What should Christians learn from Brexit (and Trump's victory)?

Let me get the qualifications for what I'm not going to write in this post early. I'm not going to try and argue a position as a Christian on Brexit (or Donald Trump). Lots of people have done that already. For a post on the leadership issues, I would suggest reading Mike Ovey. Nor am I really going to comment on Donald Trump, evangelicals in the US and that sort of thing except rather tangentially. That's largely because I'm British, I've only been to the US a couple of times and I would be an idiot to think I could give much informed comment.

What I'm interested in is trying to learn some lessons from what has happened, particularly about how our culture seems to be working and how that affects Christians. One reason I've been planning to comment for a while is that I find myself in an unusual place - a resolutely middle class, educated boy (admittedly comprehensively educated and northern, but still...), living and ministering in a strongly Brexit (60% for) town. Rochdale would score highly on deprivation indicators, is low on life expectancy and would usually be described as something like a "depressed former mill town." It has a high and increasingly complex immigrant population (many of whom voted for Brexit from what I understand).

So here's my major reflection:

The Majority of Politicians, the Media and the Middle-Classes Don't Understand A Large Percentage of the Population

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to spot this. The people voted for Brexit despite the vast majority of political big-hitters lining up against it. Suddenly, and for an apparently brief moment, a tiny minority party - UKIP - managed to steal the show. It's worth noting that where I live that's been coming for a while. UKIP didn't win much round here in the last elections (council and general), but they did come second in a lot. The parallels with Trump seem fairly obvious. A complete outsider of the political system who wasn't really supported by the big wigs in his own party, defeated one of the most experienced politicians in the US.

Much of the media, reliant on what are clearly pretty wayward polls, seems incapable of grasping what is going on. Each election night they seem to start confident of a particular result (and is it wrong to say that it has often seemed to be the result they want) and go through a kind of paroxysm through the night, as everything they thought falls apart. I enjoyed Jeremy Vine on the radio yesterday asking whether the BBC should just give up reporting on elections!

It's probably a bit harder to speak for the views of the "middle-class." Others would call them the liberal elite, or the metropolitan bubble etc. I suppose what I'm getting at here is what I see on the voxpops on TV of people who are horrified by this or that result or the predictable Facebook explosions, with people declaring their shame of their country, the idiocy, ignorance and depravity of their fellow citizens and so on. Apart from the irony of watching a group of people who pride themselves on their lack of prejudice single out a group/class of people and pour scorn and bile on them, the most apparent thing is that they have precious little understanding of who they are talking about, because they have no idea of how they could possibly have acted in such a way (apart from the fact that they must be ignorant or vile).

At an anecdotal level, living in Rochdale (and before that Blackburn), I have consistently listened to politicians, the media and middle-class acquaintances proclaim things about my town and towns like it. They tend to do so with little or no experience of having lived in such a place (or even having been to such a place) and it is not unusual to have the feeling, at the end of their eloquent proclamation, that they haven't the first idea what they are talking about and they have very little clue about the people they are talking about.

I don't think saying the above is a big surprise to anyone now, although it should strike us as interesting and odd that it ever was. However, what might we suggest that Christians learn. Here are a few ideas:
  1. Keep your mouth shut when you don't know what you're talking about. I need to listen to this as much as anyone (he writes, whilst writing a public blog!). I can't tell you how offensive and damaging some Christians angry or thoughtless Facebook posts and blogs have been (James 1:1-12).
  2. Doubt the picture that you have of areas and people you don't know. When I went to work in London, like most comprehensive school northerners I had a prejudiced picture of southerners, public schools and the like. I wasn't completely wrong about everything, but I was pretty off-beam on lots of it. Don't look to the media, or politicians, or your mates who are like you to fill in those gaps. Likely as not they have as warped a view as you do.
  3. Think about what this means for the church, perhaps particularly conservative evangelicals. Most of our strong churches, training institutions, big name speakers and resources and so on come out of a particular culture (south east, middle class!). We know we want to reach other areas and people, but where are all the resources? How are we really going to become like Paul in being all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
There's more to say here, but I think the big call to Christians here is a call to sacrifice. We had someone planning to be a missionary in Uganda speaking to us on Sunday evening at church. The sacrifice for him and his family is significant and impressive. Praise God for people like him. But we need a much greater sacrifice in conservative evangelical Christians in the UK. Christianity is not a crutch to make your life better, it is a cross to take up daily (Mark 8:34-38). Yet most of us treat it like a spiritual add on to our ever improving lives, as we get better jobs, cars, house, schools and holidays. The thought of living in and going to church in a tougher area to support gospel ministry doesn't cross our minds. So a missionary looks shocking, when they should be normal, because we're all working out how to take up our cross every day.

I think what I have found most offensive about the Facebook comments and blogs and so on that have denigrated places like Rochdale and the people in them, is that they come from people who aren't willing to do anything meaningful about it. Don't mishear me, I'm the beneficiary of the support of a city centre London church, for which I am hugely grateful. But you see what makes me so grateful for that support is that (a) they want to hear from me what Rochdale is actually like and (b) they want to help and not just financially, but by sending actual people to help. You see, if you don't understand a place you need to learn about it and if you really want things to change, you mustn't put your hope in politicians, but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That means resourcing gospel ministry and maybe you, yes you, coming to help.

Did I mention Rochdale is on the M62, 15 minutes on the train from Manchester, not far from Leeds (in fact it may be better connected than Cheshire) and crying out for more faithful evangelical Christians to serve here?


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