Thinking Anglicans

Bishops call for respect on all sides amid Brexit debate

Updated to add press reports and comment

Press release from the Church of England

Bishops call for respect on all sides amid Brexit debate
27/09/2019

The bishops of the Church of England have issued a call for respect on all sides amid growing acrimony over the debate on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

A joint statement issued on behalf of the Church of England’s College of Bishops calls for a new tone of listening and respect in debates and describes the use of language in some cases as “unacceptable”.

It calls for the 2016 referendum to be honoured and for the rule of law and impartiality of the courts to be upheld.

It adds: “We should speak to others with respect. And we should also listen. We should do this especially with the poor, with the marginalised, and with those whose voices are often not heard in our national conversation.

“We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens, but seek to respect their opinions, their participation in society, and their votes.”

The full statement reads as follows:

As Bishops of the Church of England, we make this statement conscious of the great challenges to our nations and to their leaders. In writing, we affirm our respect for the June 2016 Referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured.

In the last few days, the use of language, both in debates and outside Parliament, has been unacceptable.

We should speak to others with respect. And we should also listen. We should do this especially with the poor, with the marginalised, and with those whose voices are often not heard in our national conversation. We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens, but seek to respect their opinions, their participation in society, and their votes.

The teachings of Jesus Christ call for us to be generous and humble servants; virtues which are for all leaders, whatever their faith.

We call on politicians to adhere rigorously to the rule of law and on all to respect and uphold the impartiality of the courts and our judiciary.

Our concern is also for the structure and the constitution of the United Kingdom. To use the words of Jesus, we must renew the structures that enable us to “love one another”. Changes to our principles and values of government, if necessary, should be through careful planning and consultation.

It is easy to descend into division and abuse – climbing out and finding unity again takes far longer. Further entrenching our divisions, whether from uncertainty or from partisanship, is not worthy of our country nor the leadership we now need. We are a body that understands from our own experience the dangers of division. It is our view and most solemn warning that we must find better ways of acting.

Further information:

  • The statement was drafted by a group of senior bishops on behalf of the Church of England’s College of Bishops following its three-day residential meeting in Oxford last week.
  • The Church of England is encouraging individuals, churches and other organisations to help make social media and the web more widely positive places for conversations to happen by signing the Digital Charter, a voluntary pledge. Find out more and sign up to the Digital Charter here.

Press reports

Church Times Love one another, Bishops urge politicians

The Guardian Language in Brexit debate unacceptable, say C of E bishops

Daily Mail All 118 archbishops and bishops in the Church of England condemns ‘unacceptable’ language used by MPs

Christian Today Language in Brexit debate has become ‘unacceptable’, say bishops

Premier Anglican bishops: Hostility in Brexit debate ‘not worthy of our country’

Comment

David Walker ViaMedia.News Rhetoric of a Playground Bully or Political Discourse?

Barbara Glasson President of the Methodist Conference Statement on political situation

Archbishop Cranmer Bishops urge Boris to get on and deliver Brexit

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James ByronMarise HargreavesT PottMichael MulhernSusannah Clark Recent comment authors
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Kate
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Kate

A very sad day when the bishops of the Church of England become Brexiteers, especially when the Prime Minister is pushing no deal. In contrast the Labour Party Conference passed a motion on Thursday which urges Labour to: – Defend the right of EU migrants to live and work in the EU under free movement rules – Give the vote to all migrants in the UK – Reject any immigration system based on quotas, caps, targets or incomes – Close all migrant detention centres – Guarantee the unconditional right to family reunion visas for migrants from outside the EU –… Read more »

Jill Armstead
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Jill Armstead

That should work well in our beleaguered public services.

Kate
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Kate

Oh, and “respecting the result of the referendum” means leaving Scotland aligned with Europe, which seems to have been conveniently forgotten by the English bishops as it is by so many in England.

T Pott
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T Pott

Scotland voted for the entire UK to be aligned with the Continent and RoI. Even if Scotland is considered separately it voted to remain aligned with the Continent only on the premise that it remained aligned with rest of the British Isles as well. If England and Europe diverge, the Referendum tells us nothing about which of them Scotland would have chosen to go with. Nor can we infer Great Britain would tolerate divergence from Northern Ireland. The referendum concerned only the UK, as a whole. Fictional schoolmaster Mr Chips remarked that the General Strike of 1926 was a splendid… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

That argument won’t play well in Scotland. If Scotland is dragged out of Europe on the basis of English votes, Scottish independence becomes a certainty.

