27 Feb 2011

Saturday 26 February saw a well attended conference on ‘Engaging Faith and Politics’ take place in the Scottish Parliament. It was hosted by three MSPs: Dave Thompson (SNP), Murdo Fraser (Conservative), and Karen Gillon (Labour). Representatives attended from all over Scotland including Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles. A wide range of church backgrounds was also seen.

The main speaker in the morning was David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee. He is also involved in Solas (the Centre for Public Christianity). He suggested it is dangerous if the state tries to control everything. Also, if people (including the media) are overly cynical about politicians, that undermines democracy.

He referred to four main models for the relationship between church and state:
1. Erastianism, where the state controls the church;
2. Clericalism, where the church dominates the state – “a fast mission to suicide”!
3. Total separation – which is impossible; or
4. Good neighbours and good friends.
Traditionally in England the church and state have been very close with the king or queen head of both. On the other hand there is meant to be clear separation in the United States. Scotland’s model has been somewhere between the two, with the concept of two kingdoms.

We don’t want a Christian government but we do want Christians in government. But problems will arise for Christians if the state says, ‘You can’t say or do this’ while Christ says, ‘You must…’

On Islam he suggested Christians could often agree and work together with Muslims on particular issues. However, it is essential that Christians should be able to become Muslims and Muslims become Christians without fear of punishment.

After lunch and a visit to the Parliament’s main chamber, the afternoon consisted of a ‘mock hustings’ with representatives of five political parties taking part. As well as Murdo Fraser and Karen Gillon, Gordon Macdonald represented the LibDems, Donald Boyd the Christian Party, and John Mason the SNP.

Topics for the panel included education, how to use the second (list) vote in May, marriage, protecting front-line services, the marginalisation of Christians, and how the church can engage in politics. The final question was on what was the main challenge for Scotland in 2011. John Mason answered that by saying for Christians it is to pray more but generally speaking debt is one of the biggest challenges.

After the conference John Mason spoke of how worthwhile he had found it. He said, “Faith is extremely important to me and I am comfortable being a believer within the SNP. Under Alex Salmond’s leadership the Party has had a very inclusive approach. We have a Christian grouping within the SNP (Christians for Independence) as well as gay, Muslim, and other groups. I want to see such an inclusive approach for the whole of Scotland as well: a pluralistic society where minorities are welcomed and protected.”