Education The Church in Scotland

An Open Letter to C of S Evangelicals in the light of the C of S/Humanist Debacle

An Open Letter to C of S Evangelicals


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to ask for your forgiveness and for your help.  For your forgiveness because once again it looks as though I have come across both as a spokesman for the evangelicals in the C of S and also as a critic of the C of S.  Neither role is one that I cherish.  For those who are not aware of what has happened, please read my previous blogs on the debacle of the last couple of days.

But here is a brief summary for those who have not yet caught up.   Secular Scotland are petitioning the Scottish Parliament to make Religious Observance in Scottish schools an opt-in rather than the current opt-out position.  Last Friday I received a joint press release from the Church of Scotland and the Humanist Society embargoed until Saturday stating that they were making a joint presentation to the Scottish Parliament, calling for RO to be turned into an all inclusive “Time For Reflection”.  This helpfully included guidelines for the press to show that such TFR would exclude Christian worship and prayers.   On Saturday I wrote a blog which was picked up by The Times (and actually ended up on the front page) and several other news organisations, who were understandably surprised that the Church of Scotland was working with the Humanists to remove Christian worship from Scotland’s state schools.  Ironically a step that even the Secular Society were not prepared to do!  I received many e-mails and messages from some of you, astounded that things had come to such a pass.  One minister wrote of how he had read part of my blog out to his congregation and some of the people were in tears at what the Kirk was doing.

On Monday there was a change.  The Church of Scotland realising that it was going to get a backlash from its own members began to retract and in an attempt at news management, issued a press release which in effect accused me of lying.  The full statement is appended below but in summary it states that the reports about RO ending were misleading and ‘entirely without foundation’, that all that was being proposed was simply a name change.  I then had some of you contacting me, asking what was going on, and even hinting that I had been exaggerating or making mischief just to get at the C of S.   I just simply pointed people to the original joint press release, but that had mysteriously disappeared from the C of S website. (All of which you can read on my original blogs).

Then I discovered it was even worse than that.  The submission to the Scottish parliament included the astonishing suggestion from the C of S/Humanist alliance that they could get rid of troublesome clerics by simply forcing them to sign up to the schools ‘equality and diversity policy’.   I think the analysis of John Macleod, one of Scotland’s most insightful journalists is spot on:  “It’s a problem of status: the Kirk is struggling to retain place and profile in the new devolved Scotland and now faces serious threat to its recognised role as the national Church and such statutory rights as representation on local government Education Committees. The current leadership is trying, foolishly, to retain such pomp by going down the road of screaming political correctness.”

I sent a request through Secular Scotland to the Humanist Society to ask them what the truth was.  Had they just signed up to a name change?  And of course they had not.  For them it was a root and branch change.  The C of S were backing away from something they had agreed to and were attempting to spin their way out of it.  Is it not embarrassing when groups like Secular Scotland show not only far more nous, but also far more honesty than the Church of Scotland?

Today (Tuesday) the situation got even more embarrassing.  Firstly the C of S spin-doctors really overreached themselves in terms of damage limitation.  As I walked to the station on my way to Aberdeen, I was astounded to hear the second item of headline news being that the Humanists and C of S were just calling for a ‘symbolic’ renaming of religious assemblies in ‘some’ schools.   Of course the Humanists then felt betrayed (as they were) and the C of S looked really stupid. The convenor of the Church and Society Committee appeared on Call Kaye on BBC Radio Scotland and spoke the most incredible amount of meaningless drivel seeking to placate ordinary C of S members on the one hand, and the Humanists on the other. She failed spectacularly.  I’m afraid that I also ended up on the programme and pointed out the consequences and insanity of the Church or Scotland allying with the Humanists to remove Christian worship and prayers from schools.   (You can hear the programme here – at least for a while –

As a result of all this, the Church of Scotland and the Humanists did not appear together at the committee, although the convenor was in attendance.  Again its funny how the C of S press department spins on this (they make Alaistair Campbell look straight talking!).  They moved from appearing together with the Humanists before the committee to “the committee was never due to take oral evidence today” hence their non-appearance.    But as far as I know their original submission still stands. I was due to appear on the BBC this afternoon but that has been cancelled, because the Humanists and the C of S seem to have broken off their alliance – although as far as I know their original submission still stands.   Renaming something without changing it really isn’t that big a news story is it?  But what is a big story is the absolute mess the C of S is in.  And from a personal point of view I don’t like spin doctors accusing me of misunderstanding/misrepresenting and then seeking to doctor the evidence.

