We can learn a great deal from the continuing fallout from Perth Pride. As I wrote about this – there was a backlash which involved a great deal of distortion and attempt to silence. The Daily Record joined in the unthinking herd mob mentality with this article talking about the ‘love and acceptance for all’ of Rev Scott Burton vs the hatred and ‘fiercely personal critical attacks’ of yours truly. We should not be surprised at this nor give in to the temptation to depression. In a society which has lost its ability to reason and think, and where every story is reduced to emotive soundbites, it’s precisely what we should expect. But if we step back and look in more detail at the backlash there is a great deal we can learn. I received this article from the Perthshire edition of the Courier which is very revealing. His words are in italics followed by my responses to the author.
The backlash against Rev Scott Burtons Perthshire pride speech was as depressing as it was predictable.The Church of Scotland minister opened the region’s first LGBT celebration last weekend with a speech which apologised for the Kirk’s historical treatment of the gay community.
I wonder why you find it depressing that people, within the church (and outwith) disagree with Scott’s remarks – given that the position he is attacking is the position of the Church of Scotland (officially), the Catholic Church and most Christian churches? Are you depressed at the mere fact of disagreement? Or have you bought into the narrative that Rev. Scott has received a whole load of hatemail? It appears he had eight letters of criticism and they seem to have been fairly polite. I realise that the narrative is to portray Scott as ‘brave’ and a victim – but in reality ‘coming out’ as a supporter of the LGBT agenda which has become the main shibboleth doctrine of our society is hardly ‘brave’. It’s about the most conformist thing anyone could do. If you want praise from politicians and the press then this is the route to go.
The call for equality was warmly welcomed by Pride supporters. It seemed like an historic moment, like the church was finally breaking down age-old barriers in opening a door. And inevitably, there were other church leaders trying to slam the door shut.
I’m a wee bit confused here. Which door are you talking about? The door to the church is always open. Jesus described himself as ‘the door’. We always invite people to come to him – in repentance and faith. But I suspect you mean the door to the church changing its beliefs in order to fit in with some beliefs that our society holds (or at least the beliefs of those who are in power). In that case you are right. The church does not exist to parrot the values and norms of a culture and society which is fundamentally anti-God. The door to heresy and error is (or should be) firmly closed. The door to all people is always open.
Rev David Robertson, minister of St Peters Free Church in Dundee, said in a blog that Rev Burton should instead be “apologising to God – for the horrendous sin or distorting and perverting his gracious word.” He wrote: “what if the press and politicians have got it wrong? What would that mean? It would mean the church had turned away from the teaching of Jesus – a disaster and an end to the church.”
Of course, Rev Robertson is entitled to his views, but from where I’m standing, it looks like his remarks are doing more damage to the church than Rev Burtons. At a time when just 7.2% of Scotland’s population go to church – down from 17% in 1984 – it is clear that Christianity needs to start thinking about evolving and visibly moving away from outdated and divisive views.
Thanks. It’s kind of you to support my entitlement to my views – even if somewhat dismissively. It’s always good to get the advice and see the perceptions and prejudices of others. But I’m curious as to where you get your information from? You seem to be suggesting that my views are responsible for the decline in the Church, whereas Rev. Burton’s will be the salvation of it. I realise that that fits your worldview. There is however one slight problem. The facts tell otherwise.
A couple of years ago Scott Burton appeared in the Courier with this report.
Churches face an “intolerable and utterly unsustainable” lack of interest from their congregations, according to a minister.An outspoken and wide-ranging attack has been made on members who fail to attend for worship or offer financial support to their churches. The Rev Scott Burton, minister at St Matthew’s Kirk in Perth, said: “I have no reason to believe anything other than the fact that it’s only going to get worse in the next decade.
“It’s time for someone to say it as it is I’m afraid and I’m either brave enough or stupid enough to be the one who’s choosing to say it.
“I see the bank balance (deficits), I lead worship in the more than half-empty buildings, I feel the never-ending pressures, I counsel the office-bearers who are tearing their hair out to make ends meet. So I assure you, I’m note exaggerating.”
Scott Burton is admitting that the Church of Scotland in this area is in freefall – including his own church. Indeed it is in terminal decline. Every year I have been in Tayside another church (usually Church of Scotland) has closed. If you want some more detailed analysis of this read – https://theweeflea.com/2016/04/07/the-two-faces-of-the-church-of-scotland/ Half empty buildings. Declining finance. Never-ending pressures. It appears that Rev. Burton’s theology, which you praise so highly, isn’t exactly working!
On the other hand when I came to Dundee in 1992 the Free Church had a total of around 50 people in the whole region in two churches. Today we have five churches (and another one just starting) with over 800 people attending. And it’s not just the Free Church – other evangelical churches are growing and prospering. That hardly fits your narrative.
Let me illustrate with a story I have used before. One Saturday I was sitting in our church hall waiting to pick up a child from a party when the elderly gentleman beside me struck up the following conversation (here is an abbreviated version from memory)
“I’m an elder in the Kirk (he named the village which I will leave out just now)…our minister doesn’t believe in teaching the bible. ”
“He thinks it won’t attract the young people. We need to be more up to date”
“That’s interesting – in this church they do a lot of bible teaching. At least 30 minutes twice on a Sunday….and they have about 100 young people. I’m curious – how many young people does your church have?”
You see my problem. You are telling us to ‘move away from outdated and divisive views’ in order for the church to grow. But as the church has followed your advice, it has declined! Your recipe for the church is a disastrous one – we know that because it has already been tried – and found wanting. He who marries the spirit of this age will be a widow in the next. Incidentally have you ever thought that your views are divisive? Indeed I suspect all views could and would be considered divisive by those who don’t share them. Maybe truth is divisive. Especially to those who don’t like it and prefer ‘alternative facts’!
