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‘Brexit’ vote draws response from Baptist analysts

LONDON (BP) — Though the United Kingdom’s vote yesterday (June 23) to leave the European Union took many political observers by surprise, leaders at GuideStone Financial Resources and the Southern Baptist Foundation say they’ve had the referendum in view for months and have taken steps to protect Southern Baptist investors from the resultant market volatility.

Meanwhile, Christian commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have weighed in on the “Brexit” — as Britain’s E.U. exit has been dubbed — with opinions divided and calls for believers to help bring unity to the U.K.

Thursday’s referendum yielded a 52-percent majority favoring an E.U. exit, various media outlets reported. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who argued strongly the U.K. should remain in the E.U., resigned today (June 24), saying, “I do not think I can be the captain to take the country to its next destination,” The Telegraph reported. A full exit from the 28-nation coalition could take up to two years.

The election results led the world’s stock markets to lose a combined $2 trillion in value Friday, Reuters reported.

David Spika, GuideStone Capital Management global investment strategist, told Baptist Press Southern Baptist retirement investors should not adjust their portfolios in response to the market drops.

“Right now the absolute best thing to do is just be patient and let the dust settle,” Spika said. “There are too many things that are unknown. You never want to react to short-term volatility as a result of uncertainty. That’s the worst course of action.”

Markets “weakened somewhat” in early June, Spika explained, “on fears that the leave vote would prevail” and Europe’s economy would experience added instability. Earlier this week, markets rallied when polls indicated the remain side had pulled ahead. The unexpected election outcome then led to a drop.

Long-term economic results of the Brexit vote are uncertain, Spika said, and diversification of GuideStone’s funds minimizes the effect any long-term downturn would have on retirement accounts.

The Brexit “has been something we’ve been discussing,” Spika said. But “there really wasn’t anything that we felt like we needed to do to ‘protect’ our retirement investors because we knew … the impact on the U.S. economy would likely be negligible.

“We assumed there would be some volatility, but we knew that long-term investors [like] our retirement investors — as long as they stayed patient and stayed the course — they would be able to ride through the volatility. In fact, because the U.S. economy remains on solid footing, we see this as a buying opportunity at some point for U.S. investors buying U.S.-denominated asset classes,” Spika said, noting U.S. market downturns likely will reverse in the coming weeks.

Spika emphasized, however, that GuideStone “adds value” to retirement accounts primarily by utilizing skilled managers and diverse portfolios, not by “trying to time the market.”

Jim Mooney, vice president of investments at the Southern Baptist Foundation, told BP the U.K.’s impending vote played a role in SBF’s decision to continue a three-year practice of avoiding international stocks. Initially, “weakness in certain E.U. countries” was the key reason for the strategy, but a potential Brexit “has been one of the factors” considered for the past six months.

Of the approximately $500 million the Foundation manages in funds from individuals and organizations to benefit Southern Baptist causes, “our international exposure has been less than 1 percent and European exposure is less than one half of one percent,” Mooney said.

With estate gifts, Southern Baptist Convention entity endowments, church building funds, state convention agency funds and the like comprising SBF holdings, “we want to tilt on the conservative side to preserve that,” Mooney said, “because we feel like maintaining and not losing on a permanent basis any of that principal ensures that the funds are there to grow, even at a modest rate, to fund whatever cause has been designated.”

He added, “We view it as God’s money,” earmarked “for Kingdom work.”

Evangelical reactions

Among evangelical commentators on the referendum, Daniel Webster, advocacy and media manager at the U.K. Evangelical Alliance, wrote in Christianity Today that believers made arguments on each side of the debate. One survey asked Christians to rate their support of a Brexit on a scale of 0-100 and found they came in at 55 on average, Webster wrote.

In the wake of the divisive referendum campaign, “the church must see [its] mission of reconciliation as part of the role it can play,” Webster wrote.

In the U.S., National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry Johnson told BP “the British have reminded us of the responsibility of self-government and the power of the people, through the ballot box, to change course when needed.” Johnson arrived in London the day of the vote in conjunction with NRB’s Oxford Distinguished Scholars Program.

Stemming the tide of secularism and Islamic sharia law relate to the vote, Johnson said in written comments.

“The E.U. constitution is completely void of any reference to God — it is entirely secular,” Johnson said. “The British government and culture are actually based upon Judeo-Christian principles. We should pray that British Christianity will be truly revived and used by God to bring a spiritual awakening to Great Britain. America needs this kind of awakening, too.”

Johnson continued, “Great Britain has been forced by E.U. policy to admit large numbers of migrants from other E.U. countries, which are admitting massive numbers of Muslims. A disturbing number of these immigrants are ‘Sharia’ supremacists or Islamists. At some point, the center does not, and cannot, hold. There is a limit to how much of this kind of mass immigration a country and culture can take before the people say ‘enough is enough.’ This reality is an undercurrent in America now. It is not racism or xenophobia or un-Christian, and U.S. politicians would be wise to take note.”

Texas Baptist author and speaker Jim Denison urged Christians to rest in God’s sovereignty amid tumultuous world events like the Brexit.

“The impact of the Brexit for the U.K. and the world will unfold across coming months,” Denison wrote in a blog post. “But whatever comes of today’s news, here’s the good news: Our well-being does not depend on being well. Facing his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ Paul testified: ‘I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Jesus predicted a world filled with ‘tribulation,’ but he taught us to ‘take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:30). While ‘the world is passing away along with its desires,’ we are promised that ‘whoever does the will of God abides forever’ (1 John 2:17).

“A principle of sports psychology,” Denison wrote, “is to ‘control the controllables.’ I cannot control the global impact of the Brexit, but I can control my decisions and priorities.”