Some of you might recognise reference in that phrase to Abraham Lincoln’s speech, made in the context of slavery. He argued that the Union could not be both for and against slavery – ‘half slave and half free’ as he put it. He argued that one would prevail. Either slavery would be accepted everywhere, or accepted nowhere.
Others might recognise that Lincoln borrowed the phrase ‘a house divided’ from Jesus. Jesus is speaking in response to a claim by the teachers of the law that He was driving out demons in the name of the prince of demons. Jesus responded, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” His argument, which Lincoln borrowed, was that a divided kingdom would not stand; could not stand.
I am currently living in a divided kingdom. On June 23rd, we in the UK voted to leave the EU. Well, a slender majority of us did, anyway. It’s not a legally binding vote, but it seems inevitable now that, in the fullness of time, the United Kingdom will cut off at least some of its ties with the European Union.
But one major problem we currently face is that we are not the United Kingdom in this matter. We are a deeply divided one. It seems that very few people occupied any sort of middle ground. Rather, the debate has been one of extremes, and has thus fostered polarisation. This has resulted in a lot of name-calling and jibes from both sides of the debate. Remainers are cowardly for their lack of ambition and for succumbing to the fear-mongering. Leavers are xenophobic for their desire to bring greater control to our borders. Remainers lack confidence and vision, Leavers lack common sense and reason.
How must we in respond to this?
First, we must pray. Not because the alternative to prayer is panic, but simply because the alternative to praying is not praying, and that’s not going to do anyone any good at all. In prayer, we are forced to consider the bigger picture. In prayer, we should be asking what God is asking of us, not simply giving him directions and planning His next move for Him. We must pray only and always not that we get our own way, but that God gets His. And we must be willing to work to that end, too. We must pray not only for those ‘on our side’, but for those with whom we disagree.
We must also build bridges. The campaign saw the rapid erection of numerous barriers, and the reinforcement of some already-established ones. Barriers that divided communities, races, families. You name it, there was a barrier for it. Our Divided Kingdom needs re-uniting. This is not time for gathering around our like-minded friends and cursing the opposition. This is the time for reaching beyond those who mirror us, to those who offer contrast. It is a time for those who voted Remain to work with those who voted Leave; to accept the democratic result of this referendum and to press forward. If, on the other hand, you wish to fight against the result of the campaign, by all means do so in the short term, but if nothing changes, don’t expect that to be your last involvement in this. We must not wash our hands of responsibility and leave it to the Leavers to pick up the pieces. Those who voted Remain but failed to draw enough Leavers to their side are equally responsible for the outcome of this referendum.
We must seek truth and challenge lies. Both sides in the campaign were guilty of presenting ideas, concepts, figures, outcomes and the like as truth, when they were at best guesswork and at worst, pure lies. We need to challenge a culture of untruth. This isn’t of course true only in the world of politics. You only have to watch a football match for a few minutes to see players lying – you kick the ball out of play and then claim it’s your own team’s throw in. You pretend a foul has happened when it really hasn’t. But while it’s annoying in sport, it’s dangerous in politics. Lies in politics have the power to damage lives. We need to learn to discern truth, and to do our best to spread it, whilst at the same time exposing deceit and quoshing it. This won’t be popular.
Flowing from the impact of the lies that are told, we must seek to support those who suffer as a result of the actions of politicians. Now is the time for unity. Now is the time to stand with others in their suffering, not simply to acknowledge it and to complain about the set of circumstances that led to it.
Now is also the time to look beyond Europe. Not exclusively, of course, because we and Europe can still benefit one another. But we have the opportunity following this referendum to broaden and deepen our global ties, rather than to sever them. Of course, we may find it hard to establish trust (there’s that word again) with nations that have witnessed the events of the last week, but without them, we will shrink. It may be a difficult task, as one sad outcome of the referendum is that there’s an extent to which xenophobia has been legitimised, but if enough people on both sides of the campaign fight against this blinkered view, there is yet hope.
I could go on (let’s face it, I often do) but I think that’s enough for me to be working on at the moment. By all means add your own vision in the comments section. And let’s press on with hope.
I’ll finish with this youtube thingy (if it works!) A useful reminder for me that the really important things in my life are unshakeable. A birth that brings a new hope.