A Church of Scotland plan for a post-independence referendum “service of reconciliation” has been described as a “cheap publicity stunt” by a leading Free Kirk minister.
Rev David Robertson, Free Church minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, has questioned the need for the service, which is due to take place three days after the referendum.
The incoming Church of Scotland Moderator Rev John Chalmers had said there was a danger the aftermath of the vote could set “families and communities against each other”, and the service would allow Yes and No voters to “reconcile”.
Mr Robertson said the Kirk was mistaken in thinking such a service was needed, adding: “The announcement the Church of Scotland is going to hold ‘reconciliation’ services post- referendum, at which the great and good will be expected to attend is, to say the least, interesting. First of all, we question the need. Are the people of Scotland at war? Is there fighting on the streets? Are we living in a watered-down version of Syria?
“Secondly, we question the purpose – who will be reconciled? Will cybernats be sitting down hand in hand, singing Bind us together Lord, with the George Robertson ‘Western civilisation is doomed’ brigade’? ”
He added: “I suspect that this is a combination of a cheap publicity stunt, combined with an increasing desperation for a declining national church to re-establish itself at the heart of Scotland’s civic life.”
The service, to be held at Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral on 21 September, will focus on healing divisions and building the future together, the Kirk said. It hoped similar services would be held across Scotland.
Throughout the past year, the Church of Scotland has hosted a series of meetings for people to discuss Scotland’s constitutional future, producing a report on its findings.
It has also already touched on the potential societal damage caused by the acrimony surrounding the debate, but Mr Chalmers gave the subject added weight in a recent interview.
He said: “The danger is, if we don’t keep the level of this debate down to a respectful place, where we listen to one another, where we don’t try to score points by name-calling, where the language doesn’t get too emotive and sticks to substance, then the business of healing will be a lot harder afterwards.
“I hope that reconciliation won’t be the biggest part of the service. I hope that expressing our magnanimity in victory or defeat, or expressing our commitment to working together for the future of Scotland will be the biggest part of it.”
But Mr Robertson said the Kirk would be better focusing on the issue at hand: “Instead of talking up the need for the Church to be involved in ‘reconciling’ warring factions in the independence debate, the Church should be seeking to encourage a mature debate where people can disagree without becoming enemies.” He added: “Talk of holding reconciliation services is an embarrassing indictment of Scottish society.”
The Church of Scotland last night declined to comment on Mr Robertson’s claims.