Politicians and Prophets
A reflection on a visit to the Scottish Parliament
They say you should never write anything in anger. They say that you should always take 24 hours before putting anything that can later be used against you. They say that it is very important to be nice to people and not offend. They – may be right. But here goes anyway (I will after a suitable period of reflection look over and pray about this, and will let you know at the end if I changed anything).
I am sitting on the train from Edinburgh to Dundee after appearing at the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Shell-shocked. Stunned. Saddened. Lets begin at the beginning.
After cycling through Dundee at 5:30 am in the morning, I took the early train to our fair capital city, suitably fortified by a McDonalds sausage and bagel breakfast. Walking down the Royal Mile to the Parliament building, I was praying that God would protect, intervene and bless. I wanted to be a clear witness, without being rude, aggressive or obnoxious.
Once inside the building I waited with the other witnesses who had been called; an Anglican bishop, a Church of Scotland minister, a Jewish leader and Gordon MacDonald of Scotland for Marriage. I also bumped into some friends from Stonewall and The Equality Network! We talked about how the standard they wanted was to say nothing that would result in appearing in the Daily Mail. I boasted I had never appeared in the Mail, only to receive a tweet later in the day from Neil MacMillan that my photo and comments were in that mornings edition!
We were shown into the committee room and the live on-line ‘witnessing’ began. As expected my paper had provoked a reaction and one of the MSP’s got stuck in straightaway. This continued with each MSP getting a couple of questions to each of us, before the convenor called a halt after an hour and 15 minutes. Overall the experience was not too bad but I was left really saddened, angry and encouraged.
1) Saddened – It was abundantly clear that few of the MSP’s had actually thought through the main fundamental issues and the consequences. They seemed to be concerned with big broad undefined concepts of ‘love’,’ equality’ and ‘fairness ‘or the minutiae of ‘protecting’ religious people from having to conduct same sex marriages. One even, in a slightly contemptuous tone, suggested that the definition of marriage ‘seems very important to you’. Um –yes. Guilty as charged. And I kind of hope that an MSP who is engaged in ‘redefining’ marriage might also consider the definition of marriage to be important.
Thankfully MSP’s like Alex Johnstone (Conservative) and John Mason (SNP) were able to bring it back to the main issue. But the nature of the committee and the way this is being rushed through (just so that the Scottish government can claim we are at least as ‘progressive’ as the English) means that any substantive discussion is impossible. It was more than a little farcical – a kind of show trial, where everyone knows the end result but you go through the pretence of democracy anyway. I came away with the fear that the majority of our MSP’s do not really know what they are doing on this subject, and have not thought through the consequences. It really is the case of the blind leading the blind. O Scotia, you are undone!
2) Angry – Not at the MSP’s, but at those who are supposed to be on ‘our’ side. The way the system works in this hurried ‘consultation’, the Equalities Committee are doing double sessions each day. Today those who were for SSM were to go in the second session, so those of us who are supposed to be against it when first (hence the early train!). You will note the word supposed. Gordon Macdonald of CARE was excellent – he had the facts, evidence and logic at his fingertips. But as for the others.
The Jewish leader was as I expected – stating that they were for both points of view. But the C of S and Anglican were far worse than I had anticipated. Both gave answers that completely undermined our case for the biblical understanding of marriage, despite their denominations officially holding the Christian position. The C of S man, Rev Hamilton, (who incidentally came across to me as a nice man with an impossible task), was of course in a difficult position – his denomination is officially against SSM whilst being for ministers in same sex partnerships. This either means that the Church of Scotland accepts these as equivalent to marriage or that they are happy for their ministers to be sexually active without marriage (I think we used to call that fornication).
But it was more than confusion. More than the lack of clarity. It was the attempt to be political, ignoring the basic principle and implying that the church was just behind the times and would eventually catch up. Rather than engaging with the politicians it seemed to be much more about their internal church politics. It was as spineless, Godless and gutless a performance as I have seen in many a long year. And it was so frustrating.
