Reconciliation

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…

Riot_against_Anglican_prayer_book_1637

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.

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Does it matter?

Four Free Church guys writing about the future of the Church in Scotland after the independence referendum.   Hmmm, bored much?   Except this really matters… and here’s why:

Christianity is inherently public.   Christians are called to make a public declaration of their faith, and to live their faith in daily life.   You can’t do that if you buy into the myth that Christianity is a religious liberty to be kept for Sundays at church.   Think about Paul’s life, as it’s recorded in Acts.   When he preached, there were crowds.   When he was put on trial, there were crowds.   When he was beaten, there were crowds.   Christianity makes the public news.   It did over the last month as people debated whether or not Britain is a “Christian” country.   But this creates a tension between the private right to worship, and the inherently public right to practice your religion.   The future liberty of the Church in Scotland (in our papers we call this “spiritual independence”) will matter not so much at an institutional level, but more so at a personal level – will you as a Christian be free to live out your faith at work, in your child’s education, in how your life is valued in old age?   Most of us feel far more connected to Holyrood (who have the say in all these matters) than we do to Westminster, and I believe it will be easier for Christians to have a say in society in an independent Scotland.

Religious liberty needs public Christianity (and vice versa.)   The alternative to having some sort of healthy relationship between Church and State is to suppress Christianity.   There is no easy middle ground, and secularism is certainly not neutral on questions of religion and religious liberty.   The choice for politicians is to give liberty to public Christianity, or to suppress it.   Historically, the Scottish solution has been a very formal Establishment – the Church of Scotland enjoys a few privileges, and has a few duties to carry out in return.   She is otherwise free to get on with her mission – along with other churches – as she sees fit.   Again, it’s spiritual independence in action.   But, as my good buddy Neil DM Macleod points out, spiritual independence is not guaranteed by anything – it can go on slipping away at Westminster, just as it is at Holyrood.   Whilst it could be argued that a ‘yes’ vote would lead to a secular Scotland, similarly a ‘no’ vote will leave us with a secular Britain.   We can only call for spiritual independence if we have an organised public voice – and I’m not sure we’ll be heard above the cacophony of the money traders in Westminster.

Scotland needs a free public Christianity.   A free public Christianity has a couple of jobs.   Firstly, we preach that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   But the Bible has a lot to offer on matters of public policy.   Scotland has problems, but we have a lot going for us.   We may well be the 14th richest nation on earth, but we still have significant social and moral problems.   I’m not saying our politicians can’t find answers, they are smart people, they will.  The Evangelical Alliance, Solas, and others are going a good job of speaking publically.   But we are only able to do so as part of the Church in Scotland enjoying its spiritual independence.   If Scotland becomes independent, the Free Church and others should be there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.   That’s why these papers matter – because Scotland may be independent in a few months time, and our response must be more than “No, we don’t want that.”   We have to shape how that will work out, and we can only really do that through positive engagement.

What Kind of Nation?

Blogging hiatus over.

The last few months have been busy with physiotherapy, so bloging’s been on the back-burner.   I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about Christian engagement in the debate about Scotland’s Future.   Whether or not we see an Independent Scotland, it remains true that the Church in Scotland really needs to articulate, in a positive and engaging way, what the Bible says on a range of public policy areas.

I’ve found a lot of David Robertson’s stuff over at Solas very helpful, especially on the shibboleth issues – abortion, sexuality, euthanasia, etc.   Worth a look.

Last night I was directed to this manifesto from the Evangelical Alliance.   It’s worth a read.   They’ve identified four principles (Biblical, God-honouring) that they apply to a very wide range of public policy:

  • Wisdom: “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • Justice: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream” (Amos 5:24)
  • Compassion: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zechariah 7:8)
  • Integrity: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9)

When I think about Church and State, this is what we need more of: the Church articulating Biblical values into a broken society.   Yes, of course we need to articulate the Gospel, but we also have to teach our nation to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.   This is a good start.

[[Note: What is the Church in Scotland?   We need to start seeing past the institutionalised role for “The Church” – that view grows out of a hierarchical view of the Church, as if the Church were a political party, where the members follow the lead of appointed figureheads.   We have one head, Christ – and he takes the lowest place in serving (dying, tasting the hellishness of God’s wrath, for us) and invites his under-shepherd to serve also.   The articulation may fall, from time to time, on ministers, but our chief task is to articulate the truth to our fellowships, so that they will be equipped to articulate the same in their lives.]]

First glance questions

It’s been a long day…

Scotland's Future

I was looking forward to reading the Scottish Government’s white paper on Independence, but first a ministers’ fraternal, community cafe, Presbytery strategy discussion, presbytery “Christmas” curry (far too early, we’ll need to get together again later on), moar presbytery meeting, and a missions speaker… home, talk to my wife, and then, finally… I got to sit down and read.

…it’s 00:54am.

I’m trying to get my head around this massive document – 670 pages is a lot, ever for a Free Church minister to plough through.   Where to begin?

