Three days after the national armistice (the close of polls on 18th Sept. 2014) there’s to be a service of reconciliation at St. Giles – High Kirk of Edinburgh, curiously referred to as a Cathedral, although the last time someone approaching a bishop sat there, it sparked a stool throwing…
This is all, of course, patently absurd. If there is war, you don’t seek to reconcile the parties once the war is over and the victor is seen – if you wait for that, you are too late, victor’s justice prevails – reconciliation must always be now! Scottish politics is riven by sectarianism – SNP and Labour activists really loath each other, and the two left-of-centre parties rarely reach consensus. A one-off service of reconciliation is naught by tokenism – Alex Salmond sitting in the pew alongside Alistair Darling Douglas Alexander will do nothing to take the sting out of Scottish Politics. Regardless of the outcome, Labour and the SNP will still be at each other’s throats at FMQs the following Thursday. The “blogosphere” will still be full of sectarian blogs. Twitter-storms will continue for the foreseeable future.
But nobody will have died as a result (discounting the victims of: fuel poverty; Glasgow’s chronic health problems; Scotland’s affair with booze; adventurist wars in central Asia; etc.). Scotland doesn’t need token reconciliation. We need a measure of respect returned to political dialogue. We need consensus on more than just liberal shibboleths, like SSM.
While the need for a service of reconciliation is questionable, this story does tell us a lot more about where the “church” is headed in Scotland. The Church has a role – look it up, start at Matthew 28. But it looks like someone in the heart of the Kirk’s structures isn’t satisfied with that counter-cultural mission. There’s a growing list of issues where the Kirk is being aligned to the liberal, secularist, cultural consensus in Edinburgh. The Anti-Semitic bias in last year’s report on Palestine is one example. So too the botched deal with the Secularists to abolish Worship Assemblies, and replace them with the blander “Time for Reflection”. There’s the trajectory to embrace SSM. Not one of these strands has anything in common with the Biblical Christianity of Jesus.
There are of course many “private” Christianity things the Church does well: alms-giving, mercy ministry stuff – but alms-giving is no basis for a publicly recognised national Church. Public recognition for the church should permit counter-cultural engagement. This is why many of my colleagues in the Free Church suspect Scotland’s, and indeed the UK’s, future will have no space for public Christianity – counter-cultural Christianity is dissonant, it doesn’t chime with the gong of progressive liberalism.
But I see a different future. The politicians seem happy to embrace the service of reconciliation. Of course nothing counter-cultural will be said there. There will be the somewhat bland Jesus of the “turn the other cheek” variety, but that is a Jesus without offence. It seems the acceptable face of public Christianity is in danger of forgetting that Jesus didn’t encapsulate his message with just “love thy neighbour as thyself.” He called for a total, heart, body and soul love for God, who in turn defines what true love for one’s neighbour really is. In the absence of our evident ability or desire to do so, God sent his Son to reconcile us to him, through his death at the cross. He didn’t wait for the end to bring reconciliation – he sends it today! But I have my doubts that this radical counter-cultural call to faith and repentance will be heard at St. Giles, four months from now, and three days after the armistice.
There are now two versions of the “church” in Scotland. By “church” I don’t mean institution, but “gathering” of people. One is aligned with the counter-cultural message of Christ, the other is aligned with the liberal agenda of the age. I suspect that in the not-too-distant future one of these will be suppressed, and the other will be embraced as the accepted face of public Christianity in Scotland.