The Church has a unique role to play in healing Scotland’s wounds

Scottish Flag mendedYesterday morning we woke up to the news that nothing has changed – Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and will remain so. Except of course there is the reality that things will never be the same again.

The No vote may have won the day by a healthy margin, but in no way can we all walk away from the last two years of campaigning, whether we live in Scotland or not, and carry on regardless. The promises of the politicians from Westminster of increased powers for the Scottish parliament now have to be carried through and there is the question of how the outcome will affect the future governance of the other regions of the UK.

As the build up to yesterday’s vote has drawn towards its fervent climax, so the divisions between those on each side have become more fractious. Given that the stakes have been so high and the polls so tight, we shouldn’t have expected anything else. The biggest democratic decision in British history has seen levels of time, energy and raw emotion invested like no other political battle we have seen or possibly will see in our lifetimes.

One image that has stuck in my mind above any other over the last few weeks is that of a window of a house. On the left hand side was a large Yes poster and on the right a large No one. Under the Yes was another handwritten piece of paper, with the words ‘HE’S WRONG’ in large capitals and an arrow pointing to the No.

This referendum has divided families, friends and communities. It has seen anger, harassment, threats and vandalism. It’s not often that Political leaders give up engaging with voters because they have been shouted down or that the BBC has protests held outside its Scottish headquarters because of its allegedly biased coverage.

Alex Salmond has called it “a joyous, empowering campaign”, but it has ended with a country deeply split with over 1.6 million Yes voters left bitterly disappointed.  Those who have given their lives and careers to pursue the dream of an Independent Scotland will be hurting badly today.

In the middle of all of this the Scottish churches have sensibly done their best to remain neutral encouraging all those able to vote to consider what sort of society they wish to live in. As a result of their desire not to align themselves with any camp, they now find themselves in a unique position. They are able to initiate the process of reconciliation and mediate in a country where the wounds of this campaign will take years to heal.

The moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, John Chalmers has invited political leaders to attend a service of reconciliation at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh tomorrow. It may prove to be the first of many post-referendum acts by the churches to rebuild bridges and minister to those painfully scarred by months of this aggressive campaign.

If anyone is able to understand the nature and power of reconciliation, then surely it is those who profess the Christian faith. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury has written that, ‘the Christian faith is based on the reconciliation of human beings through the self-giving love of Jesus.’ Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians where in chapter 5 he talks about Christians, having been reconciled to God, being given the ministry of reconciliation to share with the world.

Reconciliation in its widest sense is about the restoration of relationships that have been badly damaged and broken. Jesus taught us to love and forgive those who hurt us. There can be no reconciliation without forgiveness – this is love in practice.

The bonds that unite this country have been tested to near breaking point this week. We will now be together for a long time to come and it is important for the sake of our future that we move forward without carrying heavy baggage full of resentment and distrust along with us.

Politicians have been given a sharp shock and need to wake up to the disillusionment felt by many voters. The incredible turnout in Scotland has engaged an entire population. Fears for some have been dissipated, but hopes for others have been shattered. Politicians cannot ignore those desires for change.  They can work towards building a politically fairer society, but reconciliation has a spiritual dimension. If Scotland is to become a united country once again in a United Kingdom, then Christians will need to play their part, pouring out an unconditional love that dissipates resentment and reminds factions who have fought against each other how much they still have in common.


This article was published in its original form at Christian Today yesterday.

God and Politics has now merged with Archbishop Cranmer. Articles by Gillan will continue to be cross-posted on both sites for a short while during the transition phase.

Categories: Archbishop of Canterbury, Faith in society, Party politics

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13 replies

  1. Oh dear – it’s fascinating to see just how deceptive and entrancing the call of cheap grace and to be ‘relevant’ can be.

    “If Scotland is to become a united country once again in a United Kingdom, then Christians will need to play their part, pouring out an unconditional love that dissipates resentment and reminds factions who have fought against each other how much they still have in common.”

    Just what has this got to do with the ministry of the church to call all nations to be ‘disciples’, ‘obeying everything that I have commanded you?’ True reconciliation will be achieved when ‘ the mountain of the Lord’s house, shall be established as the highest of the mountains’, because Jesus will rule with a ‘rod of iron’. Until then, we must be very cautious about offering something short of that, however ‘relevant’ that appears to make us.

    We are commanded to call the nations to repentance. The fruit of that will be reconciliation. Aiming at reconciliation without repentance has the moral integrity of sticking apples onto a birch tree and calling it an apple tree; the world instinctively knows this and rightly holds us in contempt as a result.

  2. wow!! What a ray of sunshine!!!! Obeying everything, rods of iron, repentance!!!
    Chritianity sounds such fun!!!!!!