Why does there seem to be such a hangup about homosexuality? The Bible teaches some fairly abhorrent views on slavery, such as its apparently fine to beat your slave with a rod, as long as he or she doesn’t die right away.
We’ve all managed to move on from them, so why are LGBT rights still such a stumbling block? Is it really acceptable in the 21st-century, to continue persecuting gay people because a tiny part of a book written 2000 years ago says that we can’t?
Once again your divisive views and prejudices are shown. The Bible is opposed to slavery – which is why biblical Christians were the first to campaign against it, in a society where it was considered divisive to do so. I realise it’s a neat rhetorical and emotive trick to imply that beating slaves and not agreeing with Same Sex Marriage are two signs of the same coin – but it is demonstrably false. Of course that won’t bother most of your readers who will just buy into that meme as ‘gospel truth’. But if they bothered to find out ht the Bible actually teaches about slavery (and not cherry pick a few verses out of context just in order to accuse) and about sex and sexuality they would have a different point of view. The Bible nowhere says that we can ‘persecute’ gay people – although I guess it depends on what you mean by persecution. The Bible is opposed to adultery, gossip and lying….does that constitute ‘persecution’ for adulterers, gossips and liars? Do you think we should campaign in the name of ‘love’ for this persecution to be stopped?
As for the hangup about homosexuality – it’s not the church but the society that seems hung up about homosexuality (although transgender now appears to be replacing it as the shibboleth issue of the governing classes). It was not the Church that was having an LGBT Pride parade in Perth – funded by the Council. Incidentally given that you are all for equality and diversity perhaps you could help us here. Perth Council gave £7,000 to Perth Pride (around £10 per attendee) and Dundee City Council will doubtless do the same for Dundee Pride. The churches in Dundee are going to be holding a big CreationFest event on September 29th – do you think that the Council should give us funding for that? Or does equality and diversity not apply to the minority of Christians? Whats the hang up?
And why are you such a chronological snob (or at least why do you try to appeal to the chronological snobbery of your readership?). What does the age of the Bible have to do with its quality? Are you implying that because something is in the 21st Century it must be better? Is Beyonce de facto better than Beethoven just because she is more modern? Does your ‘progressive’ doctrine really go that far?!
It also depends on what you mean by LGBT ‘rights’? Why them? Why not other groups? Who determines rights? You seem to be presupposing a lot and giving us little rational justification for your desire to impose your values upon the whole of society. It’s hardly very diverse or tolerant is it?
These days, it’s easy to be against organised religion. Mainly because of wars and atrocities committed in the names of the deity, but also because of the whole getting up early on a Sunday morning thing.
I hate to say this but that statement only makes sense to those who are ignorant and lazy. Did you know that in the Encyclopedia of Wars documents the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare? I thought not. Prejudice is no substitute for facts.
And I realise that you were trying to be witty in the ‘whole getting up early on a Sunday morning thing’ – but it just doesn’t work. Firstly most churches don’t start early. Secondly even if they did surely given the importance of the issues involved (life, death, heaven, hell, relationships, love, joy and peace) a little effort would not go amiss?! After all people are commended for getting up early to go to golf, concerts and even political rallies. But you want a church without commitment – just a nice place that tells you what you want to hear.
But religion is vitally important, particularly in times when people and families are being torn apart by politics and technology. Religion is what brought humankind together in the first place. Early societies that didn’t have religion couldn’t work together and quickly died out. There is every chance that religion can, once again, be a powerful unifier. But we need to keep that door open.
This is such an interesting comment. And such an interesting view of history. Could you let us know about those early societies which didn’t have religion? I personally don’t know of any – but perhaps you have the information?
Your notion of religion being a ‘powerful unifier’ seems at first glance to be wishful thinking. Religion is actually very divisive. Even Jesus said he came to bring division! Of course he did that only to show that without a radical change in each of us we are divided and on the road to destruction. He did not come to ‘affirm’ us as we are, but to change us into his image. The truth is that you talk of unity whilst offering a solution which only divides and destroys. We speak words which seem to bring disunity, but in reality lead to the deepest unity of all – in Christ. Every Sunday I see that it expressed in the variety of people from all different backgrounds who worship in St Peters.
And I am intrigued by your call for unity? What does that mean? You want us all to think the same way, have the same point of view? Would that be basically yours? Or are you really prepared for a different kind of unity – one based on love, tolerance and diversity? Your cheap and dismissive views of the biblical understanding suggests the former rather than the latter.
I agree with your analysis that people and families are being torn apart – although I’m not so sure I would just blame politics and technology. I would also add in the destruction of the family, greed, lying and Pride. In other words the problem is human sin. As a wise man once said, the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart.
Your column did not get anywhere near addressing that. It was shallow and superficial. Just as Scott Burton’s ‘ love is love’ message is shallow and superficial. Neither of you will be able to deal with the deep problems that affect both church and community.
Let me leave you with a bit of wisdom that I heard from a preacher last night. A preacher who actually believes and teaches the Bible. He told us that ‘love’ is an abstract noun. In and of itself it means nothing because it is not a commodity out there. Just saying ‘love means love means love’, is therefore pointless. “Love is a reality in my life shaped by its object”. The question is who do we love?
The message of Jesus gives us the best answer, summed up in two commands- “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself”. I note that Scott taught the latter whilst leaving out the former – which makes it all meaningless.
How sad that you accuse me of hate speech just because I proclaim the message of the God who is love!
If you really want to have a conversation, please feel free to get back in touch with me (I know that Courier journalists read this blog) and tell me what I have said that is wrong. I would be more happy to have a dialogue!