Whither Scotland?

Whither Scotland?

If the wife comes home with a new dress, tries it on and asks her man 'Do you like it?' and he says nothing, one way or the other, she will conclude that he doesn't like it. If the man paints the sitting room a different colour and asks the wife 'Do you like it?' and she says nothing, one way or the other, he will conclude that she doesn't like it. Any proposal that receives silence, receives disapproval. Silence equals rejection. No words are necessary. Silence is cold and final.

Silence has been the response of the Church of Scotland to the question posed in the Referendum 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' It indicates not neutrality or claimed impartiality, but rejection of the proposal. It represents the status quo, the Union, as is. The Catholic Church has been silent but has not pretended to impartiality. Catholics think that keeping quiet is the best way to ensure a 'Yes' vote which will take Scotland away from its 464 year Protestant identity into a new humanist inclined era in which Catholics will have equal status with Protestants. Episcopalians are quiet also being inclined toward the Union. Baptists and evangelicals are also pro-Union and the Free Church has even suggested that it would be akin to blasphemy to vote 'Yes'. That is because they see that last remnants of Christian identity disappearing under a new constitution in an independent Scotland.

There are many churches gathering this morning to worship in which the Referendum on Thursday will hardly be mentioned. The most significant political event in 300 years in this land – and – it will be airbrushed out. Where then is our sense of Christian history? Where is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Where is the living God of Israel and of the great prophets? Where is the Father of Jesus? Where is the Lord of human history? Where is the God of Scottish history? Christianity has played very little part in the Referendum process. Hardly any Christians as such have taken part in televised debates and discussions. The Churches have not been identifiable as having any particular view. Individual Church leaders have been invisible. This is the first time in the history of these islands that Christianity has not been at the centre of significant political change. St Columba was politically involved. It was Christianity that brought the Picts and the Scots together in 878AD to form what we know as Scotland. Catholic Queen Margaret was influential in uniting Scottish Christianity with Rome in the 11th century. Bruce's army received Holy Communion on the morning of Bannockburn. Everyone knows that John Knox led and inspired the Reformation that transformed Scotland into a God-fearing and literate nation in advance of most of Europe in the late middle ages.

But this is the 21st century and Christianity has been largely set aside. If Scotland becomes independent it will have a written constitution and Christianity will not be named as the principal living faith of Scotland. The Church of Scotland may not have a place as the Church established by law. The Queen may not have to promise to maintain Presbyterianism. State occasions will be less visibly Christian and less visibly Protestant. All that is a reflection of where we are at present in truth. The Church of Scotland has sought to hold on to what it has and so has awkwardly and insincerely pretended to be impartial.

But Jesus Christ was not impartial. No-one could describe Calvary with its humiliation and agony as sitting on the fence. Sacrificial love and self-giving are the essence of Christianity at its highest and best. The Good Shepherd does not sit on a chair at home while the sheep are out at pasture. The Good Shepherd is out there leading and protecting and guiding in the right direction to good pasture. The Risen Jesus offered a pastoral warning to double-minded Christians in the Church at Laodicea. 'I know your deeds, you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm, neither one nor the other, you make me sick' (Revelation 3 : 16).

Now it is true that Christianity is greater than the politics of any one nation. Scotland has 5.2 million people. Christianity has 2.2 billion throughout the world. Christianity is not bound by race or colour, nationality or political opinion. Empires rise and fall, Christianity remains and grows. The Church of Jesus Christ on earth is founded in eternity and will last forever. And so local politics and even national local politics are small fry compared to the living Gospel of Jesus Christ. Human redemption and salvation into eternal life are larger issues than the management of economies and the wielding of political power. But even the Bible says that nation states are part of the divine order. They have their place. They are helpful in the organisation of human life. They give identity. They allow communication, interaction, trade, culture and sport. Sadly, in history too, they have far too often been agents of war and mass murder. The Bible tells us that our Maker is concerned for our welfare while we are here on earth. God is concerned about our fate, our future, our health, our provision. God is concerned about justice and peace. God is involved in learning and discovery and advancement of human knowledge. So democratic politics matter. The referendum matters. The result matters.

