Brexit, hate crime, fear: what’s the Christian response?

35A8B92000000578-0-image-a-108_1466868614983Many people on both sides of the debate have been shocked and alarmed at the rise in abuse towards people from other countries since the result of the referendum. Tanya Marlow is a writer who often explores questions of disability and faith, and she offers here a framework for making sense of what is happening—and offers suggestions for practical action that Christians can take in response.

In a wave of hate crime, Polish people have had cards posted to them calling them ‘vermin’ and telling them to ‘go home’; an Italian man was punched to the ground; a Halal butcher has been firebombed. My British friends abroad have phoned me in a state of confusion. In the light of the racist attacks, they all ask one question, “What has happened to our country?” I reply, “The same thing that’s been happening to disabled people for the last six years.”

There have been six stages to this process:

  1. Recession. When eight jobs were advertised at Costa Coffee they received 1700 applicants. For the long-term unemployed, zero-hour contracts are the only solution, with low pay, bad hours, and job security. It’s scary.
  1. Fear leads to anger. We don’t like fear, so we cover it over with anger. We nurse our anger until it’s ready to boil over—then we need somewhere to direct it. The natural place is at the politicians and/or bankers. But the politicians don’t want this, so…
  1. Politicians decide on a scapegoat to direct the anger away from themselves. For the past six years, that scapegoat has largely been disabled people. Disabled people, dependent on benefits to live a normal life, have been hit by austerity cuts disproportionately hard—disabled people were hit by the cuts nine times more than the average person. The most severely disabled were hit even harder—nineteen times more than the average person.
  1. Politicians use propaganda to persuade the public to blame the scapegoat. For disabled people, it was ‘skivers versus strivers’, and even ‘scroungers’ in the press. The problem with fraudulent claims was whipped up so much that the public ended up believing the rate of fraud was 27% rather than the actual figure of 0.7%.
  1. The public direct their anger at the scapegoat instead of politicians, and the cut/change in law passes without protest. Iain Duncan Smith says these cuts for disability benefits will help people get into work, even though the research says the opposite. Most of the public go with the sound bite rather than the facts.
  1. The anger is still there, and hate crime against the scapegoat soars. Disabled people have been threatened in public, attacked on the streets. Hate crime against disabled people is at its highest level since records began, and continues to rise.

Why? Disability hate crime has always been a problem, but now there is ‘social permission’ to insult and attack disabled people. They are not people: they are ‘fakers’, ‘scroungers’, ‘benefit cheats’, the ones responsible for the economic downfall of the country. As a result, disabled people are afraid to go out, and some turn suicidal. We’ve seen that same pattern with people living in poverty as the scapegoat. People on income-related benefits have been dismissed as alcoholic and drug addicts , lazy, endlessly breeding so they can live off benefits.

But when the cuts to tax credits came, even the omnipresent Benefit Street episodes couldn’t stop the general public—and the church—from protesting that it was wrong to target the working poor. George Osborne did a U-turn and cancelled the cut.  Then, in the Spring budget, George Osborne did a U-turn over PIP disability benefit cuts, because of the outcry from the public. It was even a cut too far for Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who dramatically resigned.

So the British public were ripe for a new scapegoat: immigrants.

When the refugee crisis started to emerge, David Cameron kicked off step 4, describing refugees as a ‘swarm’; the Leave Campaign finished the job (consider Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘breaking point’ poster, resembling Nazi propaganda.)

Step 5 (voting Brexit) was a bit of a shock to many, but Step 6—the unleashing of hate crime and racist attacks—should perhaps not be a surprise, given our recent history. Reported hate crimes have apparently increased by 57% in one week, (but there are many more reported only to friends rather than the police): immigrants threatened in the streets; an Italian man punched to the ground; a Halal (Muslim-owned) butcher firebombed. As Aditya Chakrabortty said, now it is seen as ‘OK to be a racist’.

The pattern? Fear; anger; scapegoat; propaganda; law change; violence. The scapegoats? Disabled, LGBT, BAME or elderly people. Anyone who is seen as ‘other’. This same pattern  seems to occur in other countries in other times, during an economic depression.

So, what should Christians do about it? It’s hard to know where to start, but here are five things every Christian can be doing to break that cycle.

