The whole Brexit debacle is like living inside someone else’s bad dream, or being caught up in a friend’s domestic dispute with no power to influence the outcome or offer any mediation. Twitter is pulsating tonight with ire and fire, panic and platitudes, MPs grabbing the parliamentary mace and some momentary fame, with vitriol and invective serving as the common currency.
In all of this, one figure in particular is being focussed on for a nation’s collective disparagement, Theresa May. The alleged fallacy of her now having a deal which can benefit Britain and effect a proper Brexit, and the deferred vote in Westminster which has followed, means that it is open season on the Prime Minister.
In truth, I haven’t a clue about Brexit. I read widely when it came to the referendum in 2016 and did my best to leap into the dark of how to cast my vote without any of the information available then which is in daily parlance now. I also don’t care to the same degree about the political debacle which is being realised in Westminster as some of my friends do, who seem so certain about the politics and logistics of this.
What I do know is that there is some very misguided thinking about leadership, about principle, and about democracy doing the rounds at the present moment. Theresa May did not invent Brexit, and yet she is charged with implementing it. My limited political understanding suggests to me that she has not been as transparent, or as confident in the negotiating process as she ought to have been, and I really have no insight into what truly motivates her. But I do know that leadership sometimes means that we have to persevere through the pain barrier of unpopularity to do what we believe to be right. I do know that sometimes our own career, or comfort, or legacy has to be sacrificed on following through on a commitment, even if our own buy-in to it is a little unsteady.
Aside from the horrendous party conference dance steps, and the faltering media presence, and the politically disastrous dabbling with the trivialising interview questions of the media (think corn fields), it cannot be gainsaid that Mrs May is seeking to follow through on the vote cast two years ago (even if it becomes increasingly unclear what was really voted for). She is facing personal acrimony, media criticism, and an increasing call to quit, but she continues to keep on (for now). Even if she is somewhat graceless, her grit and determination are in some ways admirable.
Part of what concerns me more broadly is that people are willing to heap abuse on the Prime Minister in a manner which they would never accept in their own personal or professional lives. What is said of Theresa May on social media is often vile, seldom edifying, and a projection of just how lacking our public and private discourse is in that much lauded and lesser spotted virtue of respect. Ad hominem attacks are the standard approach, with no balancing commentary of how difficult it must be for someone in the Prime Minister’s position at this moment in British and global history.
What disgusts me even more is that some Christians are adding their fists to the fight. By all means question policy, by all means interrogate someone’s professional competency for the task before them, but as Christians surely we should be the very people who can model how to disagree without being disagreeable. Add to that our clear mandate to pray for those in government, and to show respect for the building blocks of authority upon which society is built, even if we do not share their ethos or buy into their policies. It would be interesting from the perspective of heaven to see the ratio between Christians who are garnering likes for their criticism of the Prime Minister on Twitter, and those who are seeking grace for her through prayer. Such a statistic might just show us where our trust lies, what our priorities are, and how much we have sold our true responsibilities in favour of signalling our virtue.
Believe it or not, this Brexit fever will break, this moment will become a mere molecule in global history, and the world will not be much affected by what we say or what we think. But as Christians we believe that our words are a stewardship, as are our prayers, and that we will be held strictly to account for how we invest them.
Perhaps we need to stop raging against the dying of political light, perhaps we need to show to our friends and followers that our joy is not index linked to the wrangling of a political system that is bigger than us and smaller than God’s sovereignty – perhaps we need to trade our self-printed pundit badge in for the God-given privilege of interceding, instead of interjecting in the hate-fest which the wider world is so enjoying.