Buyer’s remorse and a second referendum

voteleaveI was in two minds for quite a while about whether to sign the (essentially misplaced) petition to change the referendum rules. In the end I decided to as a rather poor way to register my feeling that some kind of additional referendum may well be needed. However, I don’t think it’s the one this petition asks for: you can’t simply change the rules retrospectively. I think something rather different is needed.

There are plenty of indications of buyer’s remorse, not least from those who used the referendum as a protest vote, believing a vote to leave would never materialise. (I don’t minimise the many true believers who – in my view wrongly – think sovereignty is the all-consuming issue.) In fact, I suspect one of those who has buyer’s remorse, but will never be able to admit it, is Boris Johnson.

There is now quite a bit of noise of early rowing back from apparent election promises – on funding, on immigration, on free movement and trade. I suspect this too will have Farage “spitting blood” (a perennial posture). But as reality sinks in, there is a conspicuous lack of urgency about doing anything to enact what the majority voted for. Cameron, and there is every sign that the leading players in the Tory party are more than happy to acquiesce in this, has effectively imposed a three month breathing space that the markets will hate. Sadly this also creates a space for disillusion and resentment to fester unless people are clear about the commitment of government to the process.

What I suspect could yet emerge is a commitment to spell out what sort of deal HM Government believes it can go for and get. From early noises this is likely to include remaining in the single market, accepting free movement of people, and paying a reduced contribution. At the same time, the likelihood of whether the EU will welcome Scotland to stay as an independent nation could become clearer.

It might then be possible to put this whole process within the framework of a future, much more clearly delineated referendum. Unlike the one we have just endured, conducted hastily between a poorly communicated remain and a passionate but unclear deep blue water leave, this would be conducted through a period of negotiation, which included a debate about what the real future options are, and end with a vote between two clear, and clearly costed and spelt- out choices of a remain and leave package. And ideally one that will be offered to 16-18 year olds too.

If “Leave” is not going to mean what many of those who voted for it thought they were being told it meant, this is not an affront to democracy, or ignoring the will of the people. It an opportunity to deepen and refine the people’s participation in democracy, while – I hope – reducing the appeal of demagoguery. It does what many people said they wanted, but weren’t getting, a chance to decide on the facts.

Grieving for a lost country

referendum-flagsWhat I think I have been feeling all day is something akin to bereavement; grief and anger, a feeling of depression and numbness. I feel I have lost the country I thought I lived in.

I am angry that an internal party squabble has been elevated to a national meltdown by incredibly inept political judgment. David Cameron is right to resign.

Yes, there are some principled arguments to be had about what sort of Europe we belong to and how we or anyone else belongs to it. I haven’t heard those articulated by most on either side of this referendum.

Yes, there are a great many issues of dissatisfaction and disadvantage in a great swathe of the country. Sadly the Remainers seem largely to have ignored or scoffed at them.  Even more sadly the Leavers have frequently appealed to them, stoked the fires of resentment, and stirred hatred of immigrants. But most of the problems of the left-behind and the alienated have their roots in Westminster, not in Brussels. This has been a victory for demagoguery, and not democracy: appealing to base emotion not reasoned debate.

There has been ridiculously apocalyptic exaggeration from the Remain campaign, but there has been consistent and outright lying from the Leave campaign. The idea that this has been an informed, considered decision is simply wrong, witness the number of people who now say, they only voted “Leave” because they thought “Remain” would win. Essentially, it seems, they wanted the frisson of excitement that comes from feeling they had stuck it to the Man: that elite group of politicians and faceless bureaucrats conjured up as a bogey by another equally elite group.

But the dangers of stoking up this resentment is that they too have promised a world they cannot deliver. About the only immediate consequences of the vote are the resignation of the prime minister, the effective devaluation of the pound, the hint of job losses to come, and the new public acceptability of racism such as this.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 19.41.49

In fact, it is almost certainly true that Leave have triumphed by co-opting those who will suffer most from the consequences, and persuading them by piling one lie on another, that all their problems will be solved. The danger of a backlash when this turns out to be untrue is something they don’t seem to care about.

I am not ready for the well-intentioned pieties that seek to smother this grief with a spiritual comfort blanket. I do not feel comforted by saccharine affirmations that God is somehow in charge while we vote to make the world a more dangerous place, to worsen the lot of the poor, and to turn our face away from the stranger.

I don’t know where this will end. The government seem in no hurry to press the red button of article 50 withdrawal. The possibility of Scottish independence, the Irish question, London’s demand to remaining in the single market, the people who are now repenting at leisure, the idiots who only waited till after the referendum to ask “what is the EU?”, the fact (even in this post-fact society) that Nigel Farage thinks 52%-48% is a narrow enough result to need a second referendum: all these things mean that this is not yet anything like a done deal.

Somewhat like John Milbank, but without his slightly bizarre historico-theological reading of national character, I think the legitimacy of this advisory referendum is open to challenge.

Any parliament that felt its action was going to make the country worse rather than better, could not in the end take that step, I think and hope, without feeling the need to go back to the voters with a specific package proposal on the table to say what “Leave” would actually look like. Perhaps saying this is simply the denial of death that is part of grief. But I like to think that there might still be a future for us in Europe. I hope so, and I pray so, but I’m not yet able to lay aside my anger and grief, and pretend it’s all going to be all right.

John Barclay’s Paul & God’s gift for relationship repair

Barclay Paul GiftI’ve been reading and enjoying John Barclay’s book Paul and the Gift. I’ve always thought that Paul’s main structural opposition is between Torah and Christ, rather than works and faith, or law and grace. I’m therefore finding much of Barclay’s work more congenial than some readers appear to be doing. I think it will prove itself (as its varied blurb writers indicate) a very significant long term contribution to Pauline studies, and I look forward to following the conversation. It differs from many big books on Paul; it is written in a fairly readable style (unlike Campbell), and there’s little verbal padding or repetition (unlike Wright).

