Political Differences Are Ripping Us Apart. Here are 3 Ways to Intervene
Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union has taken the nation, and the world, by surprise. The ramifications are far-reaching and will be played out for years. Only time will tell whether Brexit is good for the country or Europe as a whole. But what is most alarming right now is the hostility the decision has brought into our communities. Similar forces are at work in the US, Australia and other countries facing elections too.
Brexit has triggered not only the severing of the United Kingdom from the EU, but possibly other nations from the EU, Scotland from the UK, and Northern Ireland is now in a tricky situation with its EU-Irish neighbour. At the community level, groups are now pitted against each other like never before:
- Leave vs Remain: with angry outbursts leveled at those on opposing sides of the vote
- Race vs Race: with an increase in hostility against migrants. As one headline puts it, it has become OK to be racist in Britain
- Young vs Old: some are angry with an older generation for largely voting Leave, even their own parents
- City vs Country: with the Leave vote highest in regional areas
- Politician vs Constituent: the murder of MP Jo Cox last week was by a man demanding she ‘put Britain first’
- Politician vs Politician: with both major political parties imploding in the aftermath
We need strong relationships to be resilient as both individuals and communities. In my book Resilient I show how Jesus’ famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount, addresses the four forces that destroy relationships and how to counteract them. Three of those forces are particularly at work in our nation now. Here is a brief description of each and a corresponding commitment we can make to curb their power. (Read the relationships section of the Sermon here)
Trace the start of the row, the swing of the fist, the kick of the boot, or the stab of the knife to its root and you will find the seed of festered anger. While feelings of anger are a reaction to injustice and can be funnelled into positive change, there is a murderous form of anger which is destructive. The first sign of its presence is when we start belittling others with our words (Matthew 5:22b).
Jesus knows we’ll have disagreements. When they happen, he says, don’t let loose with the insults. Instead, go and reconcile. Whether the matter is between you and someone in church (5:23-24) or with a fellow member of the community (5:25-26), as it depends on you, reconcile.
Brexit: From foreigners being called ‘vermin’ to all Leavers being labelled ‘bigots’, this force is at work.
Commitment: We will not be driven by hate. We will not hurl hateful words. We will seek to reconcile.
Force: False Promises
Marriages, friendships, business relationships and communities are ruined each day by broken trust. Promises are made but forgotten. Loopholes are exploited in contracts. Jesus addresses this destructive force too. In Jesus’ day it was common to promise something by swearing an oath. But if you were clever with your wording, you could make yourself a legal loophole. If you swore by ‘the temple’ you didn’t have to keep your oath, but if you swore by the temple’s gold, you did (Matthew 23:16). Chose your words carefully and you could make promises you didn’t intend to keep.
Jesus will have none of it, saying oaths themselves are wrong as they make a regular Yes or No redundant (5:33-37). Instead, he says, be truthful. If you say you’ll do something, do it. That is your promise.
Commitment: We will not perpetuate lies, but truth. We will treat those we disagree with fairly.
In his Sermon, Jesus also tackles the desire to get even. While Jewish law allowed for a degree of this when wronged, Jesus gives an alternative so radical it has shaken history ever since. Instead of striking back when slapped, turn the other cheek. Instead of resisting a Roman’s orders, go the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42). In short, Jesus says, don’t get even, get creative. Instead of retaliating against your enemy, love them (5:43-45).
Brexit: The moment is ripe for long-held hostilities to be reawakened, whether in the family or community.
Commitment: We will not ‘make them pay for what they’ve done’. We will keep our convictions where necessary, but treat those we disagree with respectfully.
Jesus’ teaching on relationships is demanding. None of these commitments is easy, and none of them sidestep the hard work of making the right (possibly unpopular) decisions needed to lead our nation and communities forward. But national resilience isn’t built on anger, false promises or retaliation, but on reconciliation, truth and love. And our communities could do with those qualities right now.
This podcast explores all four forces that destroy relationships in more depth.