Facing the Brexit aporia

By John Gillibrand
July 12, 2019

Theology’s self-reflection must always be this: what is the specific and distinctive contribution which theology can make to our overall reflection upon matters of public concern? How does that distinctive contribution relate to overall thinking on such matters? If theological reflection does not offer something that is not available elsewhere, we may as well shut up shop and go home. We have nothing to say. 

But we do… 

Brexit means Brexit. This means nothing, locked into an eternal, self-referential circle. The lack of clarity on exactly what Brexit is represents one of our largest problems. 

Brexit means aporia. Aporia is “An irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory.” A few nights ago, I was watching the debate between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party (and de facto, for the post of Prime Minister). It was in the nature of the occasion that both should claim to have the personal capacity to deliver Brexit in time for the 31 October 2019. Yet the political experiences of the last few years have given us grounds for the belief that Brexit is beset by irresolvable internal contradiction, or logical disjunction. It may simply be impossible, or so nearly impossible that doing it will do incalculable damage to our social, political and economic fabric. 

It may well be that the body politic is unable to accomplish Brexit. With that will go much anger, as is always the case when individuals and collectives do not feel in control of their own fate. However, it may be the time to recognise that the body politic is disabled, and rather than resorting to anger, to recognise, and to celebrate our collective disability. 

From the time of Hobbes and Locke we have thought of sovereignty as sheer power: it may well be that we are being led to reconceive our whole sense of the political. Over recent years, disabled people have become the targets of power and policy. Maybe, at root, this was a political system which, fearing and shrinking from its own disability after the crash of 2008, needed to treat disabled people as other. 

So much for our political situation. The question for Christians is: how are we to live with integrity in all of this?  Firstly, we must stop believing that our fussy concern with the sexual identity and sexual activities of others somehow belongs to the heart of Christian orthodoxy, on the basis of a few verses of Scripture. So much energy and concern has been consumed by that: if the Churches had devoted that same energy to resisting the rise of the far right, the whole outcome of the last few years would have been different. Our calling now – heaven help us – is that of Bonhoeffer. In our efforts to evade our calling, we have made the wrong people out targets. 

We need to return to our core values. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. To love even our enemies. There is much reflection at the moment on how we build social cohesion and consensus in the aftermath of the Brexit debates. Anything less than this will not do. It is actually beyond our own strength – as Heidegger, himself horribly compromised by his association with the Nazi regime in the 1930’s, had realised by the 1960’s: only a God can save us now. The gracefulness of God, building graceful relationships. 

Within the New Testament narrative, God had every reason to treat human beings as others. Made in the image and likeness of God but other to God through our chronic sinfulness. Yet, we have an Incarnational faith – God did not otherus, but came to dwell amongst us. God’s power was shown forth in human weakness. The powerful teacher and mighty healer died on the Cross. 

The fundamental mistake has been to treat power as a zero-sum game: Europe has got it, and we want it back. God’s power is not like that, but rather dispersed in the communities through which – from village to village – Jesus journeyed during his earthly ministry. 

There is much talk in the Churches today about the nature of effective mission. Essential to effective mission is that we know where we are to stand, that we go there, and together make our stand. 


© John Gillibrand is Vicar of Pontarddulais with Penllergaer, in the Church in Wales Diocese of Swansea and Brecon. He is an Ekklesia associate, writer and scholar.  

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