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Reform Magazine | August 17, 2017

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Niall Cooper: Europe: to stay or not to stay

Niall Cooper: Europe: to stay or not to stay

niall_cooperAs Christians, do we make this choice out of self-interest or solidarity?

What has Europe ever done for us? This is probably the most important question we will all be asked this year, in preparation for the forthcoming European Union referendum. Is the UK’s future inside the EU, or outside? Do we see ourselves as Europeans, or hold on to a vision of Great Britain ruling the waves as a free and sovereign nation? And, as Christians, do we make this choice out of self-interest, or do we make it out of a larger vision of solidarity?

The United Reformed Church is a denomination built on balancing its proud congregational heritage with ever closer ecumenical union. Is it possible to retain a specific and distinct local identity whilst being part of a greater ecumenical vision?

The Greek word oikoumene, which is the root of “ecumenical”, is not about church unity but the “whole inhabited earth”. So, just how big is our vision of oikoumene? Do we live as if our specific locality is just one part of the jigsaw of the whole inhabited earth? Or, are we keener to define our identity against the identities of others? As UK citizens we are already part of a complex patchwork of overlapping identities – do we still want to include “European” to that complexity?

Loretta Minghella, Director of Christian Aid, wrote: “As long ago as 1632 John Donne was onto something: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were….’  With astonishing prescience he could have been describing the motivation of the founders of the European project more than 300 years later.” But do Europe and the European Union still matter?..

Niall Cooper is Director of Church Action on Poverty

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This is an extract from the February 2016 edition of Reform.

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