First Impression: There is a lot that is good, so many positive policies that the current Scottish Government would seek to implement in an independent Scotland.   That’s maybe a draw back: it is a manifesto, not a true blueprint.   This isn’t what an independent Scotland will look like, it’s what the SNP want an independent Scotland to look like.   The real thing will be different, but maybe not very much so, going on the SNP’s electoral form.

But right now I’m drawn to page 564, question 590 in the Q&A.

590. What will be the position of churches and religion in an
independent Scotland?
We propose no change to the legal status of any religion or
of Scotland’s churches.

This is a conspicuously short answer – because in a document where just about every term has been carefully outlined and explained, no effort whatsoever is given to define “the legal status of any religion or of Scotland’s churches.”   Earlier in the paper churches are described alongside other parts of Scotland’s civic society, and as charities – players in the future process of crafting Scotland written constitution.   Great stuff – even if it downplays the contribution of churches!   But what exactly is the “legal status” which will be unchanged?   My suspicion is that this term has not been defined because, in short, our politicians, and possibly even our judiciary, don’t actually know for sure.   What it possibly entails is in the independence of the church to manage her own affairs – or as we like to call it in Scotland, Presbyterian Church Government.

And so, I have a related question.   Back on page 354, (Chapter 10,  Part 4, Building a Modern Democracy, The Monarch and the Crown) we read:

Earlier this year the rules on succession to the Crown were
amended (for Scotland and elsewhere) to remove outdated
gender discrimination. An independent Scottish Government
will promote, and support amongst the Commonwealth States
with the Queen as Head of State, a similar measure to remove
religious discrimination from the succession rules.

This second part relates to the 1707 Treaty of Union with England – a treaty which will be in effect revoked on a “Yes” vote.   While the religious tone of the treaty is obvious, it’s framework relates back to earlier principles enshrined in both Scottish and English law – the monarch, as head of state, shall be a Protestant, because in England they enjoy the odd office of “Supreme Governor of the Church of England”, and in Scotland they are bound to maintain Presbyterian Church Government.   The discrimination – and frankly, I’m happy to concede that – exists because of the “legal status” of Churches in these united Kingdoms.

And this presents a challenge to the framers of this white paper: How can you propose that the legal status of churches will be unchanged, while fundamentally changing the relationship of the Monarch, as head of STATE with these churches?   Suppose the “legal status” of churches really is a degree of independence in their own sphere, and this is what question 590 is about, surely we need to know how the Scottish Government propose to ensure this, while tinkering with the relationship in other areas?

These are perhaps, for most people, questions of mere window dressing in the context of Scotland’s constitutional future.   But I would like a lot more clarity from our politicians.   I don’t want to wake up and suddenly find I’m living with a secular constitution – which is intolerant of dissonant voices like independent churches, let alone open to listening to them on a range of moral and social issues.   I’d rather a partnership.   I believe a Christian heritage has shaped Scotland for good – in education, in democracy, and in civic values.   And I don’t want Scotland’s Future to slip that anchor.

Jedi Mind Tricks, Marriage and the Free Church of Scotland

Making History?

Today the BBC and the Scotsman have picked up the Free Church’s response to plans for Same Sex Marriage in Scotland.   We are arguing that under the plans to provide a third category of marriage in Scotland, we face the ridiculous situation where Jedi will be able to perform marriage ceremonies.

If you’re reading this, there’s a fair chance that you googled this blog looking for “Jedi Reverend” or just “Jedi Religion”.   That’s because for a number of years now, I, Gordon Matheson, minister of Sleat & Strath Free Church on the Isle of Skye, have been using an alter-ego: I am the Jedirev.

I started using the title because I love Star Wars.   But there’s another reason.   I found, and still find, western society absurd in that a throw-away line in “A New Hope” can have spawned a “religion” – although it is a great scene.   12 years ago, I was in on the grand scheme to list “Jedi” as a religion in the National Census – and while I in the end didn’t, I have many friends who did.   But not one of them lives their life in keeping with the Jedi code, and unlike Christianity, nobody is going to tell them off for not keeping the code – it seems Jedi don’t actually care about people falling to the Dark Side.

But how our precious Jedi padawan chickens have come home to roost!   The Scottish Government’s “third category” for marriage is this absurd!   Jedi will soon be able to officiate at marriage ceremonies.   And we’re kidding if believe the spin that somehow – a Jedi mind trick, perhaps? – the reputation of Scottish ceremonies would be protected.   Perhaps that’s the aim?

Two observations:

Firstly, the fact that Jedi ceremonies may become a reality betrays one problem at the heart of these plans.   Our legislators have confused marriage as a relationship with a marriage ceremony.   The focus of this legislation is all about giving people with all manner of notions of religion, equality to have a nice “church” wedding.   That’s lovely an’ all that, but tinkering with a ceremony doesn’t change the essence of the thing.   Absurd though they are, I’ve nothing against Jedi wedding ceremonies per se, but I lament the government who thinks such absurdities have to be pandered to.   The evident lack of restraint or sense in the Government plans suggests this ain’t over yet – and before too long abusive (e.g. three-partner) partnerships will find they have the assent of law.