  1. Watch our own inner anger. With whom are we angry? Whom are we tempted to scapegoat? Don’t succumb to the politics of hatred.
  1. Affirm the humanity of all. We are all made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27, 9:6), precious in the sight of God. We need to speak out against racist language, jokes about disabled people, snarky remarks about people living in poverty. When the next scapegoat comes (perhaps the elderly?) we’ll need to speak out again.
  1. Protect the vulnerable. Start by praying, but follow in action. The Old Testament commanded Israel to look after the poor, the orphan, the widow (e.g. Deut 10:18); Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for not having done this (Matt 23:14,23). There is a clear Christian obligation to care for the vulnerable. When the leadership vacuum has been filled, write to your MP and PM to stop welfare cuts or laws damaging disabled people, those living in poverty, immigrants.
  1. Tell a better story. Words are powerful. Choose to combat the propaganda by speaking positively about vulnerable people groups.
  1. Join with initiatives that seek peace and healing

What has happened to our country? It’s been happening for a while. We’ve got a lot of work to do. My hope is that Christians will play a major part in building a more hopeful future.

ImageTanya Marlow is an author, blogger, broadcaster and campaigner. She founded Compassionate Britain, a grass-roots campaign against cuts to disability benefits. She has contributed to Soul Bare, stories of authenticity and vulnerability (IVP USA, releasing soon—8th July 2016). Her latest project follows four Bible characters in a season of waiting and doubt (releasing Autumn/Winter 2016). She blogs at Thorns and Gold, where she writes honestly about the Bible, suffering and the messy edges of life. You can get her first book, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, for free here.

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13 thoughts on “Brexit, hate crime, fear: what’s the Christian response?”

  1. The issue underlying this whole post is the idea that Christians should get involved with this particular sin.

    Paul offers us in 1 Cor 5:

    “12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

    The world accuses the church of being ‘judgemental’ – and sulks. But then when it’s an issue that the world feels it has a right to be judgemental about, out come the judgements. In joining the hue and cry – and of course racism is deeply wrong, don’t hear me suggesting otherwise – we are buying into the world’s agenda. That’s probably not a good place to be!

    What is the answer? I’m not sure, and I don’t want to divert attention from the point I’m making by suggesting one. What we need to do is engage with this issue first, especially with a proper exegesis of 1 Corinthians 5.The temptation is that we desire to prove that we are relevant because we are part of those attacking racists. Yet in doing so we are proving that we are not truly dependent on God, because it is surely He who makes what we do relevant.

    And certainly the next time you hear the church being criticised for being judgemental about an issue that the person would prefer to ignore God over, ask them about racism. Is it all right to be judgemental about that?

    • I don’t know any Christians who oppose racism in order to make Christianity look ‘relevant’! You are also assuming all racism and other forms of discrimination lie outside the church which sadly is not true. My opposition to racism is completely reliant on God and the belief that he loves all people and calls the church to defend the vulnerable. This also means loving those who are racist who in many cases are themselves very vulnerable but in less obvious ways. Tanya’s point about affirming the humanity of all should be applied equally to people engaging in racist behaviour and this is a powerful place for the church to act. I actually agree that on too many issues the church weighs in and tries to enforce Christian morality on non-Christians – I am a big fan of Stanley Hauerwas. But where non-Christians agree with us that something is wrong surely that is something to be glad about?

  2. Governments apply the maxim divide and rule by using terms like tanya described.Another term is the deserving and undeserving poor.Many Churches have food banks but this is not the answer.It’s the old “sticking plaster” job.I see food banks as doing the Government’s job for them.Just imagine if we had people starving in this country it would be seen as not acceptable and the Government would be forced into doing something.As regards immigrants,we seem to get problems at times of recession/depression.
    An example is the Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the thirties.

  3. I think the title of this piece is as unfortunate as it is snappy. A better title would have been ‘Brexit: hate crime and fear?’ This would at least have recognised the possibility that Brexit is as valid and benign a choice as Remain and that Brexit voters might not be a bunch of hate-filled thugs.

    The fundamental argument for the referendum was that British voters had never been given any say as to whether they wanted to hand over sovereignty to an unelected bureaucracy; and the fundamental case for Brexit was that the loss of control which had happened was not in the interest of the British people. Of course the campaigns from both sides picked examples which elucidated their cases or denigrated that of their opponents (that’s basic politics) – most commonly fear of economic hardship by Remain and the effects of uncontrolled mass immigration by Leave, but there were other more positive reasons given by both sides.

