No-Deal. May’s Deal. Managed Withdrawal. People’s Vote. Irish backstop.
Brexit has introduced a whole range of new terms to our public lexicon. It would also not be unfair to say that Brexit appears to have introduced a whole new tone to our public discourse- a tone of acrimony and anger; hostility and hate. Certainly, it is an issue that has divided the country cutting right across political, geographic and social lines.
For those of us involved in reconciliation work this might seem like an opportunity for us to step in. Surely if Brexit has created anything it is the urgent need for reconciliation at all levels of British society.
This does, however, leave many of us in something of a quandary. As is the case with all of these epochal decisions, most of us feel fairly invested in this debate in a partisan way. Especially working for the Reconciliation Ministry here in Coventry- a ministry with many partners in Continental Europe and a long association with the broader European project (which extends far beyond the formal structures of the European Union)- it can seem hard to stand back and speak of reconciliation between two warring factions when you feel very much part of one of those factions.
For me, this is a feeling only highlighted by generational politics. Recent polling suggests upwards of 80% of those in the 18-24 age bracket would vote to remain in the EU- in sharp contrast to the much more Eurosceptic older generation. In conjunction with the disproportionate weight given to older voters in policy discussions (disproportionate, but not politically unwise given their propensity to vote), this has certainly produced an air of grievance amongst many younger people who feel as if decisions that weigh heavily in their future are being made without consulting them.
In an opinion piece such as this, I would be expected to reveal that I don’t find the above convincing and that. I would argue that, in fact, Brexit presents a wonderful range of opportunities for young reconcilers such as myself who are committed to the European project. It would be a wonderful “aha” moment and all would be well.
Unfortunately, that would be a lie. I don’t have any idea what an answer to the above dilemma is. To my mind, either I have to pretend that I’m somehow impartial on Brexit, or I have to acknowledge that I cannot be seriously involved in reconciliation surrounding Brexit. I would imagine this is a dilemma shared by the majority of those in the UK concerned with reconciliation- few of us could claim impartiality in the Brexit debate.
I am, at least, comforted by the knowledge that Brexit is far from the first conflict in history that has left reconcilers in a difficult position between a cause or side they strongly believe in and a need to reconcile opposing sides. One can hardly imagine that Desmond Tutu could claim impartiality in post-apartheid South Africa for example.
In fact I have a suspicion, a hope even, that most reconcilers are familiar with this problem- with trying to reconcile a scenario where we strongly identify with one side.
This makes reconciliation messy. It erodes the idea that reconcilers can stand above from a conflict and help make things better while not becoming part of that conflict. For Christians, this should be neither surprising, nor distressing.
If I am permitted a brief theological digression- Christians understand all reconciliation between people as only possible because of the reconciliation that has occurred between humanity and God. The Greek of 2 Corinthians 5 is clear that the ministry of reconciliation is not just given to us but placed inside us by the reconciliation of God to humanity through Jesus Christ. This divine reconciliation did not see God standing above the conflict- in the person of Jesus Christ very much got “stuck in” to our conflicts. Therefore, surely, true Reconciliation is not only often messy- but always messy, because reconcilers cannot but become part of a conflict.
And so, to bring things to a close, I can unashamedly say I am an opponent of Brexit and share this with many of my colleagues and yet this does not preclude our ability to do reconciling work in and around the Brexit debate. In fact, as a parting provocation, perhaps partisan involvement in the conflict- taking a stand either for or against- is necessary to reconcile the conflict. God only reconciled our conflicts by getting stuck in- perhaps the same is true for us.