It was predicted to be very close. Would the 46 million Brits who were entitled to vote decide that the UK should remain in the EU, or would they turn their backs on Brussels? Many polls of the last few weeks and days suggested that the Brexit could well become a reality, and, indeed, a small majority of those who cast their votes decided that leaving is better than remaining.
A much heard argument during the campaign that preceded the referendum was that it is high time for the British to regain their national identity. Many are convinced that its national identity is at severe risk when a country has very strong ties with an international organization in which a group of countries together make rules and decide on common economic and political policies. As a result of EU membership a country can no longer make its own sovereign decisions, but is taken hostage by Brussels, it is argued. The British uniqueness will slowly but surely disintegrate even further than it already has.
Of course, cooperation with others requires accepting compromises and giving up certain aspects of one’s independence. That is true for all member states of the EU. But is this a serious threat to the national identity of those states? I doubt it. The British people are unique people, who live in a unique country. That is great. I have lived a number of happy years among them. Yes, I have at times been irritated by some British customs and by the way in which many things are organized. But never for a moment did I get the impression that there is any risk that the British will give up their British ‘identity’ and their British traditions. And that would also not have happened if they had voted to remain in the EU. Admittedly, there is a degree of tension between total sovereignty and close cooperation with others. But so far, I believe, the history of the EU has not shown that members states are in any real danger of losing their own identity!
The discussion concerning Brexit in some ways resembles the issue of Adventism and ecumenism. So far the Adventist Church has never become a member of, for instance, the World Council of Churches. And in most countries the Adventist Church has been reluctant in seeking full membership in national ecumenical councils. At the basis of the negative attitude of many Adventists with regard to ecumenical involvement is the fear that their church might lose its specific identity. Being a member in ecumenical organizations, it is argued by many, will inevitably result in compromises and loss of freedom to make our own decisions and, when necessary, take our own independent stand.
As in the case of Brexit it would seem that (mostly irrational) feelings of unease and emotions play a major role, rather than a solid knowledge of the relevant facts. One might say: The British have so much in common with other Europeans that it is utterly logical to do things together in some form of European unity. One might (I think) also say that Seventh-day Adventists have so much in common with other Christian faith communities that some forms of dialogue and cooperation are logical and must be actively pursued.
However, I am not calling for a referendum in which all Adventist members can vote on ecumenical involvement of their church. I am in principle against this type of plebiscite. In the realm of politics, as well as in the church, I prefer the kind of democracy in which we elect representatives and leaders, who merit our trust and take decisions on our behalf (and who we replace by others if we are not satisfied). It is not a perfect system, but I believe it is quite a bit safer than organizing referendums.
Would closer contacts with other christians endanger our Adventist identity? A definite answer to that question would presuppose that we can define what this identity exactly is. That in itself is quite a complex issue. However, I am convinced that the ‘Adventist’ element in our christian faith is strong and flexible enough to withstand any possible danger in our cooperation with others. If our ‘Adventist identity’ is not strong enough to maintain itself in dialogue and cooperation, we might well ask ourselves whether this identity has, in fact, enough substance. I am sure it has!