We will look back on this election as the beginning of a political and democratic paradigm shift. Today represents an existential alteration for the country, a change of heart, a change of character, a change of mood – for the better. And it represents a triumph over fear. Those young people (72% of 18 to 24s - see reference below) who voted yesterday are now participants in a revolution, a revolution over a politic of fear. Their violent (politically speaking) voice of defiance and change, may well have inaugurated an era in which their own voice is finally valued by the political elite; and their democratic freedom will be seen for what it is, a crucial part of the formation of a fairer and more just society.
Young people have for centuries been considered with suspicion. Plato (4th Century BCE) was once heard saying “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Peter the Hermit in the 13th century said, “The young people think of nothing but themselves!” Such quotes exemplify a culture of fear, a culture that has conditioned young people into silence for a long time. I was told last week that if you have a room of primary school kids and ask them who can dance, thy all put their hand up, ask them who can draw, they all put their hands up, ask them who can sing and they all put their hands up. Ask a room full university students and the number of hands that go up are in single figures, and likely to be by those who have taken classes in those subjects. Ask the same question to room full of grown adults, and no one puts their hand up. What happens in that time? Why do we lose the joy of being free? We become frightened very quickly – or limited by someone or something.
We live in a culture that is quick to socialise children into a particular way of life, frightened of what might happen to them if we don’t incorporate them into social norms and expectations. As they grow older we move from being frightened for them, to being frightened of them. Frightened of what they might say or do if they are given too much power. In this culture of fear, young people are treated as sub-humans, whose thoughts and opinions don’t really count, or have no substance in what real life should look like. If you are a young person that voted in the General Election, let me tell you this... you are no longer seen and not heard. We hear you.
I am currently a priest for the Church of England. Before moving to Cornwall, I was also a Young Vocations Advisor for Bath & Wells diocese, and before being ordained, a Youth Leader for my local church. Since 2010 £387m has been cut from state youth provision (see reference below). In that time, I have seen youth centres come under threat of closure, youth workers lose their jobs because of cuts, and funding pots reduced that have previously gone to develop and sustain youth provision. Too often now, any development in youth provision is at the hands of a well written grant application to the Big Lottery.
And you know, young people shouldn’t care, they are justified in snubbing the system, what is it doing for them? For many years that’s how it was. And society didn’t really want this to change, a quiet population of young people suited a culture of classes and hierarchy. But yesterday, young people in large numbers have shown a counter-cultural politic of hope, dismissing any idea that they don’t care. They do.
What is so revolutionary is that this massive shift is in the context of a well-developed post-modern world, in which humans are largely engaged in the business of exercising power over one another, resulting in a violent world that is obsessed with the preservation of the self. It is a time when truth is a product of the beholder, and the idea of a shared truth is counter to a world where the individual reigns. This is really important in understanding why today’s General Election result could be seen as the indicator of a massive change in political character.
I am proud that my Christian faith stands as testimony to the power of young people, and their revolutionary attitude to justice. Samuel, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Mary, Ruth and Esther are significant figures in the Bible who stood up for God’s plan for salvation, for justice and freedom. They were all too young to be heard initially, but were empowered and trusted by God to be voices against injustice and oppression, to speak out for the powerless (Jer 7:5-6). Check out Daniel (Daniel 1:3-6) who becomes an interpreter of dreams and visions, and leads an oppressive king to gain a vision of truth and justice. Look at David (1 Sam 17:33) who was dismissed as being too young, too foolish, too brash, but ended up being a symbol of courage and faithfulness to a whole nation. And Mary the mother of Jesus, who sang a song of defiance before a world of injustice and inequality; her revolutionary canticle has been sung in church ever since.
Just in my short time in Cornwall I have seen young people show how passionate they are about matters of justice, equality, fairness and social reform. I’ve spent time with a cohort of student architects and designers from Falmouth Uni who showed me how, as architects they can make the world a better place. I have seen young people come together to make a difference to global issues such as the refugee crisis, volunteer at foodbanks, crowdfund for local projects, and protest for change. Young people are indeed radical changemakers, persistent peacemakers, militant groundbreakers, generous caregivers, and courageous liberators… if we respect their place as such.
This General Election shows a shift in belief in young people. They will no longer go uncounted, or unmentioned. General Election campaigns of the future will incorporate young people more than ever before; because of the power of their voice, because of the power for change that lies in their hands, because of the power of influence. The tables have turned. We will now have a political system where the young will continue to teach us a valuable lesson – that their vote counts as well as ours.
I am proud of our young people. I am particularly proud of my own daughter who was counted in the 72% of 18 to 24 year olds who voted yesterday. They want change, they want a better future, and they will keep on until they get it.