However, this is not a review. And it’s not something Barclay says. It’s more of a thinking-out-loud question than it is an argument, as I ponder the emphasis Barclay places on Christ as God’s incongruous gift, given without consideration of appropriate worthiness or (moral, social, ethnic or personal) fit in the recipient.

Most discussions of Romans 3:25 focus on intense discussion over the meaning of hilastērion, and whether it should be translated propitiation, expiation, atoning sacrifice or mercy seat. (A typical conservative evangelical definition can be found here, and a typical discussion here.)

What I think Barclay’s whole argument suggests to me, however, is that this is to put the debate wrongly on the object of the verb and not the subject, which is God. Is this a place where Paul is creatively repurposing the language of sacrifice? Typically a sacrifice, in Judaism or paganism, is about creating, maintaining, developing or repairing a relationship with the deity in which both parties exchange gifts – the human gift is sacrifice, the divine gift is favour, a benefaction or forgiveness.

Here, however, the hilastērion (the language belongs to the vocabulary of sacrifice), the sacrificial gift, is being given by the divine party to the human party. This is not how sacrificial systems work. God takes the responsibility for creating, maintaining and repairing a relationship with humankind. The sacrifice becomes a gracious benefaction offered by God rather than a propitiation offered to God. In which case arguing over the exact meaning of hilastērion and what it does to God is to miss the point. It does nothing to God; it is done by God.

In which case we might take the text and translate it rather differently; I move in the direction of paraphrase to bring out the point.

23 πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ 24 δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· 25 ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are brought into right relationship by his generous benefaction, through the redemption which is given in Jesus Christ, whom God offered [sinful humanity] as a relationship-repairing-gift, through his faithfulness even to the shedding of his blood.

There’s clearly a lot more work to be done around that, not least for the surrounding co-text. But I find it intriguing enough to ask whether we’ve been debating the wrong thing?

A finely balanced #Brexit argument? I just don’t get it.


I’ve heard people say that arguments for the referendum are quite finely balanced. However, if I grant for a moment the arguments to leave are better than I myself think they are, then I have two questions.

If Boris Johnson thinks there’s such a rational case to make for Brexit, why has he continued to lead his campaigning with the £350 million pound lie? Doesn’t he think the truth is strongly enough on his side?

And if Michael Gove thinks his case is so persuasive, why has he felt obliged to tell people not to listen to the experts?In short, if Johnson and Gove both think their arguments are that poorly supported by the facts, why are people still saying the arguments are finely balanced?

Maybe those who think the Leave case is so strong, should ponder why Johnson needs to keep a big lie up front and centre. And why on earth Gove, a journalist who spent much of his career retailing other people’s expertise, tells people not to listen to experts.

So please, join me on 23rd June and vote to Remain.

Still confused about the church?

In my previous post in this series, I suggested that the nineteenth of the Thirty-Nine articles mired itself and succeeding Anglican generations in all kinds of difficulties by appearing to define the Church in terms only of a visible church, tied to city localities or congregations. This view scarcely coheres with Cranmer’s and his successor’s actual practice, which was to regard the visible church as the national church. This is implicitly reflected in the twentieth article, read alongside the actual provision of rites and ceremonies to be imposed uniformly as a nation.


What David Cameron should say to the British people

Cameron campaigning – copyright unknown
Cameron campaigning – copyright unknown

Dear Voters,

I’m sorry. I really do owe this country my most sincere apologies.

When I proposed a referendum after a renegotiation of Britain’s place in the EU, I was indulging myself in the worst kind of political vote-grubbing. I was, I will be frank, running scared from UKIP, and under a lot of pressure from some of my party colleagues who felt their seat was vulnerable to a Faragiste challenge.

In my defence I will say this. Aided and abetted by the anti-European press, especially the Mail, Telegraph, Sun and Express, the idea of a referendum had started to seem like an inevitable and normal part of politics. It is only now, under the awful reality of trying to conduct one, that I realise they are rare for a good reason. Far from defending parliamentary sovereignty, I’m throwing it away by calling one. (more…)

Looking for the Church?

House of Peter ay Capernaum
Traditional site of Peter’s House in Capernaum, showing evidence of being converted over time into a church

Back in the day when Robert Runcie was archbishop of Canterbury, he addressed a conference of evangelical Anglicans (NEAC 1987) In that address, he challenged them to review and renew their ecclesiology. While he certainly had grounds for doing so, he might equally have challenged himself and many other Anglicans. If evangelical Anglican ecclesiology has sometimes looked non-existent, then liberal and catholic Anglican ecclesiology has tended to be promiscuous in its borrowings from the patristic period and contemporary Roman Catholicism. Much of the problem can be traced back the hopelessly inadequate nineteenth article introducing the section on the Church. (more…)

All manner of thing shall be well?

love-heartThere seems to be a sense that the eighteenth of the Anglican articles stands between the preceding set on salvation, and those that follow on the Church. Its primary stress is, I think, the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour, fitting the solus Christus to what has effectively been the sola fide and sola gratia of the articles on salvation. But the rather odd description referring to “Law and Sect” may just hint at a Christocentric formulation of the maxim extra ecclesiam nulla salus – there is no salvation outside the church. (more…)

The unforgivable sin?

screamI have often been surprised by people I have encountered in pastoral ministry who worry that they have committed the “sin against the Holy Spirit”: a term which has stuck in their mind as a particular category of sin. It seems sometimes to particularly prey on the mind of those suffering from depression, or with other mental health issues. I’m not sure whether they’d be helped much by the sixteenth of the Anglican articles, but we need to treat this topic with some care.