The Apology.

As I said I apologise both for being perceived as a spokesperson for the evangelicals and a critic of the Church of Scotland.  It may be that the perception is wrong – but I cannot understand any evangelical who would be prepared to countenance forming an alliance with the Humanists in order to remove Christian worship and prayer from schools.  Therefore I assume it is correct when people think I have been representing the evangelical point of view.   As regards being a critic – I was not taking an opportunity to ‘stick the boot’ into a decaying church in the hope that my own would profit.  If that were the case then I would have just kept quiet until the dirty deed was done and given you enough rope to hang yourselves.  Here is what I expected to happen.  I thought that once I opened the floodgates and the secularists got involved as well, you would step in and take over.  I really really did not want to be on TV, radio and in the papers on this issue.  My boiler is broken, my car is totalled, I am recovering from jetlag, I have a book to write and a congregation to care for, and I don’t belong to the Church of Scotland.  I could really do without the hassle.  Once I got my piece out on Saturday I thought that would be the end of my involvement.  But nothing.  Not a dickey bird.  So when the press came calling I had to speak.  If only for the people in your congregations who were really upset at what is being done in their name.


And here is where I ask for help.  I have a great deal of sympathy with individual ministers who are reluctant to get involved.  Very few actually want to be in the media and to be honest lots don’t know how to get involved.  I am also not privy to the internal e-mails that go round within the C of S and from 121’.  I’m sure the Convenor of Church and Society and vice-Convenor were as much in damage limitation mode with you, as they were with the media.  This is not after all the first time they have screwed up – remember the Israel debacle at last years assembly?  So I am not picking on individuals.  Maybe some of you did try to speak out.  But we keep hearing about various evangelical groups within the C of S who are there to continue the ‘fight within’.  We are told ‘now is not the time to give up’, ‘we are almost there’, ‘the Lord can turn it around’, ‘look, we even have an upcoming evangelical moderator’.  If that is so – where are the press releases and statements dealing with this?  Where were the moderator’s comments?  Or the signed letter from evangelical leaders who deplore this unholy alliance?

What’s the point of having an organisation which says it is there to continue ‘the fight’, if you don’t actually fight?   Perhaps I am being unfair?  Perhaps, as I am often assured, there is a lot going on behind the scenes, quiet influence etc.  Sorry.  That will not cut it in today’s society.  Your church is haemorrhaging members and you think quiet church politics within the corridors of power is going to turn things around?   Here was an absolute no-brainer.  Here was an opportunity to show leadership and speak up for Christians.  Here was an open door.  An open goal, with the ball set up nicely on the penalty spot, and all you had to do was kick the ball in the goal!  Instead you allowed a pathetic substitute like yours truly to run on the pitch and kick it for you.  Which in turn of course lets those on the other side (and some on your own team) cry foul?

Can I be honest?  I’ll tell you my fear.  That whilst the various evangelical groups contain many good and fine Christians within them, the overall raison d’etre is not to fight against the liberalism in the Church or the decline in the culture (much as some would desire that).  No, my fear is that the various evangelical groups now primarily exist to ensure that evangelicals stay on board and don’t desert the sinking ship.   Again I am perfectly prepared to admit that I may be wrong on this, but the most passion and the most fight I have seen have been against those who dare to leave, or idiots like me who get involved from outside.  I have been told by a couple of you recently that you would love to have me speak in your congregations but you daren’t, because it would upset some who think I am anti- C of S!  That hurts!

