Yesterday our cousins over in England voted to cut themselves off from their neighbors and leave the European Union in what is now know as the Brexit. This decades-long exercise in cooperation and tolerance has come to an end for the people of England, formerly of the United Kingdom. I say formerly of the United Kingdom because not only did this vote pull England away from the mainland countries, it also created a rift between the country and its closest family members, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. It is assumed by many that Scotland will leave the United Kingdom to join back up with the EU, and that Ireland may follow suit, either divided as North and South, or united again as one nation. England has made a fear-based decision that is going to have enormous international consequences, intended or unintended.
But why would they want to leave? Why, when working together provides such economic opportunity, cultural understanding, peace, and stability? Well, it’s the same reason we have people in America yearning for a leader who will build a wall on the Mexican border. You see, not all Americans, not all Brits, are seeing the economic benefits that globalization provides. Some jobs are going away and becoming different jobs. Some professions don’t look like they did 10, 20, 30 years ago. The world is changing, and change can be scary. Note the age demographics for the Brexit vote. People born before England joined the EU voted to leave, and people born after voted to stay. Everybody is scared of change. But the scariest thing of all is to accept that you are part of your problem. Or rather that people like you are the problem. It can’t be Americans who are responsible for my financial problems, so it must be the foreigners. It must be the Muslims. It must be the refugees. It must be the homosexuals. It must be someone besides me.
And the scary truth is that truth no longer matters. The facts are clear. The places in Britain that voted most strongly for leaving the EU are the very places whose economic livelihoods depend on that very membership. England’s economy will tumble, exports will suffer, the pound will freefall, and yet the voters claimed to be upset that England was bailing out other EU countries, wasting their money, costing them more than it was worth. It doesn’t seem to matter that they are voting against their own self-interests, and that they will now be worse off financially. When the fear is in charge, the facts are unimportant. It brings to mind the conservative southern states here in America that rail against welfare, and food stamps, and Obamacare. The very states that complain the loudest about “government handouts” are the very states that benefit the most from these programs. And yet someone told them that whatever money they did have, was going to be stolen by the government and given to “those people.” They bought the lie that we are better off on our own than we are united.
A few weeks ago my employer, the United Methodist Church, held its quadrennial General Conference, during which it declined to change any language about the church’s policies on homosexuality. Last week my boss, Pastor Dark Murmurs, attended our regional annual conference which made a big news splash when it passed a vote of non-conformity with these policies. The New England Conference will no longer enforce any sort of rule regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. To them, it is a non-issue. But what happens next? Some are saying a church split is inevitable. Some are actively fighting for such a thing, while others work tirelessly to ensure that this does not happen.
What does it say about Christians when, every time they disagree about something, they divide? What does it say about Americans, who want to solve their problems by cutting off the outside world? What does it say about our citizens who would rather the confederate states just leave amicably and be their own country? What does it say about the people of England, who would give up their place at the table just to have more perceived (imagined) control over their own destinies? What does it say about people who un-friend other Facebook users for having a different opinion? What does it say about families who cannot come together for a meal anymore because of opposing political views or differing lifestyles?
There are people in my church who feel very strongly about homosexuality, and not in same direction I do. There are other people who feel even more strongly about it than I do in my direction. I just spent an entire week with both groups of people, teaching music and love to children at Vacation Bible School. We are stronger together than we are apart.
I have family members who, non-ironically, blame Obama for every problem this country has. They would gladly vote against their own self interests economically, no matter how loudly I tell them otherwise. And we have dinner together, and celebrate birthdays and holidays, and have very interesting conversations. We are better together than we are apart.
When W. won a second term, I joked about moving to Canada. When Obama won (and won again) I heard people from the other end of the political spectrum joking about moving to Canada. But even if a racist, xenophobic, narcissistic, pathological liar becomes our president at the end of the year, I would never really move. I will still be here, fighting to make this place better, alongside my friends and neighbors. We are more powerful together than we are apart.
People of the world, I get it. The world can be a scary place, and the closer it gets to us, the more frightening it can seem. And true globalization means we will no longer be able to ignore the faces of the people most affected by our sins. Our hyper-consumer culture has its fair share of victims around the globe that we are able to put out of our minds because they are far away, or they are “other.” It is tempting to put up barriers and pretend that what we do inside of them has no effect on the world outside. But wall or no, EU or no, division or unification, we do have an effect on the rest of the planet. Now it’s just up to us to decide if we will be world leaders, or world fearers. The D.K. (formerly the U.K.) made their decision yesterday. Brexit it is. America will be presented with a similar set of choices in November. I just pray we are able to live with each other afterwards, no matter what happens.