THE anger that fuelled the vote to leave the EU and was engendered by it must not be suppressed, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, told the General Synod on Friday.
During a debate on a motion welcoming the Archbishops’ call to build a “generous and forward-looking country”, Dr Sentamu warned of the dangers of calling for reconciliation “too quickly”, and argued that that anger could not be dissipated until it had been faced, “and it cannot be faced until it has been ‘allowed out’.
“What often happens is a rush to attack the anger of others and expect them to calm down for the sake of harmony that is not yet,” he observed.
“Even our worst rages may seem only destructive, but are, none the less, indispensable energies needed for the coming Kingdom,” he argued. “In ways we cannot yet see, the anger that fuelled the Brexit vote and the anger engendered by it are both energies we need for our future human flourishing. So we had best not calm them too soon.”
He urged young people to listen to Nelson Mandela’s instruction and “focus their rage into acts of reconciliation”.
Dr Sentamu’s warning was echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that it rang true with his own experiences of working for reconciliation in conflict areas.
The debate was a late addition to the agenda by the Archbishops, who have expressed concern about the deep divisions exposed by the referendum result. Their motion states that the Synod “welcome the Archbishops’ call for all to unite in the common task of building a generous and forward-looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world, and encourage all members of the Church of England to play their part actively in partnership with everyone in Civil Society in pursuit of this task”.
Introducing it, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that “the signal has been set at ‘Danger’ for cohesion,” and urged the Church to work for integration, “not simply of different cultures, but within own land; and, if we do that, we must also tackle inequality”. He noted the “sharp rise” in child poverty. “The shock of Brexit must be one that forces us into a more just and fair society, and a more equal one.”
The strong Leave vote in many areas of deprivation was explored during the debate. There was sustained applause for the Vicar of St Oswald’s, Hartlepool, the Revd Graeme Buttery, who insisted that this vote was not an expression of “incoherent rage”, but of anger at many aspects of life, by people who had felt unheard for decades. He noted that the EU had “poured vast sums of money” into the area, but argued that this could not balance out the decline of industry. “Since we joined [the EU], the shipyards have sunk, coalmines collapsed, steel works rusted, and chemical works dissolved”. He also recalled the loss of 600 jobs in a day after a call centre was relocated to India. “No number of grants can make that right anywhere near quickly enough.”
The unity expressed in the motion must also tackle economic issues, including “the tyranny of zero-hour contracts”. It was time to appreciate the talents of every single person.
The Vicar of St George’s, Everton, Canon Kate Wharton, suggested that a Brexit vote was “bold and brave”. People in deprived areas, many of whom had voted Leave, felt “abandoned”, “rejected”, “despised”, and “disempowered”. The Church had both an opportunity and a duty to respond. “Whatever we may personally feel about the issues, we need to recognise that, for many people in poorer communities, their vote was cast as a protest against the way life feels for them right now.”
The argument that the result of the referendum was a mission opportunity was put forward several times. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman MP, suggested that the Church had a “unique reach into communities”, with a “toolkit of spiritual language which enables it to address challenges far better than politicians”.
A European perspective was provided by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, who said that the typical reactions he encountered on the Continent were “shame, anger, and deep sadness”. He was clear about his own stance: “This referendum and result represent a sad loss of national vocation, abject failure of political leadership, and squandering of the birthright of our young people. . . Britain seems to be country keen to build fences.” He urged people now to build and strengthen links with churches in Europe.
Before the debate, the Synod heard from an ecumenical guest, Bishop Ralf Meister of the Evangelical Church in Germany. He spoke of the “European dream” as “a dream of humanity and justice”, and warned that “A Europe split in gated national communities will undermine a common period of social, economic, cultural, and peaceful welfare in Europe.”
Fenella Cannings-Jurd (Salisbury) said that the Church’s mission to young people and response to Brexit “can’t be disentangled”. Many young people felt a “genuine sense of despair about what the future holds for British and European students.”
Listening to accounts of racial abuse, and hearing her own daughter ask, on the morning of the result, “if we had to leave”, had caused hurt, fuelled by the remembrance of past experiences of racism, the Vicar of St John’s, Angell Town, Canon Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark), said. “Let us continue to speak the affirming and united love of Christ, and build bridges, understanding that some of us are scared and hurting.”
The Archbishops spoke of the need to accept the result of the referendum. An attempt by the Rector of Stokesley, the Revd Paul Hutchinson, to change the motion from “recognising” to being “mindful of” the result was rejected. He had argued that “recognising” suggested approval or acceptance, which many members of the Synod would struggle with, given the “unretracted misrepresentations” of the campaign.
Another amendment, by Enid Barron (London) was accepted. This added that the Synod “commend the work already carried out by the Church in bringing communities together and recommend that as a minimum every bishop identify a champion in their diocese to assess what more the Church could do and to make recommendations for creating stronger and more constructive links between local communities as a basis for achieving this common task”.
The amended motion was clearly passed.