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EU Referendum debate at General Synod

Friday 8th July 2016

The Archbishop of York gave a speech in the EU Referendum debate at General Synod at the University of York today. The speech follows in full.

Mr Aiden Hargeaves Smith, Members of Synod, I was with a group of 34 teenagers from Holy Trinity Academy in Barnsley and from Archbishop Holgate’s Academy in York on pilgrimage at Taizé in the South of France when we heard the referendum result. I witnessed utter shock, sadness and anger of young people from our own country who in the few days they had been there had reached out in friendship and fellowship with other European young Christians.

To them it seemed to make no sense at all. They found themselves having to apologise repeatedly how sorry they were. Taizé’s worship, Bible Studies and communal eating and drinking came into their own, giving hope to those young people.

Despite the fact that a week is a long time in politics, and that two weeks are an even longer time – wounds are still sore, and there is a sense of unreality about the days in which we are living.

Worst of all, those who habitually look out for any excuse for xenophobic extremism and racist violence have seized upon this as legitimation – as an encouragement for their activities. Though condemned by Remainers and Brexiters alike – it is a sad reality of the situation we are in.

Mostly in situations of conflict we call for unity and reconciliation too quickly, mostly because the anger of others as well as our own is unbearably painful and we want it to end.

But it can't end till it has been faced and it cannot be faced until it has been 'allowed out'. We have to find ways, not violent ways, of allowing it out.

This means theologically accepting that unity and reconciliation are part of the eschatological hope of Christians and anger is part of the meanwhile in which we live.

In that meanwhile we shall not always or even usually know whether some particular rage we experience in ourselves or others is proper outrage at injustice, our own hurt pride or the result of reactivated hurts from our past. And the hard bit is that only by letting the anger out will we ever stand a chance of knowing. 

What often happens is a rush to attack the anger of others and expect them to calm down for the sake of a harmony that is not yet. Speaking personally, I've been there.

The truth is, and most of us have wished it were not! So, God is in this for the long haul. A dear friend’s mother of 96 said, "Isn't it time God called it quits" - a good question. But God hasn't and indeed has promised not to; that must mean that even our worst rages may seem only destructive but are nonetheless indispensable energies needed for the coming of the kingdom.

That must mean that in ways we cannot yet see the anger that fuelled the Brexit vote and the anger engendered by it are both energies we need for our future human flourishing. So we had better not calm them too soon. It would be a mistake to react too swiftly – do you remember the Gadarene swine?

Aristotle has something to teach us.

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and with the right motive, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.” (Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, Book 2 – Section 9, translated by W D Ross.)

The Apostle Paul tells us, "Be angry but sin not".

Total transformation means the changing of lives so that the maladies that cause division are eliminated – total transformation based on renewal as was the case in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s restorative justice in the South African context. And Nelson Mandela’s encouragement of Black people, particularly the young, to focus their rage into acts of reconciliation. Similarly I appeal to all young people in England to do the same. Focus your rage into acts of reconciliation.

Nelson Mandela said,

 “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)

No brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Where in the Cross of Christ, love is stronger than hate. Let us live and proclaim that Gospel. For the One who went to hell and back, Jesus Christ, is for ever with us till the end of time.

Let us “look to him the pioneer and perfecter of our faith: he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and is seated at God’s right hand” (Hebrews 12: 2)

And even so we say 'Come Lord Jesus, come!'

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