British Christians Debate “Brexit”

In 1975 Great Britain held a referendum on its 1973 admission to what was then still the European Economic Community. By a two-to-one margin, British voters ratified their country’s new role in Europe.

In nine days, they will revisit that decision with another referendum, one that could well end with Britain negotiating a withdrawal from the European Union. (Often called “Brexit” — here’s an introduction.)

With recent polls showing the Remain side losing momentum to Leave, it’s possible that the swing vote will come from the religious group that, so far, has been most likely to support Brexit: the now-minority of Britons who are practicing Christians.

Scrabble tiles forming Brextit and EU
CC BY 2.0 (Jeff Djevdet)

In my maiden Anxious Bench post this morning, I survey the diversity of Christian arguments for and against Brexit, including several debates that appeal to church history. For example:

An Anglican priest who is co-chair of the Christians for Britain movement, [Giles] Fraser used his Guardian column to locate “the intellectual roots of Euroscepticism” in the Reformation’s “across-the-board protest at the elitist and centralising philosophy of the Roman church.” Noting research that suggests less skepticism of the EU in historically Catholic countries, Fraser contended that

Conversely, in Protestant countries, the EU still feels a little like some semi-secular echo of the Holy Roman empire, a bureaucratic monster that, through the imposition of canon law, swallows up difference and seeks after doctrinal uniformity. This was precisely the sort of centralisation that Luther challenged, and resistance to it is deep in the Protestant consciousness.

Here it’s hard not to hear echoes of an old theme in British Euroscepticism. For a “significant minority” of British Christians in the 1975 referendum, observes [historian] Philip Coupland, “the Treaty of Rome symbolised the mounting threat of the Catholic Church to the heritage of the Reformation” (Britannia, Europa and Christendom, p. 197). And Coupland points out that the 1975 version of this argument was much tamer (and ultimately less effective) than the anti-Catholic rhetoric present after World War II, when Britain first flirted with European integration.

You can read the full post here.


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