Does the Christian faith offer a clear answer to the question, ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the EU?’ Does Anglo-Catholicism? For those who want to emphasise the Church of England’s connectedness with Christian Europe and (as a part, albeit separated, of the Latin Church) with the patrimony and primacy of the See of Rome, the answer might be thought to be ‘yes’. Many of the founding fathers of the old EEC were more-or-less practising Roman Catholics; some were very convinced adherents to the faith.
A romantic view of the Union might look upon it as a descendant, many times removed, of the Holy Roman Empire: a means of carrying the faith of Europe down through the generations; and a bulwark against extremism on the one hand and atheism on the other. Of course, such a view of the EU of the twenty-first century would be just that: a romantic one; in truth, romantic nonsense. The (probably inevitable) secularism of the institutions and leadership of the EU is not in itself a reason for leaving it; after all, UK governments, of any political hue, can hardly be said to be standard-bearers for Christian virtues, but rather for the bland values (‘British values’) of the liberal secular consensus. Those who would leave the Union are liable to be as guilty of spinning a romantic fantasy as those who would remain, longing – as at least some of them do – for a ‘Merrie England’ devoid of all migrants and refugees, which never was.
Is it, then, a merely technocratic question: will the wheels of market capitalism turn more smoothly with or without the link with Brussels? An economic question augmented by a little political science – a bit less parliamentary democracy here, a little more pooling of sovereignty there?
New Directions will not take sides: the rather dull truth is that Christians (and Anglo-Catholics) can agree to disagree on this question. What we do hope for is a bit of passion in the debate. Speaking at the Mansion House recently, the Bishop of London asked for a newly invigorated account of the story of the English, neither nationalistic nor nostalgic, to match (as he saw it) the strong sense of their history and identity freshly cultivated by the Scots, Welsh, and Irish. It is undeniably the case that for those campaigning to stay ‘in’, their task will be made much harder without a similarly robust and attractive account of what the EU is for. It will come down to ‘the vision thing.’
* * *
Cupcakes. Who would have thought that this harmless, tasty confection could be so controversial? Well, it was not the fault of the cupcakes themselves that the leadership of the Diocese of Leicester chose Ash Wednesday to distribute them to passers-by in Leicester city centre, as a reminder of ‘the generosity of God’. New Directions has sometimes been accused of late of lacking the sharp satirical edge of its early years, when the magazine was regularly criticized (by those on the receiving end) for its ‘tone’. As Cupcake-gate sadly proves, the problem is not that New Directions has ceased to be an organ of capable of satire, but that the Church of England is so good at parodying itself that there is no need for anyone else to try. Some things are beyond parody: and distributing sweet, sugary morsels on one of two days which the Church of England’s formularies, traditional and revised, denote as a day of fasting and abstinence, is one of them.
Preaching to the College of Bishops at St Margaret’s, Westminster, in January, Canon Chris Russell, who works with excluded and challenging teenagers and young people in Reading, and who is a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s task group for evangelism, said this: If the Church of England loses a generation to the Christian faith, it will not be because they have not been entertained. A Church to whom it is not obvious that you do not give out cupcakes on Ash Wednesday does not deserve the loyalty of this generation, never mind the next. ND