The soi-disant national Church of Scotland is making a muffled and uncertain sound concerning the referendum on independence. How can this be? What is the role of a national church in a referendum about nationhood? Is it to sit on the fence?
The 2012 General Assembly agreed the following strategy: “The Church will remain impartial with regard to the question in the forthcoming referendum… we do not expect or wish that the Church of Scotland should take a position on the question itself,” (Church and Society Council Report). Would John Knox have spoken like that from the pulpit of St Giles? No reasons were given for taking this position. Why not? The Church of Scotland has perennially engaged in partisan politics yet on this most significant historic issue is almost silent.
The Kirk’s Church and Society Council gauges that opinion within the membership is divided, but that a majority favour remaining within the United Kingdom. Centrally powerful left-leaning influences follow the policy of the Labour Party. Small “c” conservatives are thirled to monarchy and unionism and want the UK to continue. There is concern that the Church’s historic rights and protections could be lost in an independent Scotland. But why is the Church not then backing the No campaign?
How can a “national church” go publicly against a campaign for a nation’s political independence? It can’t. It would be absurd and self-contradictory to do so. Does the muted voice of the Church represent the views of Scots? Many people dependent on the state are thought to be suffering at present. They may accept Alex Salmond’s assurances of more generous provision and vote accordingly. Why is the Church of Scotland not supporting this aspiration? It has often postured concern for the poor.
The Church could easily offer a pragmatic view of the future by advocating full fiscal autonomy within the United Kingdom – the option favoured by many, which is being denied to Scots by David Cameron.
What is Scotland for? £500 each? Scotland needs a purpose larger than its political and national identity to save it from introversion and totalitarianism. Christianity has provided the spiritual and metaphysical narrative for the people of this land for over 1,500 years. Christianity is now the discarded best friend of Scotland. The Scottish National Party has sold Scotland’s Christian birthright and has forfeited the trust of many of Scotland’s one million and more Christians. The Scottish Government seeks independence as a human project and its opponents do likewise. The Church of Scotland cannot just hold nebulous in-house congregational discussions, while limping between two opinions and purveying a specious neutrality. Christianity is better than this.
Rev Dr Robert Anderson
Blackburn & Seafield Church