Here and there I have posted the question of a Baptist/anabaptist – I will stick with ‘baptist’ response to the result of the Westminster elections. Some might feel such an idea strange. Others may feel that I am not qualified to make it being an ‘ex-pat’ of soon nearly a whole year. That is fine – it is up to others to make their own more or less ‘Scottish’ responses. I will, however, make mine because I am not simply a theologian but a baptist one and a ‘Scottish’ one.
So here an initial reflection…
As I have stated clearly elsewhere from a ‘baptist’ perspective we do not see our primary allegiance to any state or political arrangement but to the person of Jesus Christ and the new humanity which we call the Church. Therefore, one reason I am opposed to nuclear weapons is that their potential use invites me to support on behalf of my nation the potential destruction of brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, in practice I take this position of sitting lightly to state quite seriously in regards to such ethical matters. Some consider my position on this irresponsible I consider it faithful.
To say, I sit lightly to any political arrangement British or Scottish does not mean, however, that I do not ‘sit’ at all. To claim that would simply not be true. The primary community I am called to relate to may be the new humanity in Christ but actually what it means to give this new humanity priority has to be worked out in relation to the many other communities of which I am part: family, friends in pipe band, dance class, language classes, and indeed nation. To quote from anabaptist ethicist Reimer: ‘My primary home is the Christian one…My secondary home is our local, national, global, and cosmic home in which we live with those of other faiths, ideologies, and cultures’. Accordingly it would simply not be true for me to claim that being born and raised in Scotland has not shaped my identity or that it does not matter to me.
I am a follower of Jesus who comes from Scotland – so yes I am Scottish, it is part of my humanity just as Israel was part of Jesus’. To embrace my national identity at this level is neither right or wrong it is simply the case – what I do with it in response to Jesus Christ and the gospel will determine the moral question.
Whatever we think of the present political arrangements few deny that Scotland is a nation or a country in its own right. It has managed to maintain that identity even as part of the Union. So here I agree that we do not need an independent governance system to be a country or a nation with identity. Yet, ‘union’ is a political arrangement and like all political arrangements provisional.
If I start with my first identity as a Christian in the ‘baptist’ flavour baptists give priority on a biblical/theological basis to the ability of the local congregation to decide and discern what is best for its own affairs. In turn in Scotland we have a Baptist Union of Scotland that is independent from the Baptist Union of the UK. I think that both this local and national competency is a good thing and is at least the position that baptists in practice hold to. Drawing from my church perspective such arrangements of governance do not negate inter connected participation at all levels with others – one baptist church does not hate the one down the road because it governs its own affairs! Yet, each reserves the right to govern its own affairs and to cooperate on many issues in voluntary union. We seem implicitly and explicitly to suggest that this is a good way to do things.
What means all this in the light of the Westminster elections? I do not think we can ignore the ‘nationalities’ question in terms of the ‘worlds’ in which we live, either in others or in ourselves. Here we need the sort of honesty that Reimar calls for. Muttering that we do not like nationalism of all sorts while speaking from implicitly and explicitly nationalistic perspectives (British, Scottish or whatever) is not helpful. Speaking truth here involves repentance and owning, and refusing the term ‘nationalism’ to be presented as though it were a concept with only one meaning. It also means hearing from those who have no such sense of national identity.
As ever we should start talking to one another in our congregational settings on these matters that do matter to us and indeed divide us, as is evident from Facebook.
I think projecting from the way we do church in so far as it is meant to bear witness to the State I think we should encourage and support local and national self governance of all nations in the UK – of the sort that invites and enables citizen participation in meaningful ways – and so with all of this I assume electoral reform at all levels – and of the sort that from the position of particularity then engages in the common.
Will all this lead to a fairer and more just society – oh I would not claim that much anymore than the present political arrangements have led to a fairer and more just society although I think it will lead to a more accountable and participatory system which I think is a good thing in its own right.
That said the business of pursuing a fairer and more just society spreading the gospel, helping the poor and needy will remain our task whatever the political arrangement. Why bother giving all this attention then to this…well it seems to matter to people and matters to us and unless we simply decide to disengage from it completely (an option) then we need to think about how we will engage with it either to ‘humanise’ the system or to ‘transform’ it.