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

If this could be shown to be a certainty, that within or outwith the UK, Scotland was determined to stay in the EU; that would mean that nobody had voted for Brexit, since England only voted for it on the basis we were all going to leave.

Helen King
Guest
Helen King

One could hardly disagree with this but… “We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens” – do we have the right to challenge those views, held in good faith, if those citizens are unaware of important evidence?

Jo B
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Jo B

Disappointing, bland both-sidesism from the Bishops. I will respect people, I will even respect their feelings, but I will not respect their opinions or their votes if they seek to do harm. My wife relies on 3 medications that are at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I have friends who are disabled and reliant on benefits and cannot afford a hike in food prices. This isn’t academic, this isn’t angels dancing on the head of a pin, this is flesh and blood, life and death. I will continue to consider the opinions and votes of those who… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

“we affirm our respect for the June 2016 Referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured” What does that actually mean? Does that rule out a second (clarifying) referendum? Was the original referendum (which was ludicrously vague about what ‘Brexit’ actually meant) actually an honourable process? I do agree that the right and will of the people to determine their future, and the future of their children and communities, should be protected and in almost all circumstances upheld. And I write as someone who was a floating voter at the 2016 referendum – I could see, and still… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Given how it’s been tainted by Leave’s campaign antics, the referendum result should be held in contempt, set aside, and the vote re-run with a concrete leave option vs. remain. In a few years, once A50’s been revoked, and this toxic culture war’s moved on to a new battlefield. A referendum held in the next few months, in the midst of this toxicity, and with no substantial safeguards, would be even worse than the first. The alternatives are either a chaotic crash-out that will destroy the credibility of secession for decades (if not forever) and see the U.K rapidly rejoin… Read more »

Jenny Humphreys
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Jenny Humphreys

Well meaning though this is, I don’t think it’s good enough, bishops. A stronger condemnation of abusive language and disingenuous responses is needed. It is not Remain voters who are issuing death threats to MPs and threatening their families. The Prime Minister, his aide Dominic Cummings, and others are using the classic ‘gas-lighting’ technique of blaming the victim for the perpetrators’ violent actions. I thought the bishops would have understood more about the domestic or spiritual abusers that use the “but you made me do it” excuse when rationalising their coercive behaviour. This is in the same vein.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

False equivalence and craven neutrality at its worst. Given that these are the same bench who believe that gay people and prelates who preach overt homophobia are two equal “sides,” I’m not in the least surprised. Of course they understand, they’re fiercely intelligent and well-educated: they just choose to do nothing. Better they stay silent than churn out these gutless platitudes.

Neil
Guest
Neil

But Jenny, the met police asst commissioner testifying to a select committee about threats and harassment said they’ve seen a roughly even split of MPs targeted for supporting Brexit and for remain.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I don’t like the E.U., I consider supranationalism to be a profoundly misguided philosophy, and I have the greatest respect for the secessionist case. But “Brexit” has been hijacked by the Bannonist right, is being used as a proxy fight in a merciless global culture war, and any attempt to leave in current circumstances will embolden terrifying forces. For bishops to be willfully blind to the currents beneath the waves breaking Britain’s institutions and civil society is a gross and shameful dereliction of duty, as is this craven false equivalence. Fine people on both sides, on *both* sides. If secessionism’s… Read more »

Jill Armstead
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Jill Armstead

So refreshing to see our bishops taking an even-handed approach to politics, especially when a majority of the shrinking polity of faithful lay Anglicans voted (and would still vote) to leave the European Union.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

They’re not “even-handed”: they explicitly say that Brexit must go ahead, don’t even mention the fact that the electoral commission have found the Leave campaigns to have overspent * (Remain groups received much smaller fines for technical breaches), and don’t address the deluge of lies about everything from the NHS to Turkey’s supposedly imminent membership of the E.U.

Given these omissions, it’s anyone’s guess how their graces can believe that this pious, nakedly-partisan injunction will have the slightest impact on the debate that they seek to shut down.

