Westminster Elections

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.






J.R. Burkholder On Nuclear Weapons


Jr Burkholder has been described by MennoMedia as:

an ethicist, church leader, and social change agent whose life and work spanned and influenced dramatic changes in 20th century Mennonite peace theology and ecumenical engagements. He served as a missionary in Brazil and as a pastor in Pennsylvania before teaching for 22 years at Goshen (IN) College and another 12 years at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. He was co-founder of Goshen College’s peace studies program; founding director of the Dallas Peace Center; program administrator for Mennonite Central Committee and Fellowship of Reconciliation; coordinator of peace and social concerns for Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries; and a visiting professor at a Costa Rican seminary and a South African university.

In a piece called ‘The Bomb, the Cross, and the Enemy’, in Selected Writings of J.R. Burkholder: Prophetic Peacemaking edited by Keith Graber Miller (Herald Press, 2010) he writes:

‘If I had a projector, the first image would be the mushroom cloud, in all its terrible glory. The scenario, with its litany of destruction, is all too familiar.

The second image would be a series of concentric circles, showing the effects of a one-megaton bomb. There we would see Ground Zero, the epicenter, a pulverized crater. Then the fireball, the firestorm,. the burns and explosions, scorched earth up to fifteen miles out, and then the radiation fallout. Who knows how far the geographical limits would extend and how long the consequences would last?

It is indeed a horrifying picture, one that defies rationality, and yet it is the trademark of our times since 1945. As Albert Einstein said, the nuclear bomb has changed everything but our way of thinking’. (158).

In his challenge to nuclear weapons as a strategy – he argues that their use does not fit with any theory of Just War, that their impact would be indiscriminate, that one could not talk about ‘war’ as it would simply be destruction, and the most frightening people are not the military people who have seen the impact (reference to Hiroshima) but the politicians who simply do not understand what they are dealing with.

His rejection of nuclear weapons comes he says: ‘as a Christian witness’ whose own ethic is shaped by the love of Jesus (‘that may sound way too simple’)

‘The peace message of Jesus is found both in his basic teaching and in his life example. The Gospels include scores of texts about blessing peacemakers, loving enemies, not hating or killing, forgiving those who misuse you, and not returning evil for evil but doing good to those who hate you. In his own life, Jesus refused the devil’s offer of worldly political power, called his disciples to bear the cross of suffering, refused to call down fire from heaven as a punishment, entered Jerusalem as a servant on a donkey rather than a warrior on a charger, and willingly faced the cross’. (p. 161).



Billy Graham and Nuclear Weapons

I cite a bit from this article in Sojourners which was published interview with Billy Graham when he came out in opposition to nuclear weapons. The edition of Sojourners was 8 August 1979…

Sojourners: How does your commitment to the lordship of Christ shape your response to the nuclear threat?

Graham: I am not sure I have thought through all the implications of Christ’s lordship for this issue — I have to be honest about that. But for the Christian there is — or at least should be — only one question: What is the will of God? What is his will both for this world and for me in regard to this issue? Let me suggest several things. First, the lordship of Christ reminds me that we live in a sinful world. The cross teaches me that. Like a drop of ink in a glass of water, sin has permeated everything — the individual, society, creation. That is one reason why the nuclear issue is not just a political issue — it is a moral and spiritual issue as well. And because we live in a sinful world it means we have to take something like nuclear armaments seriously. We know the terrible violence of which the human heart is capable.

Secondly, the lordship of Jesus Christ tells me that God is not interested in destruction, but in redemption. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to reverse the effects of the Fall. Now I know there are mysteries to the workings of God. I know God is sovereign and sometimes he permits things to happen which are evil, and he even causes the wrath of man to praise him. But I cannot see any way in which nuclear war could be branded as being God’s will. Such warfare, if it ever happens, will come because of the greed and pride and covetousness of the human heart. But God’s will is to establish his kingdom, in which Christ is lord.

Third, of course, Christ calls us to love, and that is the critical test of discipleship. Love is not a vague feeling or an abstract idea. When I love someone, I seek what is best for them. If I begin to take the love of Christ seriously, then I will work toward what is best for my neighbor. I will seek to bind up the wounds and bring about healing, no matter what the cost may be.

Therefore, I believe that the Christian especially has a responsibility to work for peace in our world. Christians may well find themselves working and agreeing with non-believers on an issue like peace. But our motives will not be identical.

The issues are not simple, and we are always tempted to grasp any program which promises easy answers. Or, on the other side, we are tempted to say that the issues are too complex, and we cannot do anything of significance anyway. We must resist both temptations.

I find his response to the question about the Lordship of Christ fascinating – ‘I am not sure I have thought through all the implications of Christ’s lordship for this issue’ first in the honesty of his response and then how he develops it and where it takes him.

Returning to the Issue of Nuclear Weapons

The place of Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent is once more in the news.


An opportunity to seriously challenge its almost ‘given’ presence on the Clyde was recently lost.

So I return to an issue which I have discussed before. On one occasion I made a proposal to the Council of the Baptist Union of Scotland that we adopt a statement along the lines that ‘As followers of Jesus Christ we would not be complicit in the maintenance, renewal, or use of weapons of mass destruction and so called on the British Government to do all in its power o secure their removal…’ It was heavily defeated meaning that in public statements (although this was more of a confession) we continue to be out of step with nearly every other Christian denomination in Scotland.

I came across this article recently. It made me smile and got me thinking…


George MacLeod (pictured above) described the suggestion to use nuclear weapons as blasphemy against God –

so which other Christian leaders (including evangelicals) opposed nuclear weapons?

And thought I would try and compile a sort of short ‘petition’ of names, citations, quotations…a cloud of witnesses…

So if you know any and want to add please comment or tweet to me…

I am sure that Jim Gordon will be able to help as he has written now and again on this…