For an invigorating comment on the Time for Reflection stushie we can recommend the latest post on the always worthwhile Wee Flea blog where David Robertson opens up the issue in a very clear manner. There is more underlying this than a disagreement about education.
There is much that is frightening about the alliance between the CofS Church & Society Council and the Humanist Society Scotland. The official line from a denomination in frantic damage limitation mode is that this is merely a change in terminology. This is much more than the change of phrase from Religious Observance to Time for Reflection. Although of significance we should not get hung up on the semantics of the issue, it is much more serious than that.
There are committed Christians who see their calling as teaching children of all backgrounds about the reality of Christ and who seek to do this in a way which neither compromises the Gospel or the personal faith or lack of it of the children or their families. Some of them see the ‘rebranding’ of RO as an opportunity to create genuinely thought provoking experiences for the pupils in an inclusive manner whilst still being faithful to Christ. Such teachers who seek to follow Jesus in what is sometimes a hostile environment deserve our admiration and prayers.
Whether religious education in Scottish schools is termed Religious Observance, as required at present, or Time for Reflection, as proposed by the Humanist Society Scotland and the Church of Scotland, it is the content of the education which is important.
Surprisingly the Council has made common cause with the Humanist Society Scotland in their approach to religious education. As one office bearer in HSS remarked he could see where it was of advantage to his organisation but just couldn’t see what the CofS got out of it. A tiny organisation of less than 7,000 members who wish to see the end of direct Christian influence in Scottish education has in effect co-opted Scotland’s largest church.
As one secular organisation in Scotland has said, “We welcome the suggested removal of religious components from Religious Observance / Time for Reflection, a positive step for those who do not share the Christian faith …when you bring Jesus into it, it becomes offensive to people with no beliefs, and blasphemous to some with beliefs”. The secularists at least are clear about their beliefs and purposes.
There is an unequal struggle taking place in Scotland for the soul of the Church.
There are those who wish, in line with the historic creeds of the Church, to retain the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ, the incarnate God who rose from the dead, as the only Saviour. They see the good life as being one based on Scriptural principles.
There are also those who have a totally different conception of what constitutes Christianity. They see Christianity as being at its core an open minded mystical religiosity, welcoming spiritual insights from any tradition without the trammels of biblical exclusivity. They place an emphasis on right living whatever the source of inspiration.
One group sees life as being built upon what they see as proper belief. The other group sees belief as emanating from what they see as a proper life.
In early 20th century USA during the struggle for the Presbyterian Church in the USA J Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism. In this book, which cannot be recommended too strongly, Machen makes the point that two completely different views of God were contesting for the structures and very life of his denomination. Although many evangelicals seem unaware of it we are seeing the same struggle being replayed in early 21st century Scotland.
The real questions with regard to the Time for Reflection issue is which faith is going to be presented to the children of Scotland as Christianity, and which faith is going to be the faith of the Church of Scotland.
The CofS/HSS alliance has proposed that all external visitors must ‘agree’ with the equality and diversity agenda as approved by the HSS. This means that visiting chaplains who did not sign up to progressive orthodoxy, even if they never mentioned a red button issue like homosexual marriage, or never made their views known publicly, could be excluded from schools for the very fact of holding such views, thinking such thoughts. That until very recently such views were held by every Christian, and are still held by many, is immaterial.
The new tolerance is already very effective in silencing contrary views. The Scottish Secondary Teacher’s Association, the nation’s only specialist union for secondary teachers has already informed members that within school they must not voice opposition to homosexual marriage either to pupils or even to other staff. Any teacher who does so would be open to discipline by the local authority and if so the union will refuse to defend them or provide legal support.
Are we naïve enough to believe that it could never reach the stage where teachers who express a biblical view of marriage outside the school and in another context would be disciplined?
When it comes to the church we have already had a case of a CofS minister being removed from a school chaplaincy because of his traditional Christian beliefs. Early in January Donald MacInnes, minister of Gairbraid in Glasgow and chaplain of Glasgow Gaelic School was removed from his position at the school after a posting on Facebook in which he said he was opposed to legislation regarding same sex marriage. At the time a Kirk spokesman said he was sorry that Mr MacInnes was no longer the school’s chaplain, but also reiterated the Church of Scotland’s view that homophobia was “sinful.”
That a trade union will refuse to support a member who takes a contrary social/political position to the union is perhaps understandable. That a Church refuses to support and even smears as homophobic a minister who upholds a biblical position is incomprehensible.
In the meantime the denomination weakens. The Presbytery of Lanark has just lost its strongest congregation. Ian Watson and the bulk of committed members of his congregation of Kirkmuirhill have left the denomination. This comes with a disclaimer, Ian is a friend of mine. More than that he is one of those whom I would count it a particular blessing to have as my minister. I also know his congregation in South Lanarkshire and have spoken there when taking Grain on the road. They proved to be a welcoming group of committed Christians seeking God’s way in their lives.
They didn’t leave as The Scotsman paper suggests because of the Time for Reflection issue. It goes much deeper than that, they just saw no future in struggling for the Scriptural faith in a denomination in which they felt their beliefs being marginalised. How long will evangelicals in the CofS allow this to continue?