We will all wake up on Friday and go about our days as normal. Of course, those of us (myself included) who are prone to staying up late to watch results of elections roll in and watch Jeremy Vine prance around in front of a green screen will probably be a little bleary eyed from a late night spent with Laura Kuenssberg, Jon Snow, Faisal Islam or your political correspondent of choice. We will have our breakfast, yawn through a cup of coffee and do much of what we did before. On Friday, very little will be different but a lot will have changed. A lot already has changed.
We will wake up on Friday 24th June to discover the will of the people regarding our membership of the European Union. Whether we vote for one annoying portmanteau, Brexit, or another equally annoying portmanteau, Bremain, we will not wake up in the same United Kingdom that we have known. Things are different now. The past few months of campaigning have altered the mood, cohesiveness and stability of our country no matter how we vote. The status quo is gone.
If you read the news, or watch Question Time or scan your social media timelines, you will see that running through every discussion of this referendum, whether through the core or the edge of the debate, is a seemingly intrenched anger at the other side. Of course, like all generalisations, we can recall exceptions to the rule, but my overarching experience of the debate is that it has veered towards the deeply unpleasant more often than it has stayed dignified and honouring. I’ve watched friends who I have known for years, shared meals with, laughed late into the night with, tear strips of one another on Facebook. I’ve seen decent people with legitimate concerns branded racist or xenophobic. I’ve seen other decent people with legitimate concerns branded treacherous enemies of democracy and freedom. Our society is in a very different place to where it was a few short months ago. Resentment and division has boiled over in many of our hearts.
One of the watch words of this debate has been instability. If we leave we will see an economic crash triggered by uncertainty in the UK. If we stay we will see an economic crash triggered by uncertainty in the Eurozone. Yet, no matter what happens we will be entering an uncertain time. Our cabinet and opposition have divided along lines and screamed liar at each other through the loud hailer of the mainstream media. Cabinet Ministers have called their own Prime Minister a liar repeatedly. No matter what happens, stay or leave, we are faced with a government that needs to rebuild itself and mend relationships. Freedom to campaign quickly became freedom to insult and that didn’t just trickle down to the the rest of us; it torrented. Our nation will wake up on Friday divided. Divided by how we voted, how we spoke to one another these past few months but also divided by victory and loss.
The day after day after the day after tomorrow we are faced with the task of pursuing reconciliation. There are apologies to make and forgiveness to offer. There are children who will need to forgive their parents for how they voted as it put their sense of how they wanted their own futures to play out. There will be colleagues who will need to forgive words spoken in the passion of political debate. There are politicians and journalists who will need to rebuild bridges they burnt in in the heat of the moment, stood in front of a battle bus or on a factory floor in Tamworth. There is work to do on Friday.
I’m always uncomfortable with those who use the Bible to back a political position like the referendum. There are many out there, interestingly the Bible is clearly in support of both sides. Interpretation is king. I have my opinion, informed by my faith but more so by statistics and political opinion and I know how I will vote on Thursday. I am happy though, to use the Bible to talk about how we should seek reconciliation. The story of the Bible is one of division and reconciliation; a story of broken and restored relationship between God and humanity. It is a story that feels relevant as I look towards Friday.
The narrative of the Bible doesn’t follow the path of most stories of redemption. Most relationships are restored when the aggressor apologises to the one they have hurt. I become aware of how I have wronged you and apologise and receive your forgiveness and from that moment of agreement we rebuild. The story of the Bible is different, God reaches to those who hurt him. offering grace and forgiveness because they were more important to him than the hurt he had felt. Whether you believe the Bible to be true or not the principle remains, reconciliation is pursued by the one who has been hurt.
On Friday morning wake up and accept the news as best you can but decide now how to be a voice reconciliation. Examine yourself and decide to apologise for the hurt you may have caused, the assumptions you’ve made, the names you have called, the slurs you have thrown. Decide now how you can reach a hand of friendship to those who took the other view. Decide now how you can work with them to build a better nation. Decide now that they are more important to you than the words they spoke to you. Offer forgiveness whether an apology comes or not. Offer kindness whether it is returned or not. Whether we remain in relationship with the EU or we sever those ties, we must work to remain together as nation. We must work towards cohesion.
I don’t think any of us would have predicted how ugly the political discourse could have become these past few months, but it has left a sour taste in many of our mouths. Lets work together across our in/out divide to create better communities and families and friendships no matter what happens. We are better together than we are apart.