In April an SNP spokesman said ‘Our priority in relaxing the lock down is to open the Churches. They will be first to return to normality. We want people to return to worship, to sing hymns, to pray for us all, to listen to the Bible’s teaching and to acknowledge the Living God our Maker and Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. We want to put the first of the 10 Commandments into place (You shall have no other gods before me) and we want to express our faith in Christianity’s future among the people of this land’.
Of course this did not happen. As late as 4th August the Church of Scotland’s Principal Clerk was sending out circulars such as this:
‘We are still in Phase 3 and at the three-weekly review statement this lunchtime the First Minister has indicated that Phase 4 is still some distance away – perhaps mid-September - with the emphasis on returning school pupils to full time education. ‘I would (with the group’s encouragement) like to ask Presbyteries whether it may be time to encourage every congregation to complete the Covid-19 Reopening of Church Buildings Checklist and the Risk Assessment (these are available in PDF and Word format here )...In conversation with some of you there has been talk that some congregations will not be able to reopen and restart their life. It would be important to have that kind of conversation sooner rather than later...The SG agreement to allowing up to fifty people into our church buildings is for people to worship there. It is not a blanket permission for using the church buildings. So when it comes to meetings in church buildings – Kirk Session, Congregational Board, Nominating Committee, even Presbytery - the rules are those that apply elsewhere: Outdoors – a household can meet up to 4 other households at a time – up to 15 people in total. Indoors – a household can meet up to 2 other households at a time – up to 8 people in total. A household can meet up to 4 other households per day in total (this is in total – meetings indoors and/or outdoors). Offices - Just to repeat – non-essential offices are still not allowed to open’.
There has been no protest about these unnecessary restrictions. Church leaders have fallen over backwards to comply. Gatherings of 30 and above are allowed for funeral services and weddings. Close contact is now legal in beauty salons. Tattoo parlours are open again. Sports stadia can accept limited numbers. Yet churches cannot hold Kirk Session meetings? This is compliance gone too far. This is Vichy Christianity, consorting with the enemy for the sake of quisling co-existence.
Micromanagement of personal life continues. Restaurants cannot now play background music in case patrons have to stretch towards others at their table to hear what they are saying thus possibly aiding the spread of the virus. This sort of thing could become the law for family life also. Even conjugality could be affected. Safe sex may become about more than condoms. Breathing may be outlawed since it is the main vehicle of transmission of Covid-19. The political mantra of elimination would certainly become possible in these circumstances.
Perspective has been lost. Enjoyment of almost total political power is obvious in Scotland. There seems to be support for unnatural intrusions into our hard won freedoms. People have bought into the narrative of alarm. The National Health Service has been elevated to the status of deity, requiring worship and obeisance even though government policy to promote its pre-eminence has caused many more illness and deaths. Kevin Pakenham (youngest son of the late Lord Longford) wrote ‘never in the history of human medicine has so much been sacrificed by so many, to prolong the life of so few’.
If there are any Christians left in centuries to come in Scotland what will they make of our witness in 2020? Will they see us as having been wise and circumspect? Or will they consider us as having sold our Faith down the river? Will the churches be despised like collaborators in wartime or like those who bent the knee to Caesar in days of the early Church? What is most galling is that no-one seems to care. There is no fight, no struggle. Coronavirus has made Christianity even even more invisible and irrelevant, saying nothing distinctive amid this global pandemic.
Would it have made a difference if churches had never closed? If they had continued to meet and pray, sing and proclaim the Christian Gospel? We will never know. We would have be treated as criminals and pariahs. Some of us would have been prosecuted and convicted, maybe imprisoned if we persisted in gathering for worship. Does this not all sound familiar? The early Christian martyrs, the Reformations saints, the Dissenters, the Covenanters, Christian conscientious objectors, Christians today in Egypt and Syria, in North Korea, China, India, Pakistan and in Cameroon, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria? Wherever Christians suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.
There is a difference with this common enemy of humanity. We would be charged with selfishness and thoughtlessness and with endangering other peoples’ lives. That would be against the teaching of our Lord’s second commandment. But it is second, it is not first. 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Matthew 22 : 37 - 39). Christian practical charity is reluctantly acknowledged in western society but Christian worship is not valued or even wanted any more by and large.
We are where we are. Yet Christianity is not where we are. It is infinitely greater. At its core is resurrection, the greatest healing possible. Eternal life is the Christian context for our human living. Our nation does not put that possibility at the heart of its strategy or its politics. It is hard to see the Sovereignty of God at work or to see the Lordship of Jesus Christ in action. This is our fault however. We do not seek, we do not ask, we do not pray enough, we do not worship. Yet there is great good news in Jesus Christ for all. We should grasp the opportunity to show how true it is. The simple cliché is 'Christ is the answer'. This is our proclamation.