Britain’s exit from the European Union has created shockwaves throughout the world. As a new week begins, one of the challenges facing political and religious leaders in the United Kingdom is how to heal a nation bitterly divided by the EU referendum.
There are already reports of a spike in racist altercations and hate crime against immigrants and Muslims. A number of racist flyers were distributed to letterboxes and many people have reportedly witnessed xenophobic comments in public. A Facebook album has documented more than 100 incidents of racial abuse in the past three days.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who both supported the Remain campaign, released a joint statement calling for unity.
“Whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world,” they said.
“We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity.”
The Church of England also prepared a prayer for reconciliation for congregations to use on the first Sunday morning service after the Brexit vote.
“Guide our nation in the coming days through the inspiration of your Spirit, that understanding may put an end to discord and all bitterness,” it reads.
“Give us grace to rebuild bonds of trust that together we may work for the dignity and flourishing of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The EU referendum has raised questions about Scotland’s future as part of the United Kingdom, with 62 per cent of the country voting to remain in the EU. Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a new independence referendum is now “highly likely”.
Rev Dr Richard Frazer from the Church of Scotland said the EU referendum campaign was at times “bitter and polarising” and reiterated his belief that the UK is part of a worldwide community with a responsibility to care for those in need.
“I believe this is a decision which many people will regret. The Church of Scotland has spoken out consistently over the last 20 years in favour of our continued membership to the European Union – but it is the democratic decision of people living in the UK and we must honour that,” he said.
Dr Frazer also expressed his concern at the UK’s decision to leave the EU at a time when international responsibility is needed to tackle the global refugee crisis.
“It feels as though this vote is a vote against that spirit of international co-operation and those who have campaigned to leave have rarely addressed some of the issues that we in the Church of Scotland feel are crucial,” he said.
“Least of all, this vote hardly seems to be an act of solidarity even with our friends in places like Greece, which is going through so much turmoil at the moment both economically and in bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.”
Speaking to reporters onboard his papal plane, Pope Francis said the referendum result was “the will expressed by the people” and called for peace and cooperation.
“This requires a great responsibility on the part of all of us to guarantee the good of the people of the United Kingdom as well as the peaceful coexistence of the entire European continent,” Pope Francis told reporters.