On one side of the political divide we have a Conservative Party bitterly riven over Brexit; on the Labour side, there are ructions over antisemitism as a hard-left takeover continues. Both parties appear to be led by individuals temperamentally unsuited to the demands such responsibility brings. In the background, the third party, the Liberal Democrats, are also unhappy with their leader; in Scotland, the nationalists watch and wait, eyeing their chances.
And all this is taking place within an atmosphere of acute apprehension in the run-up to leaving the EU next year. Remainers have always feared the worst; now they fret that a worst-case scenario really could unfold. Leavers, too, have their anxieties: will it all work out? What if it doesn’t? And what if they are let down by some kind of fudge or even reversal of Brexit?
We have been here before, of course. There were dire predictions of the ‘Millennium Bug’ for the start of the year 2000, when it was feared computers might crash terminally, planes might drop out of the sky, and food shortages could result. And then there was ‘Project Fear’ – that there would be an immediate economic catastrophe if Britons even just voted to leave the EU, never mind actually doing so.
Both those fears were ungrounded, it turned out. And yet, somehow, this time, it does feel different. The atmosphere is brittle, fractious, and full of foreboding. Will we look back on this drought too as some have looked back on ‘the long hot summer’ before the First World War – as the ominous (in retrospect) heat before a massive shock to the system? As the History Journal put it a few years ago: ‘The summer of 1914 was memorable for its picnic-perfect weather… [But it] would for many decades become synonymous with astonishing naiveté’. Will we look back in the future and wonder what could have been done to stop a preventable economic or political upheaval of some kind? Or will we muddle through?
Against this backdrop, regrettably, the church of Jesus Christ continues to attract attention for many of the wrong reasons – most notably child abuse and other sex scandals. It’s tragic. For we as Christians have some things which are unique and important to bring to a situation such as this. What then can – should – we offer which would help the UK right now?
‘Oh, yawn,’ you say, ‘I thought you were going to say something original!’ Well I hope you didn’t say that, but if you did let me gently rebuke you. ‘Prayer is…the Christian’s vital breath,’ as the hymn puts it. The fashionable practice of mindfulness (which has many good aspects) may help us breathe well physically, but how well are we breathing spiritually in prayer? The Bible exhorts us to pray for those in authority. So are you praying regularly (regardless of political affiliation) for Theresa May, the cabinet and Parliament? Does your church prayer meeting do that? ‘Some trust in Brexit or Bremain,’ as the psalmist didn’t quite say, ‘But we trust in the name of the Lord our God,’ (Psalm 20:7).
‘Oh yeah,’ you say, ‘that sounds nice. And also rather dull.’ But no, really – especially online. You know what Twitter and much social media are like. They are full of vitriol and contempt and abuse and general disgust with the ‘other’. A society supposedly espousing tolerance and diversity is surprisingly intolerant of any divergence from, well, what we think, whichever group ‘we’ happen to be: Remainers or Leavers, Corbynites or non-Corbynites, left or right, those who think Jordan Peterson has the answers or those who think he begs the question. How easily as Christians we can be swept along in this too. But our identity is not in politics or flag or group; it is in Christ. And that should make a difference. The God revealed in Jesus is ‘compassionate and gracious’ – and so, by the grace of God, should we be.
In all our words and deeds we seek to model and point people towards Jesus, in whom are found ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ as the New Testament puts it, and in whom all aching, restless hearts can find peace. ‘Safe space’ is a popular concept these days, but Christ is truly the only safe place. Yes, at the end of the day, it really all does come back to Jesus – and who people say he is. In this parched and brittle country, with its scorched gardens and febrile politics, the invitation of Christ comes anew with its offer of satisfying, surprising refreshment: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.’ Put simply, the UK needs Jesus.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A