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What Evangelicals Think About Scotland's Independence Vote

(UPDATED) After narrow "No" vote, Scottish evangelicals say churches will take lead in building the 'new Scotland.'
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What Evangelicals Think About Scotland's Independence Vote
Image: Evangelical Alliance Scotland

Update (Sept 19): A narrow majority of Scottish voters (55%) voted no Thursday on independence from the United Kingdom. In the wake of the contentious referendum—which saw more than 80 percent of voters participate—the Evangelical Alliance Scotland called for Scots to "unite and build a new Scotland with Christian values at the heart."

"The Christian gospel provides the catalyst for reconciliation, and as Christians we recognise our responsibility to model grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation to our fellow citizens," said national director Fred Drummond in a statement. "During this campaign all Scots have rallied around a flag. But as Christians our identity is not based on a flag or a national boundary but on the radical grace of being adopted into God's family."

Drummond also exhorted the referendum’s victors to graciously embrace Scottish nationalists and challenge themselves to "love our neighbour."

"As Scots now consider what kind of nation will now emerge from this campaign, the church must lead—and be allowed to lead—the way to ensure the new Scotland is one that reflects God's values in the economy, the family, our communities and our environment,” he stated. “As Christians we passionately believe that these values will shape our nation for good."

The Evangelical Alliance Scotland's full reaction statement is at bottom.

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As Scotland votes today on independence from the United Kingdom, Christians lack consensus on whether Yes or No is the way to go.

A survey released last month by the UK’s Evangelical Alliance suggested that British evangelicals at large would disapprove of Scotland’s departure: 74 percent of its response panel said earlier this year that they would be unhappy about the breakup.

But the views of Scottish Christians themselves are less clear. Most Christian institutions have declined to take official sides on the referendum, and instead have served as middle ground for varying perspectives.

The Evangelical Alliance Scotland, calling the referendum "the most important ballot in the nation's history," offers a thorough manifesto on what kind of nation Scotland should be. "Much of the referendum debate to date has focussed on purely economic terms," it states. "This debate must evolve to consider the sort of nation Scotland aspires to be, the values that we hold as Scots and those we wish to pass on to our children."

The Church of Scotland, which has stayed neutral, leads its latest magazine with views on the referendum.

CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) offers a one-page argument for each side.

On the Yes side, Dave Thompson, a member of parliament representing the Scottish National Party, argues that “a vote for self-governance gives Scottish Christians the best platform upon which to work collaboratively with others to build a more socially just society at home and abroad.” Also, he writes, “by virtue of relative numerical strength and geographic proximity, Scotland’s Christians will have greater hope of in fluencing a Scottish government than an administration based in London.”

On the No side, Murdo Fraser, a member of parliament representing the Conservative party, warns that a shifting political structure gives “no guarantee that a new Scottish constitution would protect the role of faith groups.” “The Scottish Secular Society are backing a ‘YES’ vote as a route to a more secular Scotland,” he writes, whereas “Great Britain is a country founded on Christian (specifically Protestant) heritage. Over the centuries we have been a beacon to the world in defending religious freedom.”

Christian think tank Theos has featured bloggers for both sides.

On the Yes side, Doug Gay, a Church of Scotland minister and theology professor at the University of Glasgow, pushes back against the idea that supporting Scottish sovereignty is wrongly nationalistic. He argues that love of one’s country should be tempered by “refusing an idolatrous vision of national identity. No Christian can say, ‘my country, right or wrong.’”

On the No side, Nigel Biggar, a theology professor at the University of Oxford, warns that those undecided about Scottish independence would be wise to consider it first through an economic and political lens.

Theos also reflects on the deeper questions at stake. Theos researcher Ben Ryan cautions why the eventual winning (not losing) side has the harder road ahead, while Jonathan Chaplin, director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, argues the debate is really about what public justice requires.

Nick Spencer, Theos’s research director, offered CT his analysis (copied in full below). He told CT that almost all of the political ramifications and issues have already been hashed out prior to the election, so he thinks Scots could do well to consider faith.

“There are uncertainties about staying in the union, and even more uncertainties about leaving it. Claim fights counterclaim. Many predict. No one knows,” he told CT. “The only way forward, irrespective of the actual outcome of the vote, is in faith.

“This may not seem like a Christian perspective but it surely is,” he continued. “Faith shouldn’t be about politics, at least in the calculative way outlined above. But politics should be about faith—putting forward arguments and making decisions that are, in technical terms, ‘underdetermined’ by the available evidence—because all life is. To paraphrase the great French writer, mankind is condemned to have faith. The real question is in what.”

In its manifesto, the Evangelical Alliance Scotland notes:

Before us stands a choice: a choice about who we want to be as a nation. Usually such a debate only happens following severe upheaval, revolution or violence. Yet we have a unique opportunity to consider our future and who we desire to be.

CT’s previous coverage of Scotland includes its role in world missions, whether church membership has fallen far enough, and saving Celtic spirituality.

[Image courtesy of Evangelical Alliance Scotland]

Here is the full analysis from Theos’s Nick Spencer:

Scottish referendum: Is faith about politics or politics about faith?

