Many years ago when younger and even more foolish some of us were prepared to hold our noses and against our strongly held left wing principles enter the Labour Party to remake it as a proper left wing party. Thankfully for the nation we failed; witness the takeover of Liverpool by Militant Tendency in the 80’s. Thankfully for me it was very early on during this period that I was converted.
The tactic failed because the Labour Party fought back, and fought hard. Although criticised for much of his leadership credit must go to Neil Kinnock, who if he did nothing else saved the Labour Party from self-destruction. Even although he was party leader it was a difficult fight for Kinnock and his allies as Militant had strong support amongst activists and some in powerful positions. The leadership knew, however, that they had to resist the takeover of their party if they were to save its distinctive character.
There are those who have followed the same tactic of entryism in the Church of Scotland. The denomination is being taken over by people who do not share and never have shared the doctrinal stance enshrined in our foundational documents and who are determined come what may to push the envelope ever wider and remake the denomination in their own image.
The difference between the orthodox members of the Labour Party in the 1970’s and 80’s and the orthodox members of the Church of Scotland today is that they recognised the danger and were willing to contend vigorously in an organised and disciplined way for the very nature of their party, we don’t.
The crisis facing the denomination today has not happened overnight, it has been inexorably growing year by year, report by report, Assembly by Assembly. In the face of this the orthodox evangelical response has been piecemeal and, with a few notable exceptions, ineffective.
The result is that we have already lost some of the most dedicated members and ministers in the denomination. I think that they are at fault for having have left too early and having left individually, but I cannot find it in my heart to condemn them. They have witnessed evangelical influence being steadily sidelined within the denomination without effective response and have concluded that the fight is lost.
Unless evangelicals remaining in the CofS are willing to face the reality of the situation the fight inevitably will be lost. It is no use mourning what has been, we must take seriously the task of reclaiming our denomination.
In 1915 the Wobbly activist and song writer Joe Hill was executed by firing squad in Utah. His last letter contained the following lines, ‘Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize… Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.’ As he was most likely innocent of the charge on which he was sentenced his reluctance to become a permanent resident of Utah is understandable. Just as understandable is his dying insistence on the need to organise.
The power of organising has been illustrated recently in the denomination. Minister’s Forum is a monthly newsletter sent to every minister of the CofS. In the last issue of 2014 there was an article by David Torrance, one of the most gracious men you could meet, saying that homosexual practice carried with it medical dangers. In this month’s issue there is a concentrated and clearly organised personal attack on David, two of the letters having numerous signatories. As a result the editor of the newsletter has decided that he will no longer publish any material which might be termed ‘homophobic’.
Thus by a simple piece of organising a small dedicated group of progressives have effectively censored any contrary view on one of the major issues facing the denomination. Organisation can be effective.
In the Church of Scotland there are 49 Presbyteries. Every major piece of legislation has to pass through Presbytery, Assembly reports can be discussed at Presbytery, initiatives can originate in Presbytery. In how many of those 49 Presbyteries do evangelicals gather before the meeting to co-ordinate action? There need not even be a physical meeting, a simple email to concerned presbyters about a proposal to be brought before a Presbytery is surely not beyond our abilities.
How many of us know what is going on in other Presbyteries? An uncomplicated and effective network of shared information and news could keep us abreast of developments elsewhere and enable us to support each other with advice, encouragement and prayer. Do we really have no one able to organise this?
It is important that evangelicals work within the committees of the church, but this is not the only way we can have a voice. Is it beyond the ability of evangelicals to produce and circulate reasoned critiques or alternatives to Assembly and Presbytery reports? There is enough theological expertise amongst evangelicals to have produced a biblical alternative to the appalling ‘Inheritance of Abraham’ report and have it distributed throughout the denomination.
This type of action would of course meet with accusations from ‘divisiveness’ to creating a ‘parallel church’. If we are unable to face a modicum of opprobrium we deserve to lose the church.
Unless we organise seriously on a local and national level we will most certainly lose the denomination. There are many simple and easily achieved strategies which could be put in place to help prevent that. Unfortunately too many of us either think that the softly softly accommodating policy which has consistently failed in the past will somehow work this time round; or are unwilling to bear the stigma of being seen to be in determined opposition. In the meantime the denomination withers.
If we only mourn the state of the denomination without taking decisive co-ordinated action to recover its heritage we are in danger of being self-indulgent.