European not Brexit Christianity.


Anglican Christianity did not express a strong view on Brexit. It issued a prayer for the Referendum which was scrupulously neutral between staying and leaving. It seemed that the Anglican commitment to Christians in Europe was not strong enough to sway God through our prayers, and presumably God heard our indifference. The prayer was a fudge.

This position is understandable because by and large the Church of England is a national, even nationalist, understanding of Christianity. It was founded by an English monarch. Its creed has been the 39 articles. It central document is the Book of Common Prayer, and the Anglican Communion which forms its primary international relationships are based on the British Empire and Commonwealth, not on our European relations. Anglican contact with the Reformation was heavily expunged in 1662 by the Act of Uniformity and the ejection of some two thousand ministers soon afterwards, the ones most influenced by the European Reformation of Luther and Calvin. Indeed, in the 18th century when Wesley was also influenced by European Christianity, he too had to leave the Church of England.

This pattern continued during the 19th century when mission was strongly identified with the Empire, and then, since the visit of Moody in the 1870s English Christianity has been more exposed to and influenced by American Christianity than anything from Europe, and, apart from some notable exceptions, the European connections have been relatively weak, compared, for example, with the links between Scottish and German theology.

Most Anglicans do not see this as a problem and the possibility that we might need insights from Europe in English Anglican Christianity scarcely crosses our minds. We are happy to be little Englanders cut off from European Christianity for the foreseeable future.

Actually, this is in part our problem. Anglican churchgoing, practice and liturgy carry on, but they are hardly inspiring for much of the time, partly because they are introverted and do not see European insights and awareness. One obvious contrast was the way Angela Merkel and the German Christian Democrats welcomed a million refugees in an obvious Christian response to people in need. It was a courageous Christian act, echoing the Good Samaritan and the teaching of Jesus. Meanwhile, the British Government withdrew, passing by on the other side, and the Church of England made statements which were on one side and the other with its usual lack of clarity. We need to think whether the European political engagement in both Protestant and Catholic churches in Europe does not have something to teach us.

More than this, Europe has exposed our national self-promotion. We always want to be leaders. We rubbished the French for not supporting the invasion of Iraq, when the French were right. We talk of leading Europe and come up with a financial crisis and self-important interventions in Libya and Syria which are making matters worse. Europeans get on with one another. England faces an identity crisis born of our own arrogance, as the Scots have recognized. English identity has nothing to do with Christianity. The Christian faith is not merely marginalised; it does not feature in our public life. Yet, none of this is addressed by the Church of England. Perhaps we should reflect as to whether English Christianity has anything to say? Does it, for example, have a worldview rather than a national view?

Meanwhile., the Anglican Church becomes increasingly spineless and parochial, unable to make any real public interventions and spending three decades on the internal business of moving towards women bishops. It is odd that the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus himself, spent so much time critiquing the domestic leaders and politics of their time, when the Anglican Church does not dare to say anything which might rock the Westminster establishment. The Pope takes on Presidents, but we dare not offend the Daily Mail and dress up to go through the next ceremonial act of State.

Brexit, the withdrawal from Europe, is a defeat for English Christianity, a withdrawal from millions of brother and sister Christians in Europe, a withdrawal from part of Christendom. Rather than just going with the flow, like a wrapping paper sliding along the gutter of British nationalism, we could engage with our European brothers and sisters. We could give and receive a European Christian holiday each year, link churches across Europe, have a European Christian website, language exchanges for children, have forums for European theology, Christian art, Christian economics; we could feature European churches, visions, failures and challenges. We can reconstruct Christian Europe as a body formed in Christ. Some of this happens but European Christianity is too much to lose.

We share nearly two millennia of Christian history with Europe, Christianity came to us through Europe and we should know that this agape relationship is rich to bless all of us. It is time to wake up, Anglicans, and think of yourselves as members of the Church of Europe.

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