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. http://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/et-tu-kirkus-reflections-on-the-church-of-scotlands-new-alliance-with-the-humanist-society/
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 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03q5jzk)
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.
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
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
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
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
Yours in Christ
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.