After two years waiting, the last two months of which have been increasingly frenzied, there is not much new to say about the Scottish referendum. Every point has been probed, every angle taken and 70% of the population of Scotland interviewed on some media network or other, or so it feels.

Is there a Christian angle amidst all this reflection and refraction? Two come to mind.

The first is urgent but ultimately superficial. Religious affiliation has played a role in post-war Scottish politics in a way it hasn’t south of the border. Religious identities have been hard, loyalties sincere and sectarianism rife. As always, such factors never stand in a vacuum, as this Theos report explains. Catholic support for the Labour Party in Scotland, for example, has as much to do with immigration and socio-economic status as it does with denomination, these factors being intertwined inextricably. Nevertheless, the fact is that, while no one has been naïve enough to suggest that the ‘religious vote’ will tip the balance tomorrow (given how fine that balance is, pretty much any vote could tip it), many have commented that it the Catholic vote will have particular significance, the general Catholic trend away from Labour towards the Scottish National Party making a Yes vote more likely than it could ever have been a generation ago. A corresponding, if slightly less clear cut and decisive, analysis could be made of the thinned, ageing but more Union-centric Presbyterian population. In this regard, at least, Christian commitment matters.

But this regard is a somewhat dispiriting, instrumental regard: the Christian angle on referendum is simply one of ‘doing the math’ (as we English don’t say). Faith is basically about politics. More interesting, if less urgent, is a second point, namely what the referendum says about politics itself.

British politics — Scottish no less than English — has suffered from deep-grained and spreading public scepticism in the last twenty years (as, indeed, has that of most European countries, whose politicians now find themselves “ruling the void .” Yet, this time is been different. Nearly 98% of eligible voters have registered. The issue has divided cities, communities, churches, and families across the country, unlike so many General elections where the voting patterns are geographically, socially and economically rigid and predictable. The outcome is even now hard to foretell with confidence. And the matter is of great significance. This has been animated, engaged passionate politics and even if that has sometimes shaded over into anger and alleged intimidation it is still a world away from — and so much better than — the sceptical anaemic politics of late.

The reasons for this are varied but they boil down to an essential confluence of two factors: it matters and it’s uncertain. The clarion cry of the modern political sceptic is that politicians are “all the same” and that nothing they can do will really change anything, governments across the world now being compelled to trail submissively in the wake of international financial and legal institutions.

However much truth there is in that (and there is certainly some truth in it), it is a mockery of what politics is supposed to be: collective debate, agency and self-determination. This is what the Scottish referendum has felt like (even south of the border) but the corollary is that this kind of living politics comes at the cost of certainty. There are uncertainties about staying in the union (how many more powers will be devolved? What will that mean for the rest of the country? Are we headed for a federated union?) and even more uncertainties about leaving it (What currency would an independent Scotland use? What economic risks of independence? What about Trident? What about North Sea Oil?). Claim fights counterclaim. Many predict. No one knows. The only way forward, irrespective of the actual outcome of the vote, is in faith.

This may not seem like a Christian perspective but it surely is. Faith shouldn’t be about politics, at least in the calculative way outlined above. But politics should be about faith – putting forward arguments and making decisions that are, in technical terms, ‘underdetermined’ by the available evidence — because all life is. To paraphrase the great French writer, mankind is condemned to have faith. The real question is in what.

Here is the Evangelical Alliance statement on the referendum:

Time to build a new Scotland with values at the heart

The Evangelical Alliance Scotland has called for the nation to unite and build a new Scotland with Christian values at the heart following the results of yesterday’s vote. Responding to the outcome Scottish National Director Fred Drummond said:

"This has been an incredible season for our nation and the referendum debate has invigorated Scotland with our churches at the heart of the debate. With the votes now cast and the result declared the people of Scotland have spoken and it is now time for us to unite as a nation and build a new and better Scotland based on the vision, hope and aspiration which characterised the debate.

As Scots now consider what kind of nation will now emerge from this campaign, the church must lead – and be allowed to lead - the way to ensure the new Scotland is one that reflects God's values in the economy, the family, our communities and our environment. As Christians we passionately believe that these values will shape our nation for good. There has been an exceptionally high level of engagement and this must not wane. The passion must continue.

We recognise that while many are celebrating this morning there are also many in Scotland who are devastated at this result. It is now time to show grace and kindness to those on the other side and move quickly to bring reconciliation where it is needed in our land. I know it will be a difficult thing for some people to do but we must love our neighbour. We are all Scots and Scots at heart together. If we put God’s love at the heart of what we do, healing will be much faster, genuine and long-lasting.

Christian values have built Scotland and helped it to achieve the success in society. Let’s reinforce these principles and strengthen them. It is an undeniable fact that Christian values have been good for our society.

Our evangelical churches are here to help. We are here to help heal divisions within families, workplaces, friendships and even in the church itself. The Christian Gospel provides the catalyst for reconciliation and as Christians we recognise our responsibility to model grace, forgiveness and reconciliation to our fellow citizens.

During this campaign all Scots have rallied around a flag. But as Christians our identity is not based on a flag or a national boundary but on the radical grace of being adopted into God's family.

Scotland and the UK will not be the same after this vote. We the Evangelical Alliance and our member churches stand ready to play our part.

We urge Christians in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales to come together to pray for Scotland as we build a future for our nation.

December
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