I believe if we had heard a clear sound from the Anglicans and the Church of Scotland then it would have had a much stronger impact. As it was, we did not need to hear the ‘witness’ of those who are for SSM, because Rev Hamilton and the Bishop, who were ‘officially’ against it, undid us by their uncertainty, confusion and illogicality. How can we blame the politicians when the prophets give such an uncertain sound?
This continued after the committee. Rev Hamilton had suggested during the committee that the Church of Scotland would consider giving up performing marriages altogether. A threat that was subsequently carried on the lunchtime news bulletins. It was followed on the C of S website by an immediate retraction. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?
The web statement even made it worse. On the one hand we were assured that “As the largest provider of religious marriages in the country, more than 5500 in 2012, we hold to the historical understanding held by most Christians around that world that marriage is between one man and one woman. “ On the other we were told “as politicians consider the bill, The Church of Scotland asks for space for itself and for its ministers to decide whether to celebrate same sex marriages.” So the Church of Scotland holds to the historic Christian teaching that marriage is between one man and woman, but asks for ‘space’ to allow it to decide whether to go against that same teaching! Where have we heard that one before? The Church of Scotland officially affirms the traditional position that ministers should not be in same sex relationships, but officially allows ministers to be in same sex relationships. Go figure. We need the Church of Scotland to be a prophetic voice in this increasingly hostile and anti-Christian society, not a pathetic voice, whimpering ‘please allow us space to catch up with you and change Christianity so we can retain our position in Scottish society’.
To be honest in terms of ‘anger’ I have to say I was also a little angry with myself. There were opportunities I had which I did not take, and I allowed the convenor to bypass me on a couple of questions, thinking that I would get a chance to sum up at the end. Never mind you live and learn. If you want to see some of what went on, Ally Smith of Solas has prepared the following edited ‘highlights’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnoYf-CiG1c&feature=youtu.be
3) Encouragement – And yet I was encouraged. Firstly by Gordon MacDonald of CARE who is my view was by far the best witness. Clear, articulate and with a grasp of the facts and issues. Secondly by John Mason, Alex Johnstone and other MSPs who seemed prepared to listen. In fact I was so impressed with Mr Johnstone that I told him if he could get his party to come up with consistent and good policies on the family and on education I might even be tempted to change the habit of a lifetime and vote Tory! I was also encouraged by the prayers and responses of the Lords people. The issues are not confused and unclear. In my experience the light does not bring confusion and unclarity. That’s the job of the darkness.
We were asked about the complaint from the Humanist association that the Church of Scotland is privileged. In my personal view if that is true, given the current confusion and lack of leadership coming from the Church of Scotland, the sooner that finishes, the better! What really matters though is whether the Scottish people are going to allow our politicians (and our prophets) to lead us away from our Christian ethos into a wilderness of moral relativism and social injustice. In order for that to happen, the prophets (proclaimers of the Word of God) need to stop trying to be politicians, and the politicians need to stop acting like prophets (as if they had the right to determine what is right and wrong).
It’s the end of the day. I have decided to remove one paragraph but the rest remains as written. To sum up by adapting the Glasgow motto; ‘let Scotland flourish by the preaching of the Word’. Today I saw a Scotland impoverished by politicians who have faith that they are leading us on to a progressive secular enlightenment nirvana – whereas in reality they are regressing us into the pre-Christian Greco-Roman Pagan darkness, with those who are supposed to be the prophets, desperately trying to cling on to their coat tails. All I can do is pray Psalm 80.
1 Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock;
you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.
4 O Lord God Almighty,
how long will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us a source of contention to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, O God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
11 It sent out its boughs to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River.
12 Why have you broken down its walls
so that all who pass by pick its grapes?
13 Boars from the forest ravage it
and the creatures of the field feed on it.
14 Return to us, O God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see!
Watch over this vine,
15 the root your right hand has planted,
the son you have raised up for yourself.
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us,
that we may be saved.