Let me put it bluntly.  I am not your enemy.  I genuinely love the Church of Scotland and want it to prosper and grow.   Neither are Willie Philip, Paul Gibson, Ian Watson and many others who have left, the enemy.  They have not joined the dark side or betrayed you.  They are your brothers and sisters in Christ who felt they could not stay.  As far as I know none of them wish you harm or desire anything other than gospel expansion and the glory of Christ.   When I was at Crieff this year the wonderful Martin Allen made a great plea for unity and for praying for one another.  But there is no point in praying if you are not prepared to speak and act as well.   Please don’t pray for people and then sign affidavits seeking to get them evicted from buildings or work with liberals to ensure that evangelicals who leave don’t have a chance of retaining buildings.  Please don’t pray for people in public and then murmur in private about how they are ‘trouble’ or ‘they went out from us because they were not really of us”.   Is there anything more absurd than evangelicals voting to deprive an evangelical congregation that leaves of its buildings, knowing that the buildings will either be sold and turned into a carpet store/pub/university project, or underutilised by the remaining remnants of a congregation which will soon be united with two others in the coming decade?  And please don’t hide behind the legal façade of having to provide gospel ordinances in every parish.  If nothing else, the current debacle seeking to remove Christian worship from every school in Scotland, gives the lie to that claim.

The bottom line is that your denomination is rotten at the core.  I don’t say that lightly.  It’s not just that your press office is incompetent.  Or that you have a few problems with bureaucratic liberals.  I have been fighting for over a year with the Secular Society and Humanists to retain a specific Christian influence in Scotland’s schools.  It has been a hard slog but I think we were winning.  And then the Church of Scotland comes along and in one move totally undermines all that we have done.  We were stabbed in the back.  Yes I am prepared to argue that there is a fundamental rottenness at the core of the C of S – that needs a whole lot more than just tinkering at the edges. You are being eaten up from inside as well as gnawed away at from the outside.  You need a real renewal, revival and re-formation.  (And again I happen to think that we in the Free Church need that as well – although for different reasons).  I pray God that you will be the ones to do it, through his grace, but you haven’t a hope if you keep silent; regard your brothers as your enemies, and your enemies as your brothers!

I am sorry that these are strong words, but I hope I speak out of love for the Lord, love for his Church (of whatever denomination) and love for the people of Scotland.  I do admit to being a bit frustrated – and not just because of sitting here is a freezing cold manse!  I am frustrated at taking bullets in a fight that I’m pretty sure should not be mine.  Even worse is when I get them from both sides!  And I am really frustrated that your press department tries to make me look like a liar.  Issuing a press release one day, and another the next that contradicts it. Then removing the original and saying that those of us who actually read it, are ‘misrepresenting without foundation’.  The dishonesty of this is matched only by the incompetence.   So please do me a favour – on your internal networks can you call your press department and your Church and Society committee to account?  Can you get rid of your dreadful convenor who, as I said in my earlier blog, is to Christianity in the C of S, what Tony Blair was to socialism in the Labour party? Please note this is not a call for you to leave and get out.  Thats for you to work out.  Its just simply a plea – if you stay (or go!) then please fight for the truth of the Gospel.  Don;t just talk about it.

And in public, can you please speak out?   In Solas we are delighted to help you.  We will stand with you.  We will open doors for you and we will take bullets for you.  Likewise with the Free Church.  We are not interested in being your rivals.  We have bigger fish to fry.  We want to reach Scotland for the Gospel – as I suspect most of you do as well.  But please get over this, ‘the C of S is the only show in town’ mentality.  Times have changed.  Get up to date.  I leave you with the words of a secular prophet that somehow seem appropriate.  If you are into Time For Reflection, reflect on this.

Gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
Keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again

Don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’

For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they, they are a-changin’

Come senators, Congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand at the doorway
Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
Don’t criticize
What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’

Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend a hand
For your times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
And the curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast

As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’

And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan

Yours in Christ

David Robertson

Dundee January 28th 2014

PS.  Here is the last press release from the C of S which I referred to:

The Church and Society Council has responded to misleading reports suggesting that it is proposing “religious observance ends”.

In statements to The Times and other papers it has made clear this assertion is entirely without foundation.

The Council is simply inviting MSPs to consider a change in the official name for religious observance.

It says a change from the term “Religious Observance” to the term “Time for Reflection” will make clear what actually happened following a change in government guidelines in 2005 when Assemblies become inclusive. The General Assembly acknowledged these changes at the time and since then these events in schools have addressed those who follow Christ, but they have also spoken to pupils of other faiths or none.

