Thursday, June 12, 2014

What's your vision for the Kingdom?

CHARLOTTE CHAPEL - 11th June 2014

All are agreed that the decision on whether Scotland should become an independent country or remain in the United Kingdom is a political, economic and indeed emotional choice. But is it also a spiritual one? Or in other words, would God be voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on September 18th this year? 

It was to consider that aspect of the Independence question (among others) that SOLAS brought together leading Christians on both sides in Edinburgh this week. On the ‘Yes’ side were John Mason MSP and David Robertson of the Free Church of Scotland (and SOLAS). On the ‘No’ side, Murdo Fraser MSP and Richard Lucas of SOLAS

Both sides were quick to agree that this was not a moral issue or one on which any side could claim a higher spiritual position – but was a matter of judgement that Christians could rightly differ on. Indeed it was noted that it was a rare thing to have a SOLAS debate with Christians on both sides, as usually the subjects debated are ones with clear Biblical principles attached.

The debate began with John Mason (a Scottish National Party MSP) outlining something of his testimony – brought up in The Church of Scotland, coming to faith through Scripture Union camps, and now a member of Easterhouse Baptist Church in Glasgow. It was while serving with Interserve in Nepal that he started to formulate his belief in Independence – observing how other small countries happily and successfully enjoyed full independence and self-governance. John outlined a number of what he saw would be the practical economic and social benefits of an independent Scotland. Independence, he believed, would give Scotland a greater chance of being a fairer and more equal society.

Regarding the place of the church and Christian influence, he was frank in predicting that, independent or not, Scotland like the rest of the Western World was going to be increasingly secular and the environment for Christianity was likely to be more difficult in the future. However, he stated that such adversity had actually caused the church to grow and thrive throughout history, and he was confident it would do so in Scotland. He also argued, however,  that an independent Scotland would give an opportunity for a constitution that could include safeguards for religious freedom.

Arguing for Scotland to remain as part of the United Kingdom was Murdo Fraser (a Conservative MSP). Murdo is a committed, although he added ‘not uncritical’, member of The Church of Scotland. He began by outlining some of the historic achievements of the Union such as the abolition of slavery in the C19, the creation of the NHS in the C20, and the UK’s lead in being the second largest donor of overseas aid in the world today. He argued that the ‘immigration problem’ was a sign of how successful and esteemed the UK was, and that Scotland’s influence in the world was all the greater as part of that Union. Murdo also argued that Scotland was already in a position without Independence, through the Scottish Parliament, to make the social changes many desire.

Regarding implications for the Christian faith, Murdo expressed concern that the Independence campaign was viewed by many in the Scottish Secular Society as a way of accelerating their agenda. He also suggested that Scottish people were not more likely to vote for higher taxes or have a radically different society from that elsewhere in the United Kingdom. For Murdo the question was one ultimately of identity – which for him was to enjoy being both Scottish and British, rather than having that identity reduced.

The debate continued with follow-up contributions from David Robertson and Richard Lucas. David began by stating that his overriding concern was the spiritual state of Scotland and quoted Proverbs 14:34, ‘righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people’. He believed that the Union had gone past its ‘sell-by date’ precisely because it was no longer a union founded on Christian values. Increasingly he saw a rise of corruption and powerful elites making all parts of the UK more unequal and less democratic. He argued that a smaller nation state could allow more redress against such injustices and allow Christians to have more influence within the political system.

Richard argued that the issue was not one of ‘day to day’ politics but of national identity – that is, who do I feel responsible for and part of. He argued that nationalism sought to break that sense of collective identity by creating divisions, false problems and dissatisfaction between otherwise contented partners. He also questioned the economic arguments for Independence as a subtle form of greed at the expense of others. Richard stated his belief that nationalism was subjective and had no moral significance other than creating division.

A time of questions from ‘the floor’ followed and covered a range of questions on policy implications.  One questioner asked what the evidence was that Scottish people would be better equipped or likely to create a more just society because they were independent – when Scotland has been just as quick to disregard Christian values as any other part of the UK. In response David Robertson said that he fully expected Scotland to continue to go ‘downhill’ along with England, but nevertheless saw more opportunities for Christian influence with Independence.

In the closing statements there was agreement on both sides that Independence in itself would not make Scotland a more spiritual nation, and that the ultimate hope for Scotland was in Christ.

In less than 100 days those living in Scotland will have to make the most important political decision for the nation in over 300yrs. For the majority it will come down to politics, economics and emotions – but it is right that for Christians there should also be a bigger Gospel dimension to consider. Will it help or hinder gospel work in Scotland and indeed other parts of the UK? Would it create opportunities or throw up barriers to Mission? Will it be more likely to promote righteousness than facilitate sin? None of these are easily answered but they should be key in the deliberations of Christians and above purely political and economic considerations.

The evening was an example of the kind of Scotland all would want to see – considered, thoughtful, civil and good-tempered. It was great to see some representatives of the Scottish Secular Society present and to hear their questions (asked with good grace and indeed humour) – pray that the witness of Christians with different views treating each other with respect and gentleness will have a big impact on them.

Pray for John Mason and Murdo Fraser, Christian MSPs in the front-line of Scottish politics and whose example is a huge public witness to godliness in action. Pray for Scotland, pray for the growth and influence of Gospel churches - so that whatever the Referendum outcome Scotland would recover its Gospel heritage and be won again for Christ.