Like many of you, I too have struggled with the poisonous rhetoric and toxic conversational tone surrounding the EU Referendum debates. The well-slung mud has been mixed with arsenic and so many previously respectable voices have been claimed by street thuggery and gang postures.
Whatever view you hold, and however you decide to vote, our popular political symposium has been laced with so much subversive racism, sanctioned disinformation and slanderous deception that it may never recover.
In Shakespeare’s tale of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio – just before dying in public agony, scandal and humiliation – yells out, “A plague o’ both your houses! They have made worms meat of me: I have it, And soundly too: Your houses!” There are no clean parties, no pure sides and no higher-ground opinions left in this debate; whether the house is Leave or Remain, there’s blood on our hands.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should share that I will be voting to remain in the European Union on Thursday, however that is not the point of this piece. My concern today is the blunderbuss language and theologically inept attitudes that we may be unintentionally and subliminally impressing on our youth groups. This is addressed to both sides of the debate.
What’s the issue in a nutshell?
This in-out question has struck a chord with many of us. We’re passionate about it, fearful and desperate. It’s been wrapped around every headline and under-girding all of our conversations for months. It’s slathered over social media walls like cheap emulsion rolled over old graffiti. Do we really think that our young people haven’t noticed the change in us?
When parents argue at home, things are overheard and issues ooze through the walls. When parents gossip about the pastor over the breakfast table, the kids take in every word – and often adopt them as their own opinions. The same is true for youth workers. Our young people know! They hear our fear and can sense our distaste for those who disagree with us.
They have noticed the suspicious lack of Gospel-hearted attitudes and grace-seeking edification emitting from their youth pastors. They have noticed the people we are appealing to as authorities on the world – and those whom we are not appealing to. There has been such a drop in our Spiritual standards of who to share and what to claim that we must assume that they have noticed.
This could be because we never had a conversation on how we we’re going to talk about it. We got so suddenly shunted by this that we walked in a little blind. I feel that somehow God got lost in the debate, though, and our attitudes of grace, mercy, self-sacrifice, community development, reaching the lost, helping the helpless were unintentionally shelved until later.
The way we have had these conversations, the nonsense that we’ve posted on our social media walls, and the ridiculous suspension of our analytical faculties has subtly pushed aside our usual faith-driven tone.
In the name of catchier arguments and tweetable memes we have effectively demonstrated to our young people that it’s okay to put our radical, faith-driven approach to life on hold for ‘more important issues.’
Fifty years of modern youth ministry and did we really forget to look at this through our Jesus goggles?
What are the specifics?
Forgetting the sovereignty and plans of the El Shaddai
There is so much fear and uncertainty regarding the Britain’s future, and so many tales told of crippled economies, disintegrating health services, and pointless education systems, that our young people are naturally concerned.
We need to be seasoning every comment we make with salt (Col. 4:6), and pointing back to the sovereignty and power and ultimate good plans of our Almighty God, El Shaddai. When we share our opinions on the EU, they should be buffeted and saturated with our opinions of who God is, and the miracles that He alone can accomplish.
Our young people are scared, and it’s our job to point them back to The Rock in this time of uncertainty. We are knocking around the word ‘sovereignty’ as if this country belonged to us rather than to the Lord of the world. Jesus Christ is sat on the throne, Britain is His, Europe is His and we are His.
Letting Unwholesome Talk Drift From Our Mouths Without Accountability
There is a culture alive in certain circles of Christianity – and thriving in youth work – that propagates standing up for whatever is true no matter what the consequences. On the surface that sounds right, ‘For we should not be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation’ (Rom. 1:16).
The reduced simplicity in which we apply that, however, totally disregards other clear commandments in the Bible. It is right that we should stand up for truth, but how and why we choose to speak are also equally important as what we speak. The Bible couldn’t possibly be clearer about this:
‘Speak the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:5), ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’ (v.29).
‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Passages like these, and many others, are easily rejected or downplayed as soft theology, made inapplicable through context – although it takes some exegetical gymnastics to do so!
We let these passages effectively fall away in the wake of ‘unashamedly declaring truth no matter what’. We forget ourselves, though – these are Biblical commandments. They are taught by God, demonstrated by Jesus and empowered in us by the Holy Spirit. They are required. We cannot pick and choose which commandments that we think are important.
We are called to speak truth and do so seasoned with salt, inspired by love, aimed at edifying and never just to be right. The Bible constantly tells us to tame the tongue. Being theologically correct is absolutely not enough if how you do it and why you do it breaks other commandments required by God. It’s simply not ok.