    • Indeed – as I’m sure you’re aware, it’s Jesus who warns us about hell, and his message is a call to repent / sin no more. The fact that the church has spent the last 70 years pretending otherwise and declining rapidly might just be correlated.

      • or, maybe all this talk of hell and sin just puts people off??? I think that the fantastic gains in knowledge over the last 70 years have probably got more to do with church decline than an off track message. As we understand more and more about the universe and our place in it, god becomes more and more irrelevant.
        When will christians understand, that is not the delivery of the message that’s the problem, but the message itself! !!!!!

  3. As far as i understand it the message is the story of the life of Christ including all the things he said (even about hell). My understanding is that the ‘real’ gospel is the story of Christ. I always thought there was a clue to this in the full titles given to the first four books of the new testament.

    But is the message more important than the messengers?

  4. Sorry Nick, think you may have misunderstood me. When I talk about delivery, I’m talking about how churches are constantly trying to be relevant to entice people in (messy church, alpha etc) This stuff only works up to a point because the central point is irrelevant to most people thesedays. Its like a company rebranding a product that used to sell, but no longer does. The rebranding may work for a bit, but the product is still the same and people soon remember why they stopped using it in the first place! !

    • I misunderstand in the same way as I am misunderstood, sarky.

      The themes of love, forgiveness and the meaning of life will always be relevant to thinking people.

      God can make things better for people.

      Maybe there is some spin on the ‘good news’ as you say (and hell and sin and the devil and demons and the tribulation and the end of the world and all of that ‘good news’).

      But tell me what you think the ‘central point’ of Christianity is?

  5. Servitude to a vain jealous god. No more, no less.

    • Er… close… but I think it is supposed to be more about God being true love and coming to earth as a human being.

      The servitude is voluntary in my case. I can’t speak for others.

  6. True love??? Well the worst medicine needs a little sugar to help it go down.
    Your servitude may be voluntary, but the kicker comes when you dont want to serve. Personally I’d rather die on my feet than live my life on my knees!!

    • That’s your choice sarky and also your right – if you ever do make a choice otherwise it should be a free-will decision. But some people do feel a need for this God and don’t feel that an alignment with him reduces their principles and convictions.

      The stereotype is that we live our lives on our knees and have surrendered in all this. But the reality is that we resist in many ways. We resist violence, selfishness (or try to) and the tyranny of serving money. We resist unjust Government and we resist all kinds of weird crap.

      Some of what you say is true but you could effect change much better from within. You have some good ideas for the Church and I personally feel that you should at least thing of becoming a Christian as an option (or a back up plan if you prefer).

      But a culture which paints Christians as weak and feeble is something which we have always struggling resisting. Because the establishment will always prefer to portray Christians negatively. So that others can look good.

      As someone who at least engages and listens to us I would have thought that you had learned this.

      I suppose this site is going to ebb now in the same way as you believe that Christianity will ebb. But I hope you don’t consider either myself or my people as your enemy.

      I have too many enemies to want more.

      I really wish you all the best.

  7. Hi Nick, I do understand (a bit) where christians are coming from, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in the church. This understanding is also the reason for my atheism.
    I do not believe christians as individuals are weak and feeble ( you can’t be, to want to join something so derided) however, I believe christianity as a religion is incredibly weak. Anything that is about love, forgiveness and turning the other cheek can only be so. People pick on christianity because thay know you can’t and wont fight back and if you do, it is with a wimper not a roar!!! Can you imagine muslims taking the Crap you do? ???
    As for becoming a christian, sorry never gonna happen (even as a back up plan!!!!!) Just gonna burn brightly then fade away!!!!!

    Finally, I have never seen yourself or christians as the enemy, just different sides of the same coin! !!!

    All the best.

  8. Yes reconciliation is and needs be central along with repentance, not only politically but also spiritually (not religiously, ie. according to churchianity). It comes out of the heart of Jesus’ mission of reconciling us with our maker and heavenly Father, thereby enabling us personally to enter His presence.

    Much as churches can help to heal divisions I remain sceptical as most fire on only one or two cylinders in not following Jesus’ commands, or in being filled with and led by Holy Spirit. So I doubt they can hear from and know God’s heart for Scotland. Eg. google ‘church of scotland prophetic’ and result is zilch, nada, nowt! Oh, it does show one entry – its apostate approach on Israel/Palestine!

    Compare that with many highly encouraging reports from those who move in the prophetic anointing. Eg. on bringing God’s words for all the British Isles last October a lady of known gifting said, “2014 Scotland, you’re going to give birth to twins..” (huh? what? how?) and referred to the deep complacency within England. Both points appear to have materialised in last week’s voting.

    She and others are stressing that Scotland has a very important role to play within the UK and abroad in God’s purposes. So, any ‘church’ that can’t appreciate, promote and progress His purposes isn’t fully doing what Jesus did and said, as he said his people would do, and bring effective teaching and healing.

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