Anglican Settlement, Brexit, Brussels, Catholic, Church Times, Civil War, European Union, Hard Brexit, Middle Way, Project Fear, Protestant, Puritans, Reformation, Reformed, Remainers, Rome, Soft Brexit, Third Way
As the debate about leaving the European Community continues, it becomes increasingly clear this is not an evidence based exercise but a matter of political faith and, as so often with matters of faith, with this comes the worst zealous intolerance. And all is done by claiming to know what the people really, really, want – or at least what is in their best interest to want.
Some five hundred years ago, we were playing out a very similar debate with similar levels of intolerance. For lovers of Hard Brexit read Puritans, those who wanted to overthrow the influence of Brussels – sorry Rome – and ensure a strict Reformation, free of popery, rituals and corrupt clergy. For Remainers read devoted Catholics, affirming the Pope as the true heir of the Apostle Peter, to whom Jesus had given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Each claimed to be the upholders of the true faith and each saw in the other the work of the devil. Each proclaimed their path alone led to Salvation. Project Fear was as much alive then as now. Then it was the seizing of lands, arrest, torture and execution, now it is outrageous claims of financial benefit or loss, the threat of movement of people (in or out) and exaggerated statements about our place in the world. And all, as ever, in the supposed name of the will of the people.
In response the Church of England emerged claiming to be both Catholic and Protestant, a typically English compromise, avoiding extremism. Scotland followed a different path much as they would like to again. Soft Brexit supporters see in this Anglican response their hope for the future – out of the EU but still fully engaged with Europe; like the CofE offering the best of both worlds. But this time the Brexit Puritans are determined to triumph – leave means leave and no compromise is allowed.
But those longing for a middle (soft) way need to remember that the Anglican settlement was hard-won over hundreds of years with much feuding, violence and bitterness on both sides and played its part eventually in civil war. It would not be until the mid 1800s that Catholics won emancipation and still to this day the catholic and reformed wings of the Church vie for influence. Parishes are advertised on the basis of high or low and only two weeks ago a Church Times columnist was complaining of an evangelical takeover.
Whatever deal is or is not struck it is an illusion to think that when we finally leave the European Union the matter will be settled. The lesson of the Reformation is that our relationship with Europe will continue to haunt our politics for generations to come.
Too many are too entrenched on all sides of this debate. Only when we can learn to understand none of us hold all the truth, and that those who hold opinions contrary to our own also hold important truth, and there is a genuine desire to come together for the common good, might there be a possibility of finding resolution.
Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. Tragically despite the supposed enlightenment of the 21st century, we seem cast back into the bitterness of a new Reformation, with all its unfinished business promising more hurt than healing.