I am a Christian, that is my identity, Jesus is the center and the focus of my life, so I am committed to Christianity, I am of course committed to the church that together with the Deacon’s and Church members I serve as the Minister.
But in this moment, when people are striving to define themselves by their differences, by those with whom they disagree, by those with whom they no longer wish to be identified, it is worth reflecting on the nature of identity and how it can either help us to build bridges or to erect walls that we hide behind.
We are approaching the referendum when as a nation we will choose if we are to remain within the E.U. or to leave it.
We are hearing news that the so called Islamic State are now targeting Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people.
Why do I mention these apparently unconnected things together?
Because they are both about how we work with our sense of identity. Islamic State are seeking to define themselves by those people to whom they are different. Every kind of fundamentalism is at heart a reaction of fear to modern life, we only try to destroy things or people that make us frightened and fundamentalism is a fight or flight reaction to the realities of the twenty first century.
Similarly, we are told that the main reason for leaving the E.U. is immigration, the lack of jobs for people in the U.K and the fact that immigrants are pushing down wages.
It is easy to demonize certain groups of people and say, “They are causing all of our problems.” but even a very basic knowledge of economics shows this to be a fundamentally flawed argument.
This line of thinking assumes that workers in the U.K. are only in competition with immigrants in the U.K. but that is simply not true.
We face these problems because we are now in a global marketplace where factory workers in this country are in direct competition with workers in China or India, and other emerging economies with lower overheads in a whole host of other places. Leaving the E.U. will not change that in even the slightest degree.
For this reason my personal inclination, (which is not guidance on how to vote for other Christians will legitimately disagree with me) is to vote to remain in, and reform the E.U.
But no matter if we vote to leave or to stay, demonizing particular groups of people is nothing new, it happened in the 1930’s when the evil of anti-Semitism was rife in Europe and we all know where that led.
In the United states we see the rise of Donald Trump with his rhetoric of fear and hatred. In India we see the rise of Hindu extremism and in the U.K. we have seen the rise of political parties and leaders who all come within the group appealing to popular authoritarianism. This is manifested in move to a more isolationist right wing or even a more left wing swell of opinion based on a climate of fear.
Popular authoritarianism exploits the anger of those people who feel that life has treated them unfairly. These may be people who might well once have been able to find low skilled manufacturing jobs and now struggle in the global market place because the skills they have to offer are no longer in demand in a high tech, skills and knowledge based economy.
The concerns of these people are legitimate and real and they do need to be addressed, but although an easy over simplification and miss-diagnosis of the problem may make people feel better in the short term, it will do nothing to improve their lives in the long term.
For many people, if we get rid of immigrants and leave the E.U. the belief is that the world will suddenly become a better place. These are miss-placed hopes and pipe dreams because the world in which we live is much subtler and more nuanced than this.
And ironically, for those people who have become radicalized and filled with hatred, joining the so called Islamic State, the belief is that if only they could destroy all the infidels or convert them by force and make then conform to strict Sharia law though intimidation or fear, that same utopia will be created that we fanaticize about creating by leaving the E.U.
I am not seeking to tell people which way to vote because I do not believe the exaggerated claims of either the Remain Campaign or the Brexit one. But if our future is to be directed by the fight or flight instincts that stem from fear, we will certainly be disappointed when our belief in easy solutions and simple panaceas turn out to be nothing more than fantasies and our hatred of those we feel threatened by will grow as the real problems remain unchanged because of our false belief in quick fixes.
Underlying all of these movements of popular authoritarianism is the same basic instinct, fear.
But if we can be secure enough in our own identity to tolerate difference a very different picture emerges.
How can we as ordinary people counter the waves of fear and hatred that are sweeping our world and destroying the peace and wellbeing of individuals and nations? We have no power to fix the problems of global markets or mass migration.
Every real encounter with another person must start with recognizing and focusing on our shared humanity that reflects the image of our creator God. Then I do not talk with an opponent or an ally, but with a fellow human being who is worthy of consideration, dignity, warmth and regard; with someone who is worthy of my full attention and respect. I do not encounter a gay person or a straight person, a rich person or a poor person, a liberal or an evangelical, a Muslim or a Christian, or an atheist; but another human being with whom I may empathize and reach a degree of understanding. In this safe place of warm regard and listening grace, there is space for miracles and wonders to happen, and for the Holy Spirit to build bridges and weave webs of friendship, thus the idea of Holy War is rendered redundant, and the peace of Christ comes a little closer. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven; for in the fullness of time, it is only love that will win the day.