the good of our nation. EU law, crafted for a broad mix of interests, applies, even if contrary to our national interests. The European Commission has largely untrammelled (and increasing) legislative and executive powers and is not an elected body, representative of, or accountable to, the nations of Europe. Service presupposes the wise promulgation and application of laws, for which the government is accountable. Accountable government does not exist when laws are imposed from outside, by unaccountable bodies.
Parliamentary sovereignty and accountability are two sides of the same coin. When national sovereignty flows away to EU institutions, legislative and executive powers at home are eroded, alongside the accountability of government to the nation. In extremis, government becomes the mere servile administration of powers vested outside the UK. Accountability disappears and as the Five Presidents' Report plainly demonstrates, the future trajectory of the EU is not about safeguarding our interests. The ongoing development of the European project alone matters.
Some might say that Brexit would undermine Gospel work. However, such an outcome is unlikely. We should remember that God transcends all human situations. At the time of the Reformation, travel and communication were difficult and time consuming and Europe consisted of many separate kingdoms and statelets. Yet this remains European history's most significant Gospel work.
Mankind will eventually see the establishment of a wise, just, divine government, of the increase of which there will be no end.*(9) Until then, our duty as Christian citizens is to strive for accountable government, serving the nation through wise stewardship of our resources. Such government cannot be secured through EU membership.
1) Romans 13: 1-4
(2) Romans 13: 6-7
(3) Civitas: EU Facts
(4) European Commission Press Release, 21/09/07
(5) Daniel Hannan MEP, A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe (2012); Why Vote Leave (2016)
(6) Subtitled "Completing Europe's Economic and Monetary Union" and available at http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union_en
(7) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 edition), Book IV, Chapter XX.13: Civil Government
(8) Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (1835), pp 407-408
(9) Isaiah 9: 6-7
** Biblical references in the above article are from the ESV or NKJV.