Before I get on to the question at hand I have to pin my colours to the mast. I think Britain should stay in the EU; and I will be voting that way on the 23rd. I’ve come to that decision not because of any financial, political or economic evidence but because I want to be part of something bigger, not smaller; something that draws people together, not apart. I want this country to be proud of its history of participation, collaboration, membership and unity, rather than seeking virtue in independence, or to defend the notion we are better off on our own. I like the fact that I can call myself English, British and European, and that the latter unites me with 508 million other people.
Our politicians haven’t really been that helpful to be fair. There’s a lot of infighting and negativity at the moment, rather than actual leadership and facts. It feels like the country is trying to keep warm by a fire made with live wood, soggy tea-towels and rotten cabbages. There’s a lot of smoke, it spits a lot and lets off a really bad smell. For every politician saying that the EU is good for us there is another saying the opposite. No matter what the issue is, whether it be immigration, trade, security or sovereignty, the rhetoric is the same. They can’t all be right. If I base my decision on what politicians say then it simply comes down to who I trust more – David Cameron or Boris Johnson, George Osbourne or Michael Gove, Sarah Newton or Derek Thomas. Who wants to be left with that choice?
Instead, I’ve gone with my gut, and I suppose, with a rather idealistic notion of unity. Do I want Britain to be a part of something bigger? – yes I do, even if it means that some of the decision making is done in Brussels instead of London (Westminster feels just as far removed from Cornwall than Brussels does anyway – and I don’t just mean geographically).
So what’s all this got to do with Jesus? Well, over recent weeks I’ve been searching for some wisdom in the words of Jesus that would help me vote in the right way. Don’t get me wrong I am not about to say that I’m voting to stay in the EU because I think Jesus said I should. My thoughts were more like: if Jesus was around today then maybe he would have something to say about the in/out debate. Or maybe he wouldn’t.
I think there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that come into play here (I’m sure there are many more). The first is Matthew 22:15-22, often subtitled as ‘Paying Taxes to Caesar.’ It turns out that in my anxious hope of finding some helpful advice from Jesus, I find I am no better than the Pharisees and Herodians, who came to Jesus with a similar in/out question. ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?’ they ask him, or in other words, are you one of us, or one of them? Do you honour the Romans, or do you honour the law of your ancestors? To the outsider, it was a no win situation. If he’d said he didn’t recognise the authority of Caesar then it would’ve meant a premature arrest and imprisonment, and probably would have led to social and political unrest too. If he said he honoured Caesar, then those he was called to speak to would’ve shunned him, dismissed his shallow pomposity and, even worse, stoned him for blasphemy. So where does he go with this? The tension I’m sure was palpable, the bigwigs had got him cornered. But Jesus, in a flash of wisdom and certainty simply says, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
In many ways Jesus had no time for man-made political ideologies. He didn’t care for empires, structures and bureaucracy – and although he speaks of the temporary nature of all these things (Luke 21:5-7), he doesn’t feel it’s his mission to bring them down just yet. Probably because he knew that when one institution is brought down another would simply come in its place. Instead, he chose to work within and without these structures. He spent his time IN and OUT of political and religious circles, negotiating courts, scribes, scholars, lawyers, the police, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sanhedrin, as well as the public. So in some ways Jesus has nothing to say about the EU in/out debate. It looks like Jesus would have bigger concerns. And in fact, we ourselves might say that there are indeed more important things than the EU referendum today!
Take for instance the fact that there are currently 38 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and displaced within their own country. And that there are another 20 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and our now refuges in other countries (UNHCR: Facts and Figures on Refugees).
And the fact there is currently 27 million people in the world today who have been trafficked for sex and slavery, the average cost of a slave in today’s market is $90 (dosomething.org & polarisproject.org - The Facts).
What about the fact that in the UK we waste about 7 million tonnes of food each year, and the world wastes about 1.3 billion tonnes (fao.org), which is a third of what the world produces as a whole, all whilst 795 million people struggle without enough food to be healthy, that’s 1 in 9 people worldwide.
So maybe the question is not whether Jesus was an innie or outie, or whether being in the EU is better for us; maybe the question is whether or not it’ll make any difference to what really matters. And so here is the other passage that helped me – Luke 10:25-37 otherwise known as ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan,’. The story is well known, and is powerfully punchy, the best stories are those that give you a good hard punch in the gut and get you looking at yourself, rather than just at others. In this story, we learn that the person least likely to help (politically speaking – the Samaritans and Jews didn’t get on) was actually the one who did help. It’s a shame that the UK is being seen more and more as the one country in the EU that is less likely to help with humanitarian matters (despite the figures for foreign aid). So I’d like to think that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is an opportunity waiting for us. That this island just off mainland Europe will be the Samaritan of our time. If being in the EU helps us do that then great. If you think otherwise, then that’s great too. Because what really matters is not whether a man in a grey suit makes decisions from London or from Brussels, it’s not even about whether being in the EU is better for me; it’s more about whether the man at the roadside sees us as the one who walks by on the other side and who does nothing, or the one who stops, attends and cares.
Thanks for reading - Jeremy
God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.