The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Brexit: A British, Christian Perspective

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Brexit, over amalgam of British and EU flags

A British, Christian Perspective

a presentation at Adult Forum by
Jack Adams
Assistant to the Dean of Duke Chapel
November 13, 2016

Brexit is an abbreviation for "British exit", which refers to the June 23, 2016, referendum whereby British citizens voted to exit the European Union.

New York Times front page, the day after the Brexit referendum

New York Post front page, a few days after the Brexit referendum

2016-08-18 tweet by Trump claiming himself as Mr. Brexit

Key Questions:

  • Why did the British people vote to leave the European Union?
  • How does this link to President-Elect Trump?
  • What should our Christian response be?

Fun Question:

  • How do you think I voted? And why?

portrait of William Shakespeare

This royal throne of kins, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, - This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

William Shakespeare

Richard II (1377-1399), Act 2, Scene 1 – written 1595


painting of battle lines of longbow infantries

Battle of Agincourt 1415

painting of the Queen before sunken ships

Defeat of the Spanish Armada 1588


poster praising Lord Nelson

Battle of Trafalgar 1805

painting of infantry with rifles with sabres

Battle of Waterloo 1815


portrait of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria reigned 1837-1901

global map showing extent of the British Empire in 1900


"We [Britain] are bound to further every honest and practical step which the nations of Europe may make to reduce the barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare. We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonalty. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed."

Sir Winston Churchill, 29 May 1938

two fighter aircraft

Battle of Britain 1940

dome of Saint Paul's Catherdral visible above smoke and rubble


I wish to speak about the tragedy of Europe, [from which] has sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels…which we have seen in this 20th century and in our own lifetime wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind.

Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as by a miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today .... We must build a kind of United States of Europe.

In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America - and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well - must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live. Therefore I say to you "Let Europe arise!"

Sir Winston Churchill, speech at the University of Zurich
on September 19, 1946

image of European Union flag


History of the EU


The historical roots of
the European Union
lie in the Second
World War

  • Idea of European
    integration conceived
    to prevent such killing
    and destruction from
    ever happening again
  • First proposed by the
    French Foreign
    Minister Robert
    Schuman in a speech
    on May 9, 1950. This
    date, the "birthday" of
    what is now the EU, is
    celebrated annually as
    Europe Day

Phases of growth

  • Initially, the European Economic
    Community (EEC) consisted of just
    six countries: Belgium, Germany,
    France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the
    Netherlands (1958)
  • European Communities (EC) (1967)
  • Denmark, Ireland, and the United
    Kingdom joined in 1973
  • Greece in 1981
  • Spain and Portugal in 1986
  • European Union (EU) (after 1992)
    (Maastricht Treaty)
  • Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995
  • Largest enlargement took place with
    10 new countries joining May 9, 2004


Slide by Adrian Nattress

Keep Britain in Europe poster endorsements from sports stars
Do you think the United Kingdom
should stay in the European Community
(the Common Market)?
Location United Kingdom
Date June 5, 1975
  Votes %
Yes 17,378,581 67.23%
X No 8,470,073 32.77%

photo of Margaret Thatcher wearing a sweater bearing a dozen or more national flags


photo of Margaret Thatcher

1988 Margaret Thatcher
UK PM, Speech in Bruges
"We have not successfully rolled
back the frontiers of the state
in Britain only to see them
reimposed at a European level
with a European super-state
exercising a new dominance
from Brussels."

fron page of The Sun tabloid newspaper headlined Up Yours Delors


The Sun’s response to the introduction of the
European Currency Unit (ECU), precursor to the Euro

photo of Tony Blair

"I want us to be a young country again with a common purpose, ideals we cherish and live up to, not resting on past glories, fighting old battles and sitting back ...."

Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference, 1995

"The tragedy for British politics - for Britain - has been that politicians of both parties have consistently failed, not just in the 1950s but on up to the present day, to appreciate the emerging reality of European integration. And in doing so they have failed Britain's interests."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, November 23, 2001


photo of David Cameron

"And I’ve said very clearly that whatever the outcome of the next general election – and of course I want an overall majority and I’m hoping and believing I can win an overall majority – but people should be in no doubt that I will not become Prime Minster unless I can guarantee that we can hold that referendum."

Prime Minister David Cameron, May 11, 2014


photo of David Cameron with Nick Clegg

photo of Nigel Farage


map of UK annotated with % vote to Remain vs. Leave

four photos showing jubilation, uncertainty, and depression after the vote to Leave

front page of Daily Mirror tabloid showing Cameron resigning

photo of Theresa May at front door of 10 Downing Street


drawing of seven men with Fawkes

Guy Fawkes and Fellow Conspirators,
by Crispijn van de Passe, c. 1604

drawing of seven men with Miller

Gina Miller and Fellow Conspirators,
The Daily Telegraph, November 5, 2016
after Crispijn van de Passe

photo of Trump and Farage on November 12, 2016

What Next?:

  • Will the British Government win their appeal in the Supreme Court?
  • Will opposition parties successfully demand a 2nd referendum post-negotiation?
  • What will President Trump’s role be?

Similarities between Brexit/Trump’s Victory:

  • Opinion polls were proved wrong
  • The "Establishment" lost
  • Strong influence of white/working class/less-educated voters, many of whom do not typically vote
  • Backlash against immigration/globalization
  • Economic disparities

Differences between Brexit/Trump’s Victory:

  • Historical context – Brexit is not a new idea
  • "Europe" does not have a single demos
  • Churchill: "[If the EU was] generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands ...."

cover of book titled 'A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe'


graph showing dozen years of EU favorability rating by polls in seven EU countries

graph showing favorability ratings from polls in ten European countries about handling of refugees


What should our Christian response be?

photo of Luke Bretherton

"Rather, ways must be found to identify with Christ and thereby dis-identify with the historical idols and cultural systems of domination within which human life is always and already entangled .... faith, hope and love demands the risk still be taken.

Some will judge what I am saying as merely swapping one kind of dangerous sentimentalism for another. Nevertheless, I beg those who consider themselves Christians to take up forms of politics orientated to faith, hope and love, yet alive to the fragility of ourselves, others and the world around us and to ignore the siren calls of the politics of nostalgia."

Dr. Luke Bretherton, Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School


photo of Mark Rylands

The Rt. Revd. Mark Rylands, Bishop of Shrewsbury

"At my bishops' cell group in May, I came out as a Brexit bishop. My episcopal friends, at first, did not believe me…

I have long hoped for the reformation of the EU. In February, I felt pity for David Cameron as he hailed a renegotiation barely worthy of the name. It showed that the EU leaders did not see the need for any reformation. It smacked of arrogance ....

The EU’s commitment to its member states means it can be a bad neighbour to outsiders. Its actions have an adverse impact on poorer countries through various trade policies, most notably the Common Agricultural Policy…

The EU does not seem to be good news for the poorest nations in the eurozone. Countries in the single currency, struggling economically, appear stuck with low growth. Unable to devalue their currency, they are trapped in a rut of depression. Youth unemployment in Spain, Greece, and Italy has soared, and extremist political groups are gaining a strong foothold ....

We must, however, align ourselves with those who feel unheard, not allowing them to be dismissed as "uneducated" and "stupid". Why are so many people so angry?"


Jesus said: 4 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Matthew 7:4-5

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:10-11

4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:4-11

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