Editor’s note: Last week, the EAUK’s Daniel Webster explored why Christians must show that disagreement without division is possible in both UK and US politics. Today, he explores the two roles that Christians must play during and after closely divided votes, whether “Brexit” today or Trump v. Clinton in November.
Today the United Kingdom finally votes on whether to remain in the European Union (EU), or to leave it.
After a couple days of respite after the shocking murder of politician Jo Cox, campaigning resumed at a frenzied pace. Having led in the polls since the start of the campaign, the #Bremain camp slipped behind the #Brexit camp over the last couple of weeks. But the trend may have shifted direction once again in the final few days.
The tight finish suits both campaigns. It energizes activists, and it gives voters a reason to get out and vote.
It’s always heartening to hear people want to talk politics. It’s encouraging that churches provide space to debate vital issues, and it’s crucial that Christian leaders speak into the public sphere.
There is a lot of good in how British Christians have engaged throughout this campaign, and just a couple of points of concern:
Evangelical Christians have remarkably high levels of participation: more than 4 out of 5 were certain to vote last year, according to polling by the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK). There is a similar level of engagement in this referendum, but it is matched with intense frustration at the state of the campaign.
Even before the tragic events of last week, the campaign had descended into bitter and bizarre spats. And despite pleas for a more civil tone, the early salvos after the ceasefire didn’t indicate much improvement in the rhetoric.
Historically, only a third of the country votes in the elections to the European Parliament that take place every five years. But at least twice as many are expected to have their say this week.
Evangelicals vote both ways
On Saturday, I spoke to a church audience on the referendum. This group disproportionately favored one side, and raised the important factors influencing their vote. The previous week, I spoke to a group that was almost unanimous in their support of the other side.
This reflects two important points for understanding how evangelicals are engaging in this vote: they will vote both ways, and groupthink is a real danger.
A couple of surveys have attempted to discern how Christians will vote, but failed to provide a great deal of insight. Low levels of active church participation combined with still-high levels of religious affiliation complicate this task. Asked on a scale of 0-100 to rate their view, with 0 meaning “in” and 100 meaning “out,” Christians were the religious group most likely to support leaving the EU, with an average score of 55. (Jews, with an average of 52, were the only other group where a majority backed leaving.)
However, there was no measure of church participation or beliefs to identify the role that faith might play in influencing this choice. Another survey that presented results by denomination found that evangelicals marginally supporting leaving the EU, with Anglicans and Baptists backing leaving by a much larger margin.
Evangelical leaders speak out
David Beckham was the latest star to be wheeled out in support of one side of the debate; he recently gave his backing to the Remain campaign. Of far less excitement to the general public—but perhaps more influential to evangelicals—have been the statements of evangelical leaders.