MSPs on the Public Petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament will consider the nature of these assemblies at a meeting tomorrow January 28 and Rev Sandy Fraser, convener of the Church’s education committee said: “The nature of religious observance will not change, but the new name will better reflect what has been the case since 2005.“

In assemblies currently held under the official title of “Religious Observance” pupils may for example hear the inspirational stories of people of faith, such as Nelson Mandela or the story of Solomon which offers a platform for exploring the concept of wisdom. They may also for example explore- through the eyes of people of faith and no faith- the meaning of words on the mace of the Scottish Parliament: justice, integrity, wisdom and compassion.

The Church of Scotland will make a submission as additional evidence to the Petition Committee of the Scottish Government on Tuesday, 28 January, when there will be discussion of the petition of the Scottish Secular Society (PE01487) to make Religious Observance an opt-in activity. They will ask the Public Petitions Committee to urge the Scottish Government bring forward legislative proposals to remove the reference to “Religious Observance” in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and insert “Time for Reflection” instead.


  1. David, thank you for giving your time and considerable energy to well-representing the common-sense views of the majority of true followers of Jesus in the above matter, especially during your adverse personal circumstances.
    To my many friends in the Church of Scotland, please take heed, this is giving ground to what appears to be a hypocritical minority in your denomination who are meant to to represent you and the clear stated and recorded values of your constitution, or whatever the correct term is.
    Rick Hayes, average Christian.

  2. Thank you for standing up for truth – especially when in doing so the personal cost is so great. I appreciate your passion, insight and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ.

  3. David,

    Once again many of us are deeply indebted to you for telling us what is going on in our own denomination for here is part of the terrible mess that we are in: the first I knew about any of this was reading your blog.

    You exhort those of us who are evangelicals within the C of S to use our own internal networks to make representations to those who speak such apostasy in our name. Sadly it is only when we read the press or pick up stories on the ‘net that we discover what is going on. It has never occurred to anyone in the central establishment to consult us or advise us about what is going on. You are more likely than I am to know what wild fancies are going through the collective mind of some of our central committees.

    You challenge us to make representations within the denomination but I am not sure how to do that. In the past I have written variously to conveners or to members of the secretariat but invariably one receives a polite brush off, if one receives any reply at all. An average presbytery does not want to take on the administration but prefers a quiet life (to get on with the huge amount of pointless administration that is dumped on it) and you have correctly described the acquiescent attitude of some of our new evangelical groupings. I have seen people who have fought the good fight being crushed into broken submission and subjected to the public disfavour of administrators and isolation by fellow evangelicals. I will repeat what I have said before: some of us who are evangelical feel greatly isolated. Our location makes us feel geographically isolated; our adherence to the theological standards makes us feel theologically isolated and our refusal to sit down and stop rocking the boat makes us feel isolated from our evangelical colleagues.

    Neil Combe

    1. Neil, again I feel your pain! I have seen people being crushed in the way you describe. Maybe you could break the isolation by being allied with like minded brothers and sisters from other denominations? Let me know if there is anything we can do to help?


  4. Dear David, I hear you and your challenge is timely. Many of us have expended our desire to fight within the denomination itself and have little energy or ambition to engage in the public arena. I will prayerfully consider your words and thank you for your candour and prophetic insight,
    Yours in Jesus,
    Mark Nicholas
    Gorebridge Parish Church.

    1. Mark – please be assured of my prayers and support for you. These are very difficult times. Solas would be very happy to help you with any public engagement. IN my view that is sometimes better than church politics within. Let me know of any way we can help other than prayer…

  5. Dear David, Thank you for your energy in working to protecting God’s name and for your commitment to extending His kingdom here on earth. As one who left CoS several years ago for its lack of principles and one now worshipping at an Independent Evangelical church I was amazed at the apparent alignment with the Humanist Society. I heard much of the radio programme this morning and was shocked and disappointed at the lack of reference to God. Much was said of the need for compassion, care and the like for others but what was missing was the COS representative’s obedience to Jesus command ‘love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind’ ‘this is the first and greatest command’. Second is to love your neighbour as yourself. I sense that if this proceeds there will be greater hurt when Christians are asked to deny God. I pray for wisdom in this situation rather than submission.