I absolutely need to remember this too. I love debating and I love winning, but I too am not to let any unwholesome talk come from my mouth that is not aimed to build up and benefit those who listen. I am not to let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth that has not been nurtured in the soil of love, mercy and Christlike sacrifice.
I feel that so much of our EU conversations have been seasoned with crap rather than salt. How we speak about the EU and how we love our enemies and pray for those persecute us (Matt. 5:44) needs to obey the same rules as everything else. There is some genuine truth in if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all. That’s not soft if it respects and recognises the work of accountability and sanctification that needs to happen in our hearts so we can approach people in a way that honours the words that God has given us to speak.
We can’t be perfect (yet), we will get this wrong and we will need to keep remembering grace. We should also, however, make every effort to show our young people how and why truth or opinions should be given – not just what those opinions are. That standard – I think – should also apply to what we share online.
Not Talking About Spreading The Gospel
Surely one of the first things we should talk about in a debate that could restrict movement geographically is how do we spread the Gospel in the most effective way. The Great Commission should be driving this conversation! If you vote remain or leave, it should be at least partly because you believe that that outcome will help to spread the Gospel more effectively.
If for any reason your vote (again leave or remain) could restrict the movement of the Gospel, then you had better have a pretty darn good argument for how it might advance the gospel in other ways or other areas!
We keep telling our young people to share the Gospel. We keep harping on about going to the unreachable areas! Let’s make sure it’s not empty rhetoric and we use the movement of the Gospel as a key feature of why we will vote the way we will.
Not Addressing Their Needs
I wonder if you’re able to list how leaving or remaining in the EU will affect your young people? That should have been the first thing we looked up, right?
- The housing crisis, which disproportionately affects young people is heavily affected by the EU, especially considering increased immigration and the lack of available social housing.
- Educational law, standards, transferable accreditation and affordability are largely linked to EU legislation.
- Unemployment (which also disproportionately affects young people) is heavily affected by free movement and trade within the EU.
- Money available for youth centers, libraries, schools, playgrounds and not-for-profit groups (like churches and youth charities!) is also negotiated in several directions within the EU.
- Free movement gives gap year options, work-experience placement and study abroad programs that may not be available, or cost more money, if we leave.
- Young people looking to become independent and start families currently have cheaper options in Europe’s other capitols than Britain.
You may not agree with the helpfulness of the EU with any of these issues, but they are issues young people care about and want to talk about.
Not Discussing Eschatological Issues From A Sensible Place
By eschatology, I mean end-times, and as a good amillennialist I believe that’s now – and has been now since the cross. There’s certainly a lot of conversation about end times surrounding the EU debate coming from Christian circles, but very little of it (that I’ve seen) has come across as sensible.
Shoehorning Brussels into Babylon and making the EU out to be some bloated antichrist-driven superstate is just a bit silly. I’m yet to see any credible use of the Bible in making these claims, so can we instead move on to those we can.
It’s important to talk about end times with young people, and it’s important to talk about eschatological issues that will affect their faith. I think this includes sharing the gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 5:9), not storing up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19), seeking God’s Kingdom above our empires (v.33), and seeking to pray for and influence our governments in a way that ensures peace and free movement of the Gospel (1 Tim. 2:2).
We also need to keep saying in the middle of all these debates, that Jesus Christ is Lord. He sits on the throne and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10).
Unintentionally Shunning Immigrants and Refugees In Our Youth Groups
Our subliminal attitudes could easily be filtering through into the culture of our youth groups in such a way that migrant children – whatever generation they might be – could feel like they’re not welcome.
We need to bear mind that there could be young people (or their friends) in our groups that feel that we don’t love them, don’t care about their needs or that Christ just isn’t for them because of our approach to the EU. With increasing refugees in UK school’s, it’s also too easy to forget where they have come from and what they have seen in the light of this debate.
We could easily be unintentionally humiliating migrants and refugees in our youth groups by some of the things that we’re posting and they are hearing from us.
This of course doesn’t just affect EU migrants in our groups, as the vast majority of immigration to the UK is from countries outside Europe. Our rhetoric about immigration within Europe, which has no effect on them technically, could easily be making them feel inferior.
Leading With Fear Rather Than Hope
The Bible tells us hundreds of times not to be afraid. It tells us not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matt. 6:25-34). Why then are both sides using fear is key tactic?
That’s an unfair question really, because we know why they do it: They do it because it works! The question really should be why do we keep propagating, sharing, and developing those same lines of arguments as Christians?
Leave are saying that millions of radicalised Muslims from Turkey are going to march on the capital (as if there are more radicalised Muslims that could come from Turkey than are currently already living here in the EU as citizens), and Remain are predicting doomsday prophecies of World War Three with Russia. It’s just not necessary, and totally disregards the hope we have in our powerful and sovereign God.
