After the referendum – a Quaker response

The days following the EU referendum result filled me with an obsessive, disbelieving sadness that verged on grief. I hadn’t even countenanced a ‘leave’ victory, the case for ‘remain’ seemingly so sensible. I know not everyone who voted ‘leave’ did so for racist reasons, but because people like Nigel Farage campaigned on an anti-immigration ticket, it felt at that moment like the racists had won.

Amidst the emotional outpouring from both sides, calls for unity came quickly. What infuriated me about these exhortations from public figures was that no one seemed to know how to make it happen. ‘Talk is cheap’ I thought, ‘if we knew how to bridge the divide then we wouldn’t be in this mess!’ What grieves me more than anything are the deep divisions that have been revealed by this referendum. How can I do my bit to help heal these gaping wounds?

Last week I spent time in prayer, searching for a story to help make sense of my feelings. Quakers have a long tradition of reading the bible as a map to our inner life, and I found myself drawn to two stories. The first expresses where I’m at, and the second is where I want to be.

I am currently with the women at the empty tomb. The body of Jesus has gone. They are afraid and uncertain. I’m worried about the rise of UKIP, our government becoming increasingly right wing, and how this will distract from our efforts to respond to climate disruption. Is the Quaker community in Britain really up to the job of responding to the tasks at hand? Do we say we worship God, but really worship Security and Comfort?

The women at the empty tomb [Mark 16:1-8]
I want to be in the story of another Mary, the mother of Jesus, in her pregnancy. One of the many things I like about Mary is that in Orthodox iconography she is associated with the burning bush discovered by Moses. This is because, like the bush, God lived within her without consuming her. There is something very Quaker about this story. The early Quakers spoke of Christ living in them, an idea referred to as ‘celestial inhabitation’. I want to be like Mary, expectantly waiting, aflame with God’s love and energised by God’s presence. In the image of childbirth there is a sense that the future will involve pain and risk, but there is real hope that new life will come.

The Unburnt Bush [Exodus 3], with Mary as ‘Theotokos’ (‘God bearer’)
I’m still awaiting a call to move forward. On Friday I went to the launch of the ‘Love Your Neighbour’ initiative in the middle of Birmingham. This movement is encouraging businesses, schools and other organisations to put up large banners proclaiming ‘Love Your Neighbour’ in the wake of an increase in reported racist abuse. We were asked to commit to individual ‘acts of kindness’ as part of the launch. It was on seeing this that my heart sank. I saw someone write ‘smile at a stranger’ as their commitment. I thought ‘are things so terrible that smiling at people has become a conscious commitment?’ I was also saddened by the idea of ‘individual’ acts of kindness. It’s individualism that has brought us to this place of isolation. I want to know what communal action can I be a part of. What is the Quaker community going to do? Do I need to join a political party or another campaigning group? Answers are still unforthcoming. I’m still at the empty tomb, trembling and bewildered, doing nothing, because I’m afraid.

14 thoughts on “After the referendum – a Quaker response”

  1. It would have been nice, though it probably wouldn’t have made a difference, if the Quakers corporately had campaigned for Remain. As it was, QPSW gave a tacit Brexit message by issuing a statement against TTIP in the campaigning period – and then issued a briefing pack about TTIP after the referendum, apparently not understanding that the Leave vote means that a UK outside the EU will not be part of the EU-US negotiations for TTIP! As for what Quakers should do, I agree with Her Maj, that a period of calm and contemplation is called for. We need to hold the nation in the light.

    1. I hadn’t noticed before that in the picture of the women at the empty tomb, you can see two figures in the distance. Jesus is already speaking with Peter on the road to Jerusalem. He’s out there somewhere!

      1. Oops! I assumed you meant faith and changed it! I have a ford focus which will have to serve in place of a fiat. 🙂

  2. I found this imagery helpful Mark – thank you for sharing it. The idea of individual acts can be powerful – if these come together. As a red-diaper baby I was raised on such ideas. It is the coming together aspect that I find missing – so I am also listening and searching.

  3. Racism & xenophobia flourish where people can’t gain the housing, nourishment, respectable status they expect to receive as human beings… and then (since no-one is looking to the people who are getting the money, but aren’t making economically beneficial use of it, but merely speculating on how much the price of abstract ‘assets’ can be bid up) it gets easy for them to believe, ‘Them furiners is getting it!’ — Of many good articles on the real-world costs of this symbolic unity (in its current form) I’ve found Michael Hudson’s piece the best so far: “…What used to be a socialist left has been silent about the fact that there are very good reasons for people to say that this is not the kind of Europe they want to be a part of. It is becoming a dead zone. And it cannot be ‘democratized’ without replacing the Lisbon and Maastricht treaties on which it is founded, and removing German opposition to public spending on recovery for Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and other countries.

    “What is remarkable is that in the face of rising resentment by the “losers” from neoliberalism – the 99 Percent – only the nationalist right-wing parties have criticized the EU’s neoliberalism and the T-TIP. The formerly left-wing Socialist parties of France and Spain, German Social Democrats, Greek Socialists and so forth have endorsed the neoliberal, pro-financial program of austerity and rollbacks on labor union power, wages and pensions….” — See

  4. I’ve always enjoyed and gained spiritually from your blogs, but this one made me want to throw up. I voted to remain, but since then have come to doubt myself and the whole remain campaign. My instinct has now reasserted itself – ‘Small is Beautiful’ Schumacher said, and he is still right. I repent me of my sin in voting for the safe way, the middle class way, the ‘let’s be reasonable people in a reasonable world’ way. I have no time for Farage and the like but I have come with increasing horror ssiblyto realise that I voted for a United States of Europe, in which people like me (and possibly you) will be politely ushered into the gas chambers if we prove to be an obstacle. All the Quaker piety in the universe won’t save us if the technocrats and bureaucrats get the world they want. So stop grovelling and whining and stand up straight and tall. Tell God first and then them that they can’t have it, even if it means you have to be rude (God forbid). The reason for telling God first is to give her/him time to help us find a way forward

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter. I’m glad that you enjoy the blog. When I wrote this it was an honest reflection of how I felt. I couldn’t have written it any differently. Writing this blog is often a way for processing my own thoughts that hopefully other people will find interesting and helpful. In the case of this post, you’ve obviously not found it helpful. You are in a different place to me. This post was about coming to a place of waiting where I can hear what God is calling me to do. I’m still in that place, although I have gained clarity that I should join and support the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. I should also add that, although I welcome engagement with my blog, I really don’t like the tone of your comment, especially the bit about ‘grovelling and whining’.

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