Whatever the outcome of Brexit Day on 29 March, one thing is unfortunately certain - there will be a spike in austerity challenges on some part of this island of Ireland - and the Christian Churches need to have their acts ready for this eventuality.
Okay, as we get nearer to 29 March, the political mud slinging between Remainers and Brexiteers will intensify as each camp tries to ‘up the ante’ in favour of their specific case and cause. But is the Christian Churches’ preparation on track, too? More importantly, have the Christian Churches actually got a Brexit plan?
While the Brexit debate has been a commentator’s paradise in terms of solutions and opinions, one piece of sabre-rattling should be listened to - some part of Ireland could find itself facing Third World-style austerity as a result of Brexit, whatever the deal(or not!).
If Brexit works economically for the United Kingdom and the DUP succeeds in getting a greatly reduced backstop to protect the Southern Irish economy, then the Republic will witness a level of austerity not seen since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger around a decade ago.
Conversely, if Brexit sends the British economy ‘pear-shaped’, Northern Ireland as one of the isolated regions of the UK will suffer as a consequence.
No matter what border is in place after 29 March, many Christian denominations are organised on an all-island basis. We may see a return of Blitz-style soup kitchens and homeless shelters as austerity bites. The amount of unemployment and homelessness could rocket far beyond even the current crisis levels, sparking a challenge for the Churches not seen since the so-called Great Depression of the 1920s.
This will have a knock-on effect on health and well-being, heralding an alarming rise in the number of people with mental health issues and even suicide levels as our health services on both sides of the border go into meltdown.
It’s all very well saying the Churches must pull the communities out of the economic hole which the politicians have dug over Brexit, but where will the cash come from to help the Churches implement their rescue plans?
A lot of Christians need to focus more on the Biblical concept of tithing, where we as Christians are asked to give a tenth of our income to the Lord’s Work. If we all pledged to do this, think of the cash which could be raised to help the needy, poor and those who will be hit hardest through austerity?
Many places of worship also have a lot of wealth in terms of property and valuables - could these be sold off to fund the anti-austerity campaign? Even in Rome, the Vatican possesses vast wealth in treasures.
If the Catholic Church wants to claw back some of the ground lost in Ireland through the various clerical abuse scandals, then selling off even a portion of its extensive Vatican collection and sending it to the island would be a great step in that direction.
And like it or not, the Churches will have to indulge in some kind of organisational unity to make the anti-austerity campaign work in practice. This is not about a theological compromise, or some sinister ecumenical plot to dilute the Gospel message; merely ensuring that the various denominations get the proper aid to the people most in need.
However, the Churches need to remind the politicians about the Old Testament advice from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verse 1: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” In practical terms, the Churches cannot be seen - or used - as the fall guys if the political parties cannot agree policies to tackle austerity.
The Churches’ anti-austerity campaign should be seen as a temporary stop-gap until the governments see how Brexit will pan out economically; this campaign by the Churches should not be used as a permanent financial fix, so that the Churches can be blamed if the campaign runs out of cash.
The Churches should equally remember how satan tempted Christ in the New Testament gospel of St Luke Chapter 4 verse 13: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”
Again, in practical terms, the Churches need to ensure the responsibility for bailing Ireland as a whole out of any looming austerity crisis does not rest solely with the denominations, but the politicians have to pull their weight, too.
Even if the Churches fill the void in the short term, they must be careful that the governments don’t ask the same thing again in “an opportune time”.
The Churches must clearly stress that they are working in partnership with the political parties and governments - the Churches are not the only fix to bail out government policies. Likewise, the governments need to recognise that the Churches have a valuable role to play in the implementation of Brexit from a practical point of view.
For the Churches, there can also be an advantageous spin-off - with falling numbers in the pews on Sundays, the anti-austerity campaign could also become an evangelistic vehicle to encourage more people back to worship, or at the very least to renew their religious faith.
But what the Churches must not do is indulge in empty rhetoric and meaningless platitudes. That would reduce the Churches to nothing more than a 21st century version of the Biblical Pharisees - viewed as spiritual and spineless hypocrites.
As Westminster, Leinster House and Brussels all argue over ‘deal or no deal’, the Churches cannot afford this luxury of political point scoring. The Churches must have their combined anti-austerity plan in place for 29 March.
While Christians do not know when Christ will come again, known as the Second Coming, at least they should be ready for Brexit.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com