* https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44856992

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

I think the piece by David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, is the best and most balanced that I have read during the turmoil of this week. Although he gives it a title as a question, the answer is clear enough, and he ends with a warning which everyone needs to heed.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Like some others, I was disappointed by the College of Bishops’ statement (though the Bishop of Manchester’s piece was impressive). Much evidence has emerged since the referendum about the scale of lawbreaking involved, including misuse of personal data and overspending, so that nobody knows what the result would have been otherwise. I happen to agree with the 1947 Electoral Reform Committee view that ‘Irregularities in elections’ are ‘an attack upon national institutions which the nation should concern itself to repel’, a view which the bishops may think old-fashioned but which many still hold. To expect us to shut up and… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I don’t find the imperious command that I “respect” and not “denigrate” views so long as they’re honestly held challenging in the slightest, since I find it as contemptible as it’s bizarre, and will gleefully ignore it.

Take heart, England, declare her bishops: in this other Eden, MLK’s white moderates live!

Cynthia Katsarelis
Guest

Yes! Brexit was brought to you by the same people who got Trump elected in the US, Cambridge Analytica, V. Putin, and excessive money in politics. I’m horrified that both countries, and the world, are suffering for these elections that do not seem “free and fair.” The pro-Brexit campaigners were profoundly dishonest. However, in the US, with Trump, WYSIWYG. His actions were predictable, sadly.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Just so! In a tough field, the greatest failure by limousine liberals on either sides of the Atlantic is their inability (or refusal) to recognize that both Trumpery and Brexit are proxies for Bannonism. You can’t appease this toxic creed, you can only defeat it at the ballot box, and must keep fighting until you do. Far too many pundits have packed the op-ed pages with meanderings on the relative merits of NAFTA or the E.U., which ignores the underlying issue of emotive nativism. This isn’t about tariffs, or supranationalism, or repatriating jobs or the rest of it: and until… Read more »

Marise Hargreaves
Guest
Marise Hargreaves

I share your disappointment. In the light of events it is turning to more than that. Open Democracy has done a mighty work rooting out where the dark money has come from. It is a scary read and involves evangelical groups from the US who are pouring millions into Europe to influence voting. The referendum result the Bishops are supporting was based on lies, dirty money, promotion of fear of anything foreign or different, and a deliberate lack of detail. The hostile environment this government has been creating has also played into some very nasty views on the streets. Racist,… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Couldn’t agree more. Appeasing Bannonism’s straight-up unchristian, but acquiescence to the government of the day’s the risk you run by having a state church.

If the bishops honestly believe that this is just about the U.K.’s constitutional and trading relationship with the European bloc, they’re the opposite of wise serpents; if they do know, but wilfully ignore it, they’re no gentle doves. Eithe way, it’s not leadership, let alone apostleship.

Father David
Guest

Any suggestions from the College of Bishops as to how the 2016 Referendum result could be “honoured” in practical terms? Parliament has tried and failed miserably to honour the result for the past three years and this whole wretched business will, in time, have seen off three Prime Milnisters, so perhaps just what is needed is a little divine intervention to get us out of this chaotic mess. Pray what pastoral advice to the Church of England bishops offer to the 16 million people who voted to remain?

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

…many of whom were Scottish (62% for remain in Scotland), and live outside the remit of the English provinces and their archbishops. ‘Honouring’ the 2016 referendum is not necessarily the same as ‘honouring’ the wishes of the people of Scotland. It is a shame that honouring the leave vote is framed, again and again, within an English context. The whole Brexit mayhem has huge repercussions for the people of Scotland, and by implication for the future of the Union. The bishops are right: we certainly need to dial down the rhetoric in debate, because what’s needed is clear, calm minds.… Read more »

Michael Mulhern
Guest
Michael Mulhern

Bland beyond words. Completely fails to offer an imaginative and engaging way of how a deeply divided country (England, I mean) can move forward with respect and resolve, with the resources of the Gospel as a guide. Someone of wisdom and insight suggested that this statement was more Welby than Baines or Bayes. It is none of these. It is pure, unadulterated 100% Nye. What it says, in effect, is that you love your neighbour by accepting their lies, thuggishness and criminal actions, you respect an advisory referendum by accepting the uninformed advice of a minority (a mere 37% of… Read more »