Culture At Large

How the church can model unity in post-referendum Scotland

Jonathan Downie

This morning I woke up to the result of the most important vote in the history of my country. The people of Scotland, given the option of staying in the United Kingdom or going it alone, chose to stay. In the end, 55% voted against Scottish independence and 45% voted in favor, with a record-breaking 85% of voters choosing to have their say.

So, this morning, I didn’t wake up to the beginnings of an independent Scotland, but I did wake up to a deeply divided land. As a fellow believer put it, “industries, workplaces and families have been divided.” More than any other issue, the question of independence has gotten everyone talking and more than a few arguing.

This is unlike typical divides, in which social and class differences mean that those who disagree rarely meet. In this case, I will go to church on Sunday knowing that I could easily be greeted by a “yes” voter, clip a tie mic on a “no” voter, sit next to a “yes” voter and have coffee with a “no” voter. In the church, as in every workplace and almost every family, the challenge will be to rediscover unity and grow community.

While the political future of the United Kingdom is no surer today than it was yesterday, given the rush to find solutions that will appeal to both sides, the Church will undoubtedly have a role to play. In fact, it was the Church who first appealed for unity, even before the polls closed. John Chalmers, the moderator of the Church of Scotland, called for small but important actions. One of his suggestions was that politicians post selfies with those who voted the opposite way.

In times of division, the Church can be a source of real and lasting peace.

In times of division, the Church, and perhaps only the Church, can be a source of real and lasting peace. What better model of how a country can recover from division than local churches that are home to those on either sides of the divide. There is no better way to bring unity to a nation than demonstrating it physically.

Yet, we all know how rarely this is the case. In the U.K., much as in the United States, churches can all too often replay and re-enact the divisions in wider society. We live in days of “black” churches and “white” ones, “middle-class” and “working-class” congregations, even “feminist” and “anti-feminist” congregations.

It is all too easy to sit and write polemics against the kinds of divisions that we can unthinkingly reproduce. The truth is that separation is the default mode of humanity. We like people like us. In the March 2013 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis stated that only around 2.5% of churches in the U.S. are long-term racially mixed - a statistic that jars with the increasingly multicultural nature of American society.

Any talk of improving these numbers has to come at the same price as will need to be paid for unity in Scotland and the United Kingdom - humility and intentionality. I cannot be unified with someone if I feel I am better than them or more patriotic than them or more deserving than them. I have to make a conscious decision not only to accept them, but to build bridges with them, even at my own cost. The Scottish referendum simply revealed what we already know: our societies are divided and desperately need healing. The question is: will we play our part?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, News & Politics, World