  6. Praise God for your courage, David, you truly are one of a kind. I will be praying for you. I do hope you’re getting lots of support from the wider evangelical community. This is such a worrying trend in society. How are we to reach the lost if even the church of John Knox is now in league with the new atheists to ban Gospel outreach, prayer and worship from our schools?

    Alan Maxwell

  7. Wow. Well said. Are you able to circulate this within the C of S. I will ensure friends see there see it. Thank you for fighting for all of us. We are evangelicals although not C of S but many friends are and I know would be appalled at what you describe. People need to know how to protest + fight though + it may also be that God has called + equipped you in this role( though Cof S evangelicals need to stand up). Know that there are many christians who are grateful that you are speaking out and Be Encouraged. Praying and God Bless. Jan+ Graham.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

  8. David, all I can do is reiterate the thanks and acknowledgement of previous comments. You have taken on an unfair burden which should rightly be lifted by those in the CoS. I include myself in this and have raised the issue through my Session and hope to get some sort of response which we can articulate to those in George St.

    It should never have come to this, though. And I suppose this is the outcome of decades of backsliding, compromise and silence from CoS leadership. Part of the problem is that they refuse to recognise their leadership responsibilities and come out with cheap, low-grade management speak such as “we are all leaders in the CoS”.

    For years the man and the woman in the pew has been hoodwinked by selective bible passages telling us that God is doing a new thing, he is pruning to allow new growth etc. What they refused to contemplate was perhaps God was standing back from His national church in Scotland and saying, right let’s see how you get on with it on your own.

    The results are there for all to see. Too many of those in senior positions are frustrated politicians or lobbyists or social commentators. They have long ago left God’s Word far behind and prefer instead to follow the government manual on how to create conformity through inclusiveness.

    The sad reality is that they have scattered the flock and God will not forget what they have done. From the comments above we can see the flock crying out for leadership. Let’s not forget Jesus had compassion on the multitude “because they were weary and scattered like sheep with no shepherd.” (Mat 9:36) Let’s hope this latest betrayal at last rouses congregations throughout Scotland demanding the return of the church to our Lord, Jesus Christ.


  9. David, thank you so much for all you write. Your words cut deep and express exactly what many of us would wish to express. I have struggled to formulate a response to a presbytery consultation for over 3 days now. My husband listens patiently as I read him draft after draft! Where oh where are the those who will speak out and write as you do without having to take days over it? I will try my best to inform friends, write (even if it takes days). I hope for the nation’s sake your boiler lights up soon . We need you to be not only warm, but on fire to roast us all !

  10. David,the sad fact is that the Church of Scotland ministers and members are merely reflecting the apathy of our society. It has been said that the evangelical ministers in the Church of Scotland are too busy preaching the true gospel and ministering to their own congregations. While I hope there is a degree of truth in that I am more likely to believe that too many are unwilling to stand up and say enough is enough. Too many of our committees are run by people whose social gospel has no resemblance to what Christ proclaimed and expected from his followers. As a Church of Scotland minister it grieves me the way our church has so far departed from where we should be.

  11. David, you may well be criticised for speaking out about the state of another denomination.Spurgeon had this to say a century and a half ago:

    ‘Whether it be the Baptist Church, or the Episcopalian, or the Presbyterian Church which errs from Christ’s way, it is nothing to any one of us which it may be; it is Christ we are to care for, and Christ’s truth, and this we are to follow over all the hedges and ditches of men’s making.’

    Faithfulness to Christ transcends denominational affiliation. The present state of the CofS should be of concern to every Christian in Scotland.

  12. It may interest folk to know that at its meeting last night the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Jedburgh discussed the RO debacle and approved the following deliverances:
    – Presbytery expresses concern at the recent reported conduct of the Convenor of Church and Society Council in respect of school chaplaincy and dissociates itself entirely from that conduct.
    – Presbytery humbly invites the Council of Assembly to consider investigating the conduct of the Convenor of Church and Society Council in respect of school chaplaincy, and in particular her presumption in speaking on behalf of the Church without prior authority from the General Assembly, and to report to a future General Assembly.

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