A View From The Vicarage, August 2016
As I write this, the whole of the British Isles is basking or is it baking? in what will doubtless be an all too short heatwave. After all I was always taught that the definition of a British summer is “two bright days and a thunderstorm!” it seems to me, however, that the storm clouds gathering over the United Kingdom at present are not merely the meteorological ones that we’re so accustomed to. For many people in the UK and well beyond its borders, the decision made in the European Referendum in June presages a protracted period of global doubt and uncertainty. We’ve already lost one Prime Minister and gained another while the Labour Party appears to be involved in a titanic internecine struggle over its future direction and leadership. A long period of paralysis within the largest opposition party in Parliament cannot augur well for the smooth operation of our democracy and the vital imperative upon the opposition parties to challenge the Government particularly as it prepares for some of the most vital negotiations to have affected the peoples of these islands since the end of the Second World War. Whatever the myriad reasons were which caused people to vote as they did on June 23rd, the ramifications of that decision will be felt, I suspect for many generations to come.
For me, as I’m sure for you as well, the most profoundly disturbing consequences of that result was what I pray will be an extremely temporary rise in extremely unpleasant xenophobic attacks on non-indigenous UK residents from which our own communities here were not immune. People in these islands censured, ridiculed and insulted for their nationality and ethnicity is not and never has been a hallmark of our national character. Surely one of the key identifiers of Britishness has and must surely continue to be our sense of tolerance and fair play. Why are we appalled when we discover elite athletes cheating? Because that’s not what we do! Our national character shaped in no small part by the influence of the Church of England and protestant Christianity as a whole have made us nation in which freedom of expression, freedom and dissent are hardwired into our national psyche, it’s not what we do, it’s what we are as a people. This has always been a country which welcomes with open hearts and hands those fleeing that same extreme xenophobia we have always abhorred. I pray and hope that this will be little more than a fleeting stain on our national character.
At the heart of Christ’s teaching lies that same focus on welcoming the stranger, the outcast and the outsider. Christ’s most famous parable of The Good Samaritan makes exactly that point. At the time of Christ, Samaritans were in the eyes of the Jews the ultimate outsiders, for the Jews the Samaritans were a disgrace and an aberration. In the parable, a priest and a Levite, both representing the Jewish religious elite, ignore the plight of the wounded man, while the outsider in the person of the Samaritan tenderly and generously cares for him and his recovery. Christ’s words to the lawyer whose question prompted the parable are surely addressed equally to us: “Go then and do likewise.”
Let’s continue to rejoice and celebrate our history, our traditions and our own unique cultural identity but let’s do it in a spirit of friendship, welcome and tolerance of all those from overseas who come to make their lives here, after all that’s an integral part of who and what we are.
With my love and prayers, as always