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Why UK Should Continue its European Union Partnership

A group of refugees from religious persecution in England made their way to The Netherlands in 1609 and found a welcome in what was then a more tolerant society in Amsterdam.

As Separatists from the English state church, they brought with them their own convictions of what a church faithful to Jesus Christ should look like.

As they interacted with the religious and political ideas of Europe, they both enlarged their theological vision and, from meeting continental Anabaptists, they espoused the then new, radical and dangerous notion of religious freedom for all, not just for themselves.

With this, they returned to England to begin Baptist life here. Thus, Baptist life was born into a European as well as an English context and deeply influenced by both.

As the United Kingdom considers whether to remain a European Union member, British Baptists should reflect on some aspects of our Baptist story and identity that might inform their vote rather than engage in the economic case for staying.

In my work among European Baptists, I have had several opportunities to see close up the work of the EU, an economic and political alliance of more than two dozen European nations.

It needs reform to embrace different ways of belonging to it (as it has begun to do) and to put right its collective failure to deal with the worsening refugee crisis.

This is a moment for the U.K. not to run from the challenges but to stay in solidarity with the other members of the EU and be part of the solution.

There is evidence that if we do this, there are other nations that will join in a movement for reform and renewal.

Our English Baptist roots stress the interdependence of churches, not the rugged independence that, in some cases, came later.

From earliest times, we have espoused the notion that as churches we need the help and counsel of one another and that this is a necessary part of being a local church.

That, in turn, stirs within us a more genuinely inclusive attitude of connectedness and belonging that goes beyond our churches to the wider world.

In the same way, U.K. citizens need to understand the interdependence of nations today, and that, at its best, the EU has sought to foster this sense of solidarity among a community of nations.

It has played a major role in keeping the peace in Europe for the past 70 years.

Such solidarity has had, at its core, the notion that the strong help the weak, with a special concern to promote the human rights of those suffering from poverty, persecution or injustice.

That was certainly the vision of the solidarity of the Christian founding fathers of the EU, a vision that sometimes becomes submerged when the EU is only seen as a vehicle for economic prosperity.

We live in an amazingly complex and increasingly interdependent world. “Sovereignty” in terms of the possibility of complete independence for the U.K. (or any nation) to act as it pleases is in fact a convenient myth.

Baptists share with other free churches a concern for the protection of minorities.

We look back to 1612 and the groundbreaking conviction of Thomas Helwys for religious rights and freedom for all, including those of other faiths and specifically Muslims.

There was here a vision of an open tolerant society that made space for its religious minorities.

It may not be widely known that the Lisbon Treaty included in the latest version of the EU Constitution an open, regular and transparent dialogue with the churches of Europe.

On behalf of Baptists, I have participated in some of these dialogues and have been impressed by the careful listening to the churches by those representing the institutions of the EU.

This is especially true when we are highlighting how churches can contribute to the common good and address the situation and rights of minorities right across the EU.

At their best, Baptists have embraced a generous internationalist spirit, open to the connectedness to brothers and sisters in Christ in other nations and cultures.

One of my concerns about both the referendum vote this summer and what might be the reality of Britain outside the EU is that it may well make our national spirit less generous and welcoming, somehow giving “permission” for more xenophobic tendencies to surface and even to be translated into policy.

In the end, some will want to argue that the U.K. can do and be all these things outside the EU.

My experience of serving the European Baptist family that is found in nations both inside and outside the EU convinces me that being outside will undermine the fundamental solidarity between the nations of Europe on which the EU was founded.

I continue to believe that this sense of solidarity is a profoundly Christian value that will be best served by remaining in the EU family of nations.

Tony Peck is general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain – alongside an article by a British Baptist minister supporting U.K. withdrawal from the EU. It is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @EBFGS.