Christianity is not so easily set aside either. Christianity brought about the destruction of the former atheist USSR – without violence too – because Christianity's spiritual power is greater than that of false ideology. Christianity provided the glue and cement in the formation of the emerging nations of Africa. Christianity was central to the development in South Africa from apartheid regime to democracy. Short term political advantage is one thing: seeking to undermine, negate and reject Christianity is another. If there is to be an independent Scotland and if its constitution is to be secular, there will no doubt be freedom of worship for all. But if God is to be left out of the identity of the nation, there will be future days of reckoning.

Christianity is not afraid of new things, new ways, it is not afraid of risk or uncertainty. We live by faith. If you are anxious and worried then why not just read to yourself the words of the Psalm most associated with Scottish Presbyterian Christianity.

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
Even for His own Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff my comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnishèd
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house for evermore
My dwelling place shall be.

Nor do we need to lose our sense of humour. I wrote a letter to The Scotsman a few weeks ago. They gave it a prominent position on the letters page with a colour backdrop and an illustration. Here is what I said. 'There has been no discussion about the honours system in a future independent Scotland. There would have to be changes. Clearly the words 'British Empire' would have to go. A humbler perspective would need to apply. May I suggest OBG – Order of Bens and Glens. MBG, CBG, KBG (No Russian connections) and DBG would complete the set. KG could become Knight of the Galluses and OB could become OB(F) – Order of the Bath (Fortnightly). CH would easily translate to CHH – Companion of the Happy Hour and the Order of the Thistle and Order of St Patrick could be combined to become the Order of Patrick Thistle'.

But large issues are being considered. Remember when Scotland and England signed up to the Union. The ordinary people of the land had no say. Robert Burns described the aristocracy who made the deal as a 'parcel of rogues'.

O would, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation!

At the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 Sheena Wellington sang Robert Burns' anthem of global equality 'A man's a man for a' that'. 'Then let us pray that come it may, (As come it will for a' that,)... That Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that.” Many of those present joined in for the last verse'.

As the date of the Referendum draws closer there are muted suggestions of divisions of opinion based on class. A larger proportion of Scotland's aristocracy, landed gentry, business people and the wealthy appear to be in favour of a 'No' vote. The inheritors of those who had no say at the time of the 1707 Union are now enfranchised and they appear to be more in favour of a 'Yes' vote. They may be among Scotland's poorest - those who struggle in life and are state dependent, plus many in manual, semi-skilled and skilled occupations. In simple terms those who have something to lose will vote 'No' and those with nothing to lose will vote 'Yes'.

It is doubtful whether the classless society is possible. Freedom and order contradict one another. The French Revolution inaugurated murderous tyranny in the name of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. America, the so-called 'Land of the Free' has become a ghastly caricature of its founding principles. These contradictions are dwarfed by those of the communist led countries and empires of the 20th century, notably Russia and China. Genocide was acceptable as a means to political ends. North Korea today continues that inhumane ideology.

Ours is a gentle choice by comparison. Is there really in Scotland an agreement that Robert Burns' words noted above articulate unqualified national aspiration? Is the pursuit of progress, development, wealth and international status not dependent on loosing the inequalities inherent in expressions of genius and capability? May it just be that Scotland being a small nation might aspire to a closer range of disparity than to an absolute condition of collective existence?

What is Scotland for? The Christian Churches will still be free to proclaim the higher purposes of human life in relation to the Living God. It may be that if the new era arrives, the Churches will be inspired with a new commitment to confess and witness and live out the life of Jesus Christ as a saving alternative to the inevitable disappointments and failures of human attempts at government in Scotland. Jesus Christ will always free the human spirit from the suffocating power of nation states which deny Him. And if made welcome He will help and bless the people here for ages to come.

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: replies@robertandersonchurch.org.uk