I have a terrible confession to make; one that will offend many of you and which may mean that you never take me seriously again.
I’m a Eurosceptic and will be voting for the UK to leave the EU. There, I said it. My secret is out and my credibility is shot!
Don’t worry, I’m not about to turn this blog into a political one, campaigning for my point of view. I’ve got no interest in doing that and I’ll simply delete any comments which try to go down that route. There are plenty of places to conduct online arguments about the referendum and this isn’t one of them.
What I’m actually interested in exploring is the way in which the referendum is being conducted.
I don’t want to rehearse everything that has been said, but from where I am sitting a good argument can be made for voting in either direction. There are strong points for remain and there are strong points for leaving. There are also some weaker points on both sides, too. I have reached one conclusion about the referendum and other people have reached different conclusions; that’s how these things work. This is not a simple issue; things are not black and white – there are numerous shades of grey.
This brings me to what bothers me about the campaign (and both sides are guilty of this). It is the use of the word “facts”. Both sides have rolled out documents which set out “the facts” about Europe. Strangely enough, these “facts” are always 100% in favour of whichever campaign has published them. It’s odd that.
There are a few reasons why we can’t rely on all of the “facts” that are being presented to us. The first is that sometimes they are not true – can you believe it? Secondly, some of the facts are speculative. Anyone (from either side) who says exactly what will happen if Britain leaves the EU is guessing. They may be well qualified to guess (professional guessers?), but well informed speculation is not fact. Lastly, some of the “facts” are accurate enough, but they don’t tell the whole story. By carefully picking and choosing some statistics and ignoring others, it is possible to make statements which are factual, but which aren’t actually true.
So what, I hear you say?
The thing is, if we are Christians, then we should care about truth. We should be offended by the misuse of statistics and the manipulation of language. We may have different views on the EU, but we should have a common commitment to truthful language. We should be prepared to admit that some things are true, even if they don’t fit our preferred narrative and we should not twist language to make something sound truthful when it isn’t.
This is important in political discourse, but it is more important when it comes to talking about our faith. We must be faithful witnesses to Jesus and that means that we don’t spice up our language in a way to make things seem more attractive than they are in reality. The same goes for advertising events, promoting organisations and raising funds. It is all too easy to start manipulating facts in the way that the political world does; it’s ingrained in our culture and we don’t even notice we are doing it sometimes. But as people of the truth, we must avoid these sorts of things.
One of the big lessons of the EU referendum is to give some great examples of how Christians should not conduct their arguments.
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.