Secondly, a huge Jedi mind trick has been played here.   Parity of relationship already exists – it’s just called something different: civil partnerships.   The only right that’s likely to be enshrined here is the right to call same-sex partnerships the same thing as “traditional” marriage.   A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, eh?   Not for the gay lobby, who have pulled off what must be the biggest Jedi mind trick of them all: despite the whole history of humanity saying otherwise, we are in a position to say homosexual relationships are the same as heterosexual ones.   Soon enough, it may become criminal to suggest otherwise – it already costs some people their jobs.

Scotland needs Jedi Knights. 

We need people who are going to stand up for freedom.   Jedi can see the future you know, and if we’re not careful, I see dark times ahead – dark times fuelled by whatever regulation creeps from the primordial soup of Mac-leveson.   Will blogging like this be tolerated in the Empire, sorry, secular modern Scotland?   In a swamp in the Dagobah system must I live, if safe from the Dark Side I will be.

P.S. This is indeed an awesome scene… but a basis for a “religion” it is not.   And why couldn’t George Lucas write like this in the prequels?   Grrrrr….

Get religion out of schools

I was going to add this as a stealth edit to my last blog, but that’s not fair, really.

In response to the suggestion that Secular Scotland weren’t in favour of booting religious education out of schools, here is last night’s tweet suggesting just that:

Or here:

It seems to me that Secular Scotland don’t know what they want. Do they want religion out of Schools, or not?   And if not, why are they bothering to raise this at all? They say they want some standardisation across Scotland’s regions, yet the truth is this: the existing legislation provides that already.

Whatever their agenda, they are willing to unfairly attack the work of countless teachers.

Secular Scotland, Teachers and Religious Education

After last night’s society and religion debate on Newsnight Scotland, Secular Scotland tweeted:

You’ll have to forgive me, but one of these “good points” struck me as an attack on an undisclosed number of teachers, senior management teams, local authorities and HMIE.   Secular Scotland have perhaps bitten off more than they can chew, and I hope an apology is forthcoming.

The comment in question was a woman in the audience who presented as fact the claim that in religious areas of Scotland, Christianity enjoys an exclusive place in religious education.

Just unpack that.   There are parts of Scotland where teachers fail to comply with their legal obligation to give a balanced presentation of Scotland’s religions.   And according to Secular Scotland, this was a “good point”?

Attack!

This is an attack on an undisclosed number of teachers.   I was left wondering, “Where’s the evidence for this?”   For a person representing any organisation making this claim, one would hope there’s more than hearsay and anecdotal evidence.   The suggestion wasn’t one or two incidents, but a widespread problem across Scotland’s religious areas.   That’s a lot of teachers – presumably at both Primary and Secondary level – failing in their responsibility.

It’s an attack on senior management teams.   SMT’s are responsible for the way in which schools interpret and implement policy.   One can only assume that if the problem is as widespread as Secular Scotland make out, SMT’s are aware of it, and complicit in the whole affair.   This implies a colossal failure in management.   Are Secular Scotland really saying that head teachers are failing the pupils in their care?

The buck doesn’t stop with classroom teachers and SMTs.    If this were really the case, the problem would go all the way up to Education Departments, perhaps even to elected representatives on regional authorities in Scotland.   That’s because for Christianity to enjoy the exclusive position SS claim, Education Departments would have to more than turn a blind eye to it.   There would be, justifiably, a barrage of complaints, investigations and eventually sackings.

And this colossal scandal would suck in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, who are the central body tasked with ensuring education in Scotland is maintained at an incredibly high standard.   Surely, if Secular Scotland were right, HMIE would have to have turned a blind eye to the imbalance?

Talking Mince

Except Secular Scotland are talking horse-mince.   There is no grand conspiracy, or even failure here.   In fact, as usual, their fight isn’t for Secularism, but against Christianity – because according to their “good point”, this is a problem in Scotland’s “Christian” areas.   I guess that’s the Highlands and Islands?

But Christian teachers in the Highlands and Islands, because of their respect for the religious beliefs of others, probably take religious education a lot more seriously than most.   They will, with integrity teach honestly and without criticism the ideas foundational to Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism, just as they will teach Christianity.   I’m willing to wager, young people educated in the Highlands and Islands have no stomach for sectarianism, not because they are secular, but because they are taught from an early age to respect their neighbour.

Secular Scotland used this silly claim to suggest all teaching of religion should be pushed out of schools.   But the truth is, humans are religious beings.   The world we live in is shaped by religion.   If we are educating young minds with no sensitivity to that, we are failing our young people.   Of course there’s a place for religious education in our schools.

Secular Scotland need to stop attacking teachers, SMTs, and so on, and instead look at what happens when balanced religious education is ignored.   When you put general religious education solely in the hands of religious bodies, you get sectarianism, not respect.   In Libya, for example, the liberty of the Arab Spring has meant the Christian population has been reduced by a forced exodus of 90-95%.   The same religious cleansing is taking place in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and so on.

Never has there been a more important time for partnership between the state and Christianity.   Religious education in Schools promotes respect and tolerance, especially when it’s done well, like in the religious areas of Scotland.