    The ‘hate’ narrative was irresistible to some people following the shocking murder of poor Jo Cox, and the whole national mood (on all sides) at that time plunged into grief and mistrust. Perhaps the great wave of prayer at the time allowed for a quicker recovery that we all might have expected and referendum day was a dignified and peaceful process. The result was a particular shock to what might be called establishment people and it could not help but highlight how the views and concerns of swathes of the nation have been ignored for years.

    But reaction by some whose side lost has been less than gracious, with calls for another referendum to achieve the ‘right’ result and, even worse, the spinning of a deeply divisive narrative of ‘hate’ being linked to the Brexit cause. We are all sinners and we know that sin comes from within us (Mark 7.20-22) and needs no external agent to plant it there. It is true that a fierce national political debate may stir up extreme wickedness or cruel behaviour in some people so that wicked deeds and words erupt and this is a sad reminder that our ‘civilisation’ is but a thin mask which covers something darker underneath; our practical solution to this is of course to enact and police laws which deal with the immediate symptoms of the problem as swiftly and effectively as possible.

    I’m pretty sure that things will rapidly calm down (which is not to ignore real hurt which may be caused) and we all have a part to play in not allowing ourselves to become agents of provocation by what we say or do. Church leaders and clergy (whether their ‘side’ won or lost) need to set a good example of graciousness, calmness and assurance of God’s continual sovereignty even through turbulent times and uncertain futures. Spinning divisive narratives among Christians which owe more to partisan politics than recognition of a never ending battle against sin which wages within us all is probably not the way to go.

    But there is no end to living out the Christian life in deed and word for all of us, and this will entail political activity because we live in a democracy (of sorts!) and this is one of our practical ways of changing lives for the better. So well done Tanya for your compassion and engagement. It may indeed involve some very straight speaking at times (Jesus was famous for it) but let it always be true and always offered with grace and love.

  4. To pray for your enemies is very difficult. It is easier to hate them. And demonize them even. And get hysterical

    When I first became a country-less exile in 1982 I used to get bitter and angry when I was reminded of past things. Then I became a Christian and things changed. I learned that many of the ways I habitually thought were wrong and sinful. I learnt that I did not have to be that way, It hurt, turning the other cheek. And I still have bad days.

    Years later I went to a talk given by a Christian missionary who had worked among muslims. He spoke of his love for them. But there were many aspects of his talk that I found unacceptable and could not understand how a professed Christian could not defend the gospel, even deny it.
    It upset me and dug up my old emotions till I became really upset and angry.
    I spoke to a Christian lady, wife of a missionary in the Ivory Coast. She listened, then asked me; “Why are you so angry?”
    I had no answer, but I had been studying 1 Peter 1. And verses 13-16 came to mind, especially vs.14b “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”.
    I have since found over the years that the words of the Bible calm my fears.
    “yet I will rejoice in the LORD”
    (Habakkuk 3:18 ESV)
    And then I can pray for my enemies.

  5. As a Canadian, I have spent time watching BBC coverage of the political upheaval in the UK with interest.Perhaps that’s not the best news source. . .can debate that in a different post!! ( (I also happen to be visiting the UK in three weeks). From a distance, it’s easy to fall into a hazy lull that what your country is experiencing is irrelevant to the rest of us. However, world history speaks differently. I always appreciate Tanya’s clarity and insight. Christians around the world need to pay attention to the climate of the UK. We are part of what is happening, no matter where we live.

  6. Really love the above comment by Don Benson, who tries to see both sides and also points out that the ‘hate crimes’ came from both, not just the Brexit people. I hope for the UK that emotions will soon be overruled by common sense again and the willingness to go forward together in finding a new way to work all this out!

  7. Tanya, The BBC (and many other mainstream media outlets) are saying the racism and anti-immigration behaviour is linked to “Brexit” voters. You yourself said “Aditya Chakrabortty said, now it is seen as ‘OK to be a racist’.”. Yet the claimed equivalence is not just untrue, it is an outright lie.

    If “Bremain” had succeended then by “Bremain’s” own false logic the alleged anti-immigration behaviour would be even worse.

    By contrast the actual truth is that racism and anti-immigration behaviours exist throughout society, notwithstanding (I. each nothing to do with) “Brexit”.

    The clergy urgently need to preach and demonstrate tolerance in their lives in the sight of the congregations.


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