In the run-up to elections to the European Parliament, Ekklesia has published a paper that urges churches not to be diverted by the debate about whether God gets a name check in the EU constitution from weightier questions such as what value there is in national identity and the nation state.
'Towards the Abolition of the Nation State? European and National Identity in Christian Perspective‚' is written by Canon Richard Franklin and represents a joint publication by Sarum College in Salisbury and the theological think-tank Ekklesia.
The question of our national and European identities remains urgent and disputed. But the new publication suggests that by and large Christian thinkers have played only a small part in the debate over moves towards political unity in Europe and have paid little attention to its theological significance. The paper argues that rather than pushing for the recognition of Christianity in the EU constitution the key question that must be addressed is whether the idea of the nation state has any value.
Canon Richard Franklin concurs with one leading theologian who has addressed the question of Europe, Wolfhart Pannenberg, who says that‚"the modern elevation of the nation as the dominant model of political action can be seen as a contradiction to the international traditions of Christianity and to their source in the Christian hope that all humans may participate in the Kingdom of God."
Richard Franklin said: "The spirit of universalism, internationalism and Catholicism which is at the heart of the Christian faith means that narrow patriotism and nationalistic bigotry are inimical to the gospel."
But he points out, Christians are far from immune themselves in following such patterns.
"Christians have often equated their religion with their national loyalties and nationalist leaders have used Christianity in its various forms as a tool for the establishment of national cultural homogeneity‚" Franklin says. "But seeing one's own nation as specially chosen leads to sinful self-aggrandisement and a failure to recognise that all individuals and communities are subject to universal divine Lordship and judgement."
The paper points out that spiritual equality and unity and the breaking down of racial, cultural and religious barriers are central to the New Testament and the main currents of Christian political theology. Since internationalism is at the heart of Christian political thought, it suggests, it is legitimate to consider whether the nation-state or, indeed, anything short of some kind of comprehensive international political unity can be justified.
Richard Franklin continues: "Nation states must not view themselves as 'ends in themselves'. They are a phenomenon of political history which have many defects. In Christian perspective they can have practical, but only transient, value as a step on the road towards the wider political unit implied by the gospel."
However the author also points out that the 'Fortress Europe' mentality is a temptation towards an excluding Empire that must be resisted.
"Politically the EU exists to allow the flourishing of all other forms of collective identity contained within a framework which does not allow natural differences to develop into anything that is destructive," he says.
Franklin points out that in history peace has usually been maintained by the force of arms, but that the EU is remarkable because "the peace, justice, democracy and rights enjoyed by the citizens of Europe are upheld by consensual politics."
'Towards the Abolition of the Nation State? European and National Identity in Christian Perspective' is available from Ekklesia priced £3.95 + £1 postage
8 July 2004