You might be a remainer, a remoaner, a reliever, a leaver, a Brexiteer, or fed up with the whole thing. The perils of a copy deadline and a magazine schedule mean I simply don’t know whether the UK will be a member of the European Union by the time you read this.

I’ve worked in parliament and politics for long enough to know that we should believe political pundits and experts when they declare that they have no idea what is coming next. Gone are the days of confident predictions and clear trajectories of political movement; we live in an environment with chronic instability and in which the identities that define our political landscape have changed beyond recognition.

Historically, British politics was relatively straightforward: there were clear political tribes on the left and the right of the spectrum, with that axis largely defined by the economic policies of rival parties. In each camp, there were varying positions, and there were always points of overlap and contradiction – some political issues defied the overarching narrative but didn’t undermine it. Matters of conscience are a clear example of the latter: political parties recognised that the party identification of politicians did not, nor should, determine how they vote on issues such as abortion when parliament considered relevant legislation.

Up until the 1970s the overriding view was that social class was the key determiner of how people in Great Britain voted (politics in Northern Ireland operates quite differently). The assumption was that if you were working class you voted for Labour, and if you weren’t you voted Conservative. In the decades that followed the Second World War the strength of the two main parties, as well as the electoral system, left little room for political alternatives. This idea has always been more of a simplified understanding than an accurate account: roughly a third of people who identified as working class voted for the Conservatives in the 1960s and 70s, and a similar proportion of middle-class voters supported Labour.

"Political tribes have shifted and parties do not command the same loyalty that they used to."

People have frequently joked of constituencies where you could put a red rosette on a monkey and it would be elected, or a blue one on a clown in another area and they would be in parliament in no time at all. Though, while there is some truth in the safety of certain seats, we definitely do not now live in such a predictable political environment. Political tribes have shifted and parties do not command the same loyalty that they used to. Shifts in politics such as the creation of the Independent Group in February this year show that there are many ill at ease in the parties they previously considered home, and others who had never cared about politics now placing people and positions at the core of their identity.

The primacy of Brexit in the political landscape over the last few years means this has further complicated political tribes and how voters identify with them: many of the historic tribes are fractured by disagreement and feel threatened by compromise. This means a shift for some to a close association between ideological purity and identity. The rapid shift in political identities has combined with a decreasing tolerance between those who disagree. We witness this in all areas of life: it’s evident in disagreement over Brexit, but also in many other social and cultural issues.

For Christians, this can sometimes be a challenge when we see views, values and beliefs that we hold closely and stem from our faith as criticised, contradicted and considered as unreasonable. Too often disagreement is branded as hate; when something that someone holds as intrinsic to their identity is criticised, it is interpreted as hatred for the person. This means difference defaults to disagreement, and that in turn is viewed as hatred.

This makes difference and disagreement harder to navigate, and it means our identity grows to include any number of characteristics which we consider important. The more pieces to our identity that we stitch together – a mix of our age, race, gender, religious belief, political preferences, personal persuasions – the more individualistic our identity becomes, and the more opportunities are created to receive offence from people whose composite identity is different to ours. When these characteristics are translated into political tribes we search for those who share ours and find common cause against those who don’t.

"This means difference defaults to disagreement, and that in turn is viewed as hatred."

The problem with this identity politics is that there is always another component that can come into play and fracture the fragile alliances. This fragmentation and polarisation mean we politicise more and more parts of life and as a result find it harder and harder to build alliances with people who are different to us. This creates an understandable amount of discomfort for Christians who have grown up in a society with values more consistent with their beliefs. The UK has never been a Christian country in the sense that the laws and traditions do for people what only the gospel can do – no country can do that. However, the contribution of Christians down the centuries have helped build societies and develop cultures and institutions that have promoted justice and secured freedom – for all.

Attempts to define society as now being secular are also misplaced, for there is no such thing as a secular society. There may be efforts to remove religion from public life, and to limit the way that beliefs influence policy, but the lives and actions of people of faith will always influence the society in which they live. As Christians we know that the work of God’s kingdom is not restricted by laws, policies and procedures; it is often in the places where Christianity is most actively repressed that it flourishes the most.

Removing religion from public life is not the answer to society’s problems, but part of the problem; it takes away the root of so many of the values that enable society to flourish. Indeed, suggesting that there is a single way to organise society without religion denies the importance of belief and disregards the difference between those who do not have religious beliefs. In a world that is de-secularising at pace, such a view is becoming increasingly unviable.

In a society that paradoxically amplifies characteristics and facets of our identity to a place of primary importance but also seeks to limit how Christians live out their faith, the challenge for Christians is to understand where their identity is rooted and what that means. For Christians, identity is not primarily rooted in their political ideology, their thoughts on Brexit, or their race, age or gender. All of these contribute to who we are as people, but they are not the starting point for our identity. They are not the core. It’s not even the label Christian that defines our identity as one among a number of different groups. Instead, our identity is in Christ.

"Our identity in Jesus also enables us to embrace difference in a meaningful way."

We are made in the image of God. We are His creation working to image Him into the world around us. We are His ambassadors who are called to follow Jesus and make Him known. As followers of Jesus, we are born again in Him; our salvation saw us die to ourselves and be raised alive in Christ. This creates a fundamentally different starting point to the rest of society when we think about identity. It is rooted in the person of Christ in whom we are a new creation. This orientates how we engage in society, and it fundamentally alters our approach to questions of identity in politics and society.

Our identity in Christ calls us to love as God first loved us. 1 John 4 teaches: We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” Love pushes us towards seeing the flourishing of society. To use the biblical term of shalom, love compels us to act. The late pastor Eugene Peterson describes Shalom as the dynamic vibrating health of a society that pulses with divinely directed purpose and surges with life transforming love”.

In the Evangelical Alliance’s What kind of society? report it is put like this: Love does not mean the absence of hate. In fact, by loving things as God loves, we learn that there are things that we hate. But while love is at its purest when directed towards people, hatred is at its most distorted when it is people we hate. Flourishing requires that we differentiate between right and wrong – this is a loving thing to do. We exercise love by seeking the best for all people. And by telling people about the good news of Jesus we are showing people the origin of the love that we have received.”

Our identity in Jesus also enables us to embrace difference in a meaningful way rather than use difference to divide us. Galatians 3:28 teaches: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The diversity of the church should be a witness to society that it is both possible for us to live together and fruitful to know our differences but never let them define us.

Finally, our identity in Christ reminds us that politics is secondary. It is important, and at this tumultuous time in our society, it is crucial, but it is never the most important thing. Our identity in Christ calls us to seek His kingdom and His glory in our world in hope and anticipation of a future when discord will be no more. Our identity is not so much about who we are, but about whose we are.