A DEBATE on “unity and the common good” has been added to the agenda of the General Synod in York this weekend, after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have exercised their powers under the Standing Orders of the Synod to incorporate a new motion, in response to the referendum on 24 June, “to unite in the common task of building a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world”.
The motion, which has not yet been published in full, will be debated on Friday afternoon. It comes as reports of abuse towards foreign nationals and ethnic-minority groups in the UK escalated in the wake of the vote. The attacks have been condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and by the Prime Minister (News, 30 June).
Archbishop Welby has since spoken of the “most dramatic and dynamic changes that we’ve known” in the UK, and called for healing of the “thin crust of the politeness and tolerance of our society, through which, since the referendum, we have seen an out-welling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years”.
Speaking in a post-referendum debate in the House of Lords, on Tuesday, he said: “It is essential, not only in this House, but for the leaders of both sides, and throughout our society, to challenge the attacks, the xenophobia, and the racism that seem to have been felt to be acceptable, at least for a while.”
But, he warned: “St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says: ‘Love one another, cease to tear at one another, lest at the end you consume one another.’ We are in danger of that in the way that our politics is developing at the moment.
“If we are to tackle that, we have to look at some of the fundamental issues which must be put in place if we are to have a society that . . . will flourish and prosper for all its citizens, in the world outside the European Union of the future.”
Archbishop Welby called for social equality through investment in public health, housing, and education, and condemned the use of migrants as political “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the EU.
The future of EU citizens in the UK remains unclear. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, who had 165 declarations of support from Tory MPs on Wednesday as the Church Times went to press, has given no reassurance that EU citizens would have the right to remain in the UK after Brexit, should she become the next Prime Minister. But a cross-party group of politicians believe the next Prime Minister should guarantee the status of EU nationals. Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham forced a vote in Parliament on Wednesday over the issue.
Andrea Leadsom, a Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, had 66 declarations of support, and gained the support of Boris Johnson, who ruled himself out of the leadership race last week. The Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, had 48; and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb, and the former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, dropped out.
After the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, resigned on Monday, the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, refused a leadership bid, saying that he had “never wanted to be in a party where the Archbishop of Canterbury feels compelled to criticise some of the things that people say” (News, 10 June).
Repeated calls for unity from the Archbishop have been echoed in the dioceses. The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, wrote a letter to his clergy, licensed lay ministers, and churchwardens, this week, saying that although “the changes it has triggered at the moment feel seismic . . . it is vital that we keep a vision of how we belong together in this world”.
The bishops in the diocese of Lincoln have expressed concern for the “frightened and vulnerable”, and questioned what can be learnt from the result, and how Christians can respond.
The diocese of Rochester has republished a film from its Arts in Mission programme, Jericho Way (2014), a retelling of the story of the Good Samaritan in the context of immigration. The Vicar of St George’s Weald, the Revd Mandy Carr, who is the arts in mission co-ordinator for the diocese, said that the 25-minute film “feels chillingly current” in the circumstances.
To watch the film visit www.rochesteraim.com.