During the independence referendum in Scotland in 2014, many who voted to remain in the United Kingdom were afraid to say publicly how they were going to vote or how they had voted. Many people said that they felt frightened to be known as in favour of the union, as a friend of England, even though they were the majority – over two million, compared to the 1.6 million who voted to leave.
During and since the 2016 Brexit referendum, we have seen the same in England and even here in Peterborough. Someone I know well told me very recently, in private and in confidence, that they had voted the opposite way to how they thought I had voted. They hoped I would understand, and not think badly of them.
And the behaviour of many of our MPs, of all parties, has been even worse. Where is the respect for other people’s views that used to characterise our public life? Where is the willingness to compromise and work together that once went with being British? The media haven’t helped; they have looked for differences of opinion, and focused on them, instead of looking at where people agree, what they have in common.
At the same time, homelessness is increasing, the need for food banks is at a record high, loneliness is a growing problem, mental ill health is on the rise, hate crime and various kinds of rage are proliferating, and children are being killed with knives every week in our capital.
How do we regain some sort of national unity? How do we resurrect a real sense of community and neighbourliness?
Of course, this brings us straight to the Christmas message. Part of our preparation for the coming of Christ must be seeking reconciliation and peace with one another. Part of the message of Christmas is that the Prince of Peace demands that we stop fighting each other and dividing our communities.
We (parliament, the media, and all of us in our communities) must look for and highlight what unites us, rather than what divides. We must not seek to find or enlarge disagreements and divisions, but must look at how to heal them. We must not criticise or attack people for the views they hold, but must seek to hear and to understand them. We must reintroduce to our lives a culture of respect, of careful listening, of constructive engagement, and of submitting to the rule of Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace.
I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas.”