Forgetting That Some Of Them Can Vote
A bunch of our young people might be voting in this referendum for the first time! That’s exciting. We can help them take it seriously, believe in their vote and make Godly decisions. We can work through the issues with them and demonstrate for them what it means to be a Christian in the political arena and what it means to look to God for the future of your nation.
There are so many opportunities here! You can take them to the polling station, take a picture with them outside and be involved in this historic moment for them.
Not Cultivating A Culture Of Prayer
I have mostly ignored the issue of the referendum with my young people. I have some very politically aware and active youth group members with very strong opinions, who also have parents with very strong opinions. This makes me nervous and careful with how I talk about politics in my group.
I also need to be careful not to show too much political leanings as a politically passionate youth leader. It will be too easy to bring the Charity Commission down on us for no good reason.
What I should have been doing more of, however, and what we can all do still, is to cultivate a culture of prayer. You don’t have to take sides or run debates to pray for the future of Europe and the result of the vote. We can get our young people involved in praying for it and help them to lay it at God’s feet. This is a golden opportunity to demonstrate the importance of trusting God and being dependent on Him for all of our needs.
So What Am I Saying Really?
Recognise that we are visible, and lead with love. Our conversations should be held accountable to the standard God gives us in His Word. We should speak about this issue in a way that would honour the sacrificial example that Jesus gave us.
More specifically, we should talk about eschatology, we should talk about young-people-pertinent issues, we should converse with hope and come to decisions that advance the Gospel.
We don’t need to simply appeal to worldly authorities as our only authorities. We should of course look at facts, do careful research and be involved in the debate, but God has spoken and is always speaking, so we must make sure we are listening for His voice on this important issue.
I know this was long – and a bit ranty, but I hope you hear my heart in it.
What Did I Tell My Young People?
Here is the last message I sent to a group on facebook about the Refurendum. Lots of my guys n’ gals are passionate about politics and responded well to this:
(This is not a post to start a debate – any such comments from either side will be removed).
Last night someone asked whether there was an official ‘Christian position’ on the EU. There isn’t – but that doesn’t mean we can’t seek God for it and in it!
Whatever your views on the EU or Britain’s membership in it, we need to recognise the impact this referendum will have, and commit it to God together.
We should remember that our personal views (whatever they are, and however strongly we feel them) might not be God’s views, and more than being right, wrong, or ‘in-the-know’, we need to seek His face and His opinions.
I urge you over the next few days – and on Thursday specifically – to pray for Britain, for Europe, for the EU and for the referendum. Let’s be praying together for God’s will to be done and for Him to overrule!
Both official campaigns have done a pretty bad job, and both campaign slogans miss the true picture: Leave say ‘take back control’ – we instead need to relinquish control to God. Remain say we’re ‘stronger in’ – we instead need to seek God’s strength to rely on.
Migration, sovereignty, the economy, security etc. are all in God’s hands anyway! He knows the way we should take.
Pray with me that the result will be God’s result, and – whether we leave or remain – we will as a nation look more to God and less to ourselves for help, guidance, strength and security.
Pray that hope and not fear will drive this vote, and pray that wisdom and not foolishness will win out in the end (and I say that to both sides!).
Whatever the result, let’s pray together that this Thursday will be a significant turning point that will bring us closer to God as a nation.
Let’s seek first His Kingdom – His world – His sovereignty – His plan – His purpose – His Europe – and His Britain.
Let’s all be praying this week – and especially on Thursday!
“Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
PS>>TO THOSE OF YOU VOTING FOR THE FIRST TIME:<<
1. Don’t panic! God is bigger than you are. I’ve never voted for anyone or anything that won – but the world hasn’t fallen apart yet.
2. Don’t freak out! Do some research, think carefully and make up your own mind.
3. Don’t underestimate your vote. God can use one person to change whole nations.
4. Don’t underestimate God. Whatever the outcome, He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20).
5. Don’t fear. The Bible tells us that hundreds of times(!) – let’s trust that God has the best plan and big picture in mind.
6. Don’t forget the Gospel. All our decisions should be made with Christ-Likeness – so vote from a place of sacrificial love, grace and mercy. Vote in a way that puts others before yourself, and in a way that seeks to love, protect and serve.
Think wisely, but trust in God. Don’t just vote because your leaders/parents/church is leaning a certain way. Ask Him to guide you and – in the end – vote with your heart. Listen for His voice in you and vote your conscience.
WANT TO CHAT?
Redefine is politically neutral, however all of us leaders have different views on this issue as people. If you would like to chat about them, or have someone listen to your thoughts – feel free to get in touch with any of us.