Division In Our Nation

Division in our nation 

 

By the end of the month, March 2019 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give us our nations full name) would have left the European Union.  The 52-48% split of the referendum result has caused division.  It is in my opinion on par with previous divisions that this country has lived through.  Such as the division between Normans and Saxons, The Wars of the Roses, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Protestant and Catholic, Jurors and NonJurors.  The problem with such divisions in society has led to conflict and bloodshed.

In their bid to conquer Saxon England the Normans came down very hard on those who rebelled and challenged their authority to rule.  Uprisings that began in the North of England were put down brutally in what was known as the harrying of the North.  We may be separated from this event by almost a millennium which means we may not be aware of the devastation this caused.  

The Wars of the Roses was not a cricket match but a war between two branches of the Norman Royal family who contested the crown.  As part of the conflict the bloodiest battle on English soil happened at Towton  near York. 

The wars of religion following the Reformation saw people burnt at the stake because of their faith.  After the establishment of the Church of England everyone had to worship in the same way using the prayer book.  This meant Roman Catholics could not worship in their way but also some Puritans had issues with accepting the prayer book as the Church of England to them was not Protestant enough for them. 

Charles I had Roman Catholic influence and took on the idea that monarchs were appointed by God and had the right to rule absolutely.  This caused conflict with Parliament which led to the English Civil Wars.  The Roundheads being on the Protestant wing of the Church went to war to defend their beliefs. As did the Cavaliers who supported the King.

The Civil War may have had a religious element but was also political.  Eventually the monarchy was returned to rule but once again came under Roman Catholic influence.  Fearing another Civil War Parliament invited William and Mary, both Protestants to take the crown.  This was the time when the monarchy became a constitutional monarchy in an invasion known as The Glorious Revolution.  It wasn't entirely a bloodless event as some fighting occurred in Ireland which the consequences of can still be felt today. Not everyone supported the Glorious Revolution which led to the groupings of Jurors and Nonjurors. Yet another division in the life of our nation.

The Rectory at Epworth was divided because of this.  The rector, the Rev Samuel Wesley had the opposite view to his wife, Susanna and as a result marital relations were disrupted.  It wasn't until the accession of Queen Anne who was acceptable to both Jurors and Nonjurors that "normal" marital relations resumed.  This resulted in the birth of John and Charles Wesley.

The point to reflect on is that the healing of division enabled God to work in our nation in a truly remarkable way. A revival that is said to have prevented a bloody revolution like the one in France was the result.  It was the Wesley's who were instigators of the revival that turned many people to God.

As followers of Jesus our thoughts should not be to continue the division that Brexit has caused in our society but to focus on the healing of that division and other divisions within our society.  In the last three years we have become a more polarized society with an "us" and "them" mentality.  Racism has increased, ignorance is showing through and we can't seem to have a reasoned discussion because emotions are fueling people's anger.

Yet there is an example from our history that can show us how to respond.  It dates back from the Synod of Whitby in 644.  This was held to discuss what type of Church the Church should be in Britain.  Should it be the Celtic version that worked from Iona or the Catholic mission that arrived in Kent with St Augustine?

The Synod backed the Catholic mission through what I consider the use of poor theology.  The final decision came down to one person to make.  The Catholic contingent stressed that the keys to the kingdom of heaven was held by St Peter.  So not wanting to upset St Peter in order that he would not be locked out of heaven, King Oswiu of Northumbria chose the Catholic version of the Church.

The leaders of the Celtic Church effectively withdrew back to Iona.  However, a Celtic monk who was not present at the synod ministered in the new context that the decision of the synod made and worked within the new culture.  That young monk was St Cuthbert who had a ministry of signs and wonders.      

If we want to see our nation healed of these divisions and for God to move in a remarkable way then we should perhaps prayerfully accept whatever happens in parliament and work within the culture that it gives to us.  Whether that is a referendum on the deal, the deal itself or even possibly no deal at all.

 Brexit is not the only issue we have to be concerned about.  There are greater issues at stake such as the mission of God.  We have perhaps focused too much on how we feel about Brexit and neglected telling people about God's love for them.

Like St Cuthbert we need to get closer to God to be able to hear God in the new context and offer to people the whole of the gospel, not just part.


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