31/08/2016 08:20 BST | Updated 26/08/2017 06:12 BST

The Brexit Stalemate: Could The UK Learn Something From Its Church?


It is unusual times when the Church is more progressive than the State but we may actually be in such times. Britain has reached a place where polarized views and a lack of respect between the people who hold those views predominates. As the country staggers around in shock, we are all showing our uglier sides. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently referred to: 'the thin crust of the politeness and tolerance of our society, through which since the referendum we have seen an outwelling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years.' At the moment, it seems that little is being done to deal with this.

At the same time, the Church of England, of which the Archbishop is the head, has just been through its own 2 year process since the State legalized gay marriage. The 2 year process, in which I along with many other mediators and facilitators helped people who felt passionately over a highly controversial issues understand those who felt very differently from them. We did not set out to change anyone's views, just to change the conversation. And that makes all the difference.

The parallels between the Church's issues over gay marriage and the State's Brexit dilemma are emerging. For the time being the Church, surprisingly perhaps, seems to be doing better than the State at dealing with difficult times.

On the one hand, there is a sense that the Brexit vote to some degree affirmed those with racist tendencies, and gave them greater courage not only to share their views but also to act on them. This was not necessarily intended but seems to be an unfortunate consequence for a small minority at the far right of the Brexit vote. This can be likened to those within the Church who turn their backs on the LGBTI community, see them as a problem and demonise them. In both cases, these are by no means mainstream views, but their shock-value (and in the case of Brexit the violent actions associated with them) has them front and centre in public perception.

On the other hand, there is a new 'liberal extreme' that looks down on people who voted Brexit and unabashedly calls them 'idiots'. The Liberal extreme, does not always recognize itself as such. It simply assumes that it is right. Don't we all? And nobody wants to feel looked down on. In the case of the Church, it equally has a tendency to take the moral high-ground and not investigate further the views that it abhors.

The problem in these two cases is that everyone just thinks they are right (other than a few lonely voices in the middle). The debate has become polarized and people do not see a need to listen to each other and discuss. The idea that there is nothing to talk about is often a key indicator that a really good conversation is needed. Not, any conversation but an Intelligent Conversation.

So perhaps, this is a time when the State can learn from the Church, and the Nation needs a conversation to help understand each other's views. In order to do that, we need to understand where people who think very differently from us are coming from. We need to take the time to get to know them as people before we then understand what brought them to their viewpoint. As long as we just throw ideas at each other and do not engage wholeheartedly with our fellow countrymen and women, our Nation will be weaker, more brittle and more fragile.