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God, Brexit and the Right to be Angry

todayNovember 15, 2022 4

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Righteous anger?

 

In last month’s referendum, 58% of Christians voted to leave the EU. 63% of Christians said they thought immigration was a “force for ill”. Many of the UK’s Christian leaders argued that the EU kept us safe, secure, peaceful and prosperous, and most of their followers ignored them.

Christianity in the UK is split, confused, scared of the future and fighting with itself – much like the rest of the country. So what happens now?

If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, you’re seeing a lot of anger. Remain voters are furious, accusing the Leave campaign of lies and the Leave voters of xenophobia, ignorance, stupidity and worse. Pro-EU newspapers are calling the vote to leave a disaster and warning of chaos to come.

Of course, it’s not just Remainers who are angry. Reports of racist attacks are rising too. Social media is full of stories of abuse hurled at people suspected of being immigrants, and the news has been covered by journalists around the world.

I’m also seeing a lot of calls for peace, calm and reconciliation. Jesus was the Prince of Peace, the teacher of forgiveness, the one who told us to turn the other cheek. Surely that means Christians should be the first to lay down their anger and start working to bring the country back together again?

Well, maybe. But why should Christians always work for peace? Isn’t it right to be angry sometimes?

Even before the referendum, Justin Welby was calling for the two sides to ‘Reunite with immense determination to be a gift to the world of today and to future generations.’ Since the vote, Premier has published blog posts explaining “How to put Britain back together”, starting with a new commitment to peace-making. According to Danny Webster, Christian unity must ‘drive our mission’ to ‘make Jesus known’ and ‘provide a platform to present a vision for society.’

Well, maybe. But why should Christians always work for peace? Isn’t it right to be angry sometimes?

 

What would Jesus do? 

 

Jesus might have been the Prince of Peace, but he also knew how to get mad. His outbursts against corruption, hypocrisy and bad leadership are hair-raising. We’ve heard a lot of arguments from the UK’s political parties this month, but no one has actually made a whip and driven their opponents out of the House of Commons (so far, anyway).

The Bible teaches that anger can sometimes be the right response, and peace without justice is not really peace at all.

The Bible also has a lot to say about peace-makers, and it’s not all good. Think of the greedy priests and prophets in the Book of Jeremiah (chapter 6 and chapter 8), who “Dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious”, saying “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” They turn up again in the book of Ezekiel, trying to paint over the gaps in a flimsy wall.

The Bible teaches that anger can sometimes be the right response, and peace without justice is not really peace at all. That’s a hard thought!

If you’re a Remain voter, and you really think the UK has made “an appalling mistake” that will have terrible consequences, and you think that voters have been lied to by deceitful politicians, then you have every right to be angry. As Jonathan Langley has said, it’s too soon to calm down and move on. The struggle isn’t over yet, and there is still a lot to fight for.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. It’s right to be angry, but not all anger is right.

 

Are we isolated from the real world? 

 

Online, we connect with networks of people who think like us and share our values, because those are the people we most want to hear from. That makes it easy for simple ideas and straightforward images to move very quickly around the world, travelling through an echo chamber of people who already agree with each other. One person sees something that makes them angry, and within an hour they can spread that anger to thousands of like-minded people.

In other words, social media is the perfect technology for making us feel. It’s a machine for multiplying emotions, and it works by isolating us from real, complicated encounters with difference.

That’s great for mobilising passionate crowds, but it can also blind us. If all we see on social media is angry people reinforcing each other’s anger, we can quickly lose sight of any kind of nuance, fairness and commitment to justice. Anna Rowlands agrees that “There are good reasons for those who voted Remain to grieve”, but she also reminds us that grief and anger must be focused on “The pursuit of the life of the common good”, and that means listening to what people with different views and different experiences are really saying.

Here’s one example. Statistically, older voters were more likely to vote Leave and younger voters were more likely to vote Remain. On my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I’ve seen lots and lots of people using that statistic to criticise older voters, often in extremely cruel ways. To many older people, that feels hugely unfair: 39% voted to remain, after all! Many Remain voters are furious at the prejudices of others, but some have given in to ageist prejudices of their own. Is there something in your eye?

So here’s my advice to Christian Remain voters. Stay angry. Fight for justice. Watch yourself, and keep your eyes clear. Remember that what you see online is never the whole world or the whole story. Listen to people you might not expect to meet, and maybe then we can start building something new.

 

 

Tim Hutchings is a Researcher at the Institute for Media Studies, Stockholm University, a sociologist of religion and the internet, and he has written about online churches, virtual worlds, digital Bibles and lots of other topics. He now teaches at Stockholm University, where he is studying death and memory. 

Written by: Steven Grimmer

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