September 1939 to May 1940 was a strange period in our history, when war had been declared by Britain against Germany, but no substantial military action had begun on the Western Front. The decision had been taken, we were at war, but the consequences, the ‘blood toil tears and sweat’ predicted by Churchill, had yet to transpire. A number of journalists have pointed to the Summer of 2016 as being rather similar – an unreal period when the decision for Brexit has been taken, but the consequences have yet to be experienced.
Many of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation will be able to point to exactly where they were when PM Neville Chamberlain announced, on that fateful day in September 1939, that ‘this country is at war with Germany’. Equally, all of us will, for the rest of our lives, be able to point to where we were on Brexit Morning, 24th June, 2016. I was in the St Andrews University chapel for the graduation service of my daughter Marina – preaching (as much to my surprise as to the surprise of those attending) on the subject ‘Don’t be taken over by the fear’ Matthew 6:25-37 – a subject chosen several weeks beforehand, but which turned out to be particularly apposite for that morning.
Of course, the decision to leave the EU is not at all the same as the decision to declare war in 1939. The consequences cannot remotely be as severe. But there is one aspect of the whole business, where we might actually be worse off than in 1939. I am in no position to express a view on whether the Brexit decision was a good thing or a bad thing. Whichever way we had voted, there could have been significant negative consequences in the short or medium term. There were good arguments on both sides and many people swung one way and then another before making their choice. However, I would point out that in the days of the Phoney War in 1939 and afterwards, we were, on the whole, united as a nation. But in this case of Brexit, I fear that we are not. Strong opinions have been expressed on both sides and political allies, friends and family members have found themselves on opposite ends of this dispute – even husbands and wives, parents and children.
I have been reading over the last few months Robert Tooms’ excellent book ‘The English and their History’. It seems there is no other period of our island story where the usual close relationships within society, those that make up the fabric of our nation, the friendships and families, have been so divided, unless, that is, you look back to the Civil War in the Seventeenth Century, where fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins found themselves either for Parliament or for the King and put their lives on the line accordingly. Civil Wars are bitter unpleasant affairs and difficult to stop – you only have to look at Syria. However strongly the opinions for and against the cause of conflict are held, it can take a very long time to recover and to rebuild the relationships and alliances which have been shattered.
While the Phoney War continues and ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but no one knows quite what this means, and no practical decisions have been taken, it is easy to think that there will be no personal consequences for the stand that each of us took in the referendum and which we were so happy to share with friends and family and discuss at such length around the dinner table, in the pub or even in the street. But when the real consequences of this decision begin to bite, if they do, and if we see unemployment, plummeting house prices, damage to the value of pension funds or bankruptcies, there is a danger that friends or family members will be tempted to blame each other, particularly as the vote was so close.
If our friendships and families are to survive, we need to commit to forgiving one another. We need to resolve, whatever the consequences for us personally, that we are absolutely going to refuse to let them interfere with our friendships and the love that we have in our families. Any forgiveness involves a giving away; it involves a sacrifice of what we believe passionately to be true, it involves not insisting upon justice for ourselves, but giving undeserved grace to others. It involves following the example of Jesus Christ who took the penalty for everything that we have done wrong, even though he was blameless himself. It is the only solution if we are to keep our friends on the other side of the fence and to keep peace within our families.
Use the quiet of the Phoney War, before the out-workings of Brexit have become clear, to make peace with those friends and family members with whom you disagreed, if any, to restore those relationships and commit to each other not to hold the decisions that you or they took, against each other. This could be the last opportunity we get.
Revd. Alex Pease
This article was first published in the October edition of Itchen Valley News