Europe as we know it has changed forever – or so it seems. Just over a week ago, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a stunning outcome to a national referendum called by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has now resigned. The British people’s decision almost immediately jolted global markets, international institutions, and populist sentiments in Europe and beyond.
The nasty, brutish elements of racism and extreme nationalism that have surfaced as a response to Brexit have been ugly. However, the response of top leaders in the European Union has been equally unsettling, as Germany, France, and Italy have repeatedly proposed the formation of a single European superstate that would dissolve member state identities and borders, implement a collective armed force with surprisingly global ambitions, and centralize all economic transactions. It would seem that two ugly heads have surfaced post-Brexit, one of far right nationalism with clear xenophobic strains and the other of zealous “Euroefederalism” keen on consuming national sovereignty.
For me, these two extremes are incredibly disheartening. I’ve spent much of my life visiting and studying in Europe. I went to Europe for the first time during high school, and I have returned there for study and mission trips on several occasions, most recently for a semester-long fellowship at the University of Oxford. I have been greatly enriched by the distinct cultures and histories of countries such as Italy, Romania, and Spain, mourning in their worst tragedies and rejoicing in their greatest accomplishments. Many times I feel that, as a political centrist but a committed theological conservative, Europe’s Christian community is more of an intellectual and spiritual home for me than the power-hungry American church, divided by violent rhetoric on both the right and left that departs from core biblical truths.
So I grieve with Europe. I grieve with the refugees who feel unwelcome as they flee the atrocities of Daesh in the Middle East. I grieve with the people of countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Poland who feel that their moment of national distinctiveness is coming to an end depending on the whims of Brussels and a few opportunistic leaders. And I grieve with the European Church, already so weakened by rampant secularism for so long and now torn apart even further by an unfair spectrum of choices.
What is one to do in an hour of such division? I don’t know if I have any real answers, but I do have a few thoughts based on the time I’ve spent with the people of the European Continent.
- Fear should not govern the most important decisions. Let’s be absolutely clear: both the xenophobic elements of the British “Leave” camp and the zealots for an expansionist “EU Army” pose serious problems for both regional and global stability. A Europe that refuses refugees or that promotes racially-based nationalism directly empowers Daesh by allowing them to reinforce their message and obtain fresh recruits. On a similar note, a Europe whose countries put up barriers to trade endangers the well-being of entire national economies. Equally, troubling, however, are the aspirations of certain foreign ministers to solve regional economic and security concerns by allowing Brussels to dissolve the national sovereignty of EU member states. Forcing individual countries to surrender their powers of taxation, law enforcement, national defense, and banking would be a devastating blow to the ideals of democracy.
- Mudslinging will not result in solutions. The rhetorical abuse offered by advocates of “Leave” and “Remain” alike has been nothing less than shocking. The truth is, advocates for both sides of “Brexit” have put forward some very legitimate arguments. However, since the vote was cast last Thursday, the mudslinging has only gotten worse. Germany’s Martin Schulz, leader of the European Parliament, wants the UK out immediately, disregarding the fact that Article 50 hasn’t even gone into effect yet. Anger or frustration on the part of EU leadership will only serve to cement anti-European sentiment and augment xenophobic, far-right nationalism. So in plain speech – both sides really should think before they speak.
- The world is not burning. Contrary to what media pundits and investors are saying right now, there is no actual global military conflagration or financial recession taking place right now. There are certainly concerns raised by statements made in both London and Brussels, but they probably aren’t that shocking to us as US citizens considering the two candidates dominating our own election season. Nailbiting over a national referendum across the pond or selling every last one of our stocks isn’t going to solve anything. The truth is, what we really need to do is get on our knees and pray for Europe. What we really need to do is reach out and stand with our European friends, reminding them of our personal friendship to them no matter what side they stand on. We can only hope our country will do the same.
Perhaps all of this falls on deaf ears, or maybe I’m just preaching to the choir. I care deeply for Europe, and in just a few short weeks, I’ll be back there visiting concentration camp sites in Poland during a monthlong leadership institute. When I think of my upcoming visit to Aufschwitz-Birkenau, I wonder at both the racial hatred and the rapidly centralizing control we see in Europe today. It puzzles me, and I know I don’t have the answers. But I do know we have a Savior who loves and cares for the people of Europe, and I know we should be watchful and prayerful as the world scrambles for a solution they will probably never find outside the person of Jesus Christ.
As Edmond Dantes says at the end of The Count of Monte Cristo – “Wait and hope.”