The Pastor and the Politician – a minister meets a Minister
On the day that the Scottish government introduces its bill on Same Sex Marriage its time to reflect on a meeting I had with the Scottish government minister responsible for pushing this through. On Wednesday 19th June I went with the Free Church publicity officer, Gordon Bell, to meet with the Scottish government minister for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil. The meeting took place at the wonderfully designed but wrongly located, Scottish Parliament building.
It is of course impressive and quite intimidating to get through security, sit waiting and then be shown into a room complete with the minister and various civil servants and advisors. Alex Neil is charming and jovial; an intelligent man who, like many of his fellow SNP government ministers, knows how to do politics and play the system. Personally I liked him a lot. But we were not there just to become new besties! We were there to discuss the impact of the up coming bill on same sex ‘marriage’ (I put marriage in inverted commas because as we all know it will of course be no such thing – but more of that later).
We admitted to Mr Neil that we are not there to issue a Tartan Taleban warning or to seek to divert him off the pre-determined course that the government had set. To attempt to do so would have been pointless. We wanted to raise a few red flags about some major issues. I pointed out that our primary purpose was not to secure safeguards for the Church, because the Church does not need the government to tell us what to believe or what we can and cannot do. However we were concerned about three issues.
- The place of teachers and under public workers who refused to accept SSM. Mr Neil gave us a categorical assurance that no teacher or public worker would be sacked or disciplined because of their views on SSM. This was good to receive. You know what they say about the promises of politicians. We will do our best to ensure that the Scottish government holds to its word.
- Charitable status – we sought and received an assurance that no charitable body would be excluded or would have charitable status removed because it did not accept SSM.
- Exclusion from public life – we expressed concern that either directly or indirectly those who uphold a traditional position on marriage would be discriminated against by being labelled homophobic and excluded from public funding, buildings and organisations such as the BBC. We were told that for public bodies to do this would in fact itself be discriminatory and illegal.
These were the main issues. Apart from Mr Neils promises and his admittance that this was not exactly the key issue for most people, what struck me was his inability to take up a challenge that was offered. He said that he thought I would not be open to persuasion on this issue. I told him I was, if he could start by defining marriage or telling us what the redefinition of marriage was going to be. He smiled ruefully and did not answer. And here is where our legislators have the problem. Not only do they not have the authority to redefine marriage, they seem unable to do so. I am still waiting for a politician to tell us what the new definition of marriage actually is. So far the British government has managed to come up with a redefinition which excludes sex, gender, children and fidelity! Quite how they can do this and then say that SSM is about supporting marriage is beyond comprehension! Mr Neil has also fallen into this trap. On the Scottish governments website, as he announces the bill he gives the reasons as being the equality mantra and also “A marriage is about love, not gender. And that is the guiding principle at the heart of this bill.” How does he define love? Will the Scottish government legislate on the meaning of the word love? And if this equality based on love is the basis then why would the Scottish government ban two sisters who love one another from marrying? To most people that is a ridiculous and disgusting concept. But then a decade ago so was the idea of two men marrying. Now apparently it is so self evident that anyone opposed to it is a regressive reactionary going against the tide of history! Leave aside the ridicule and disgust and logically you can see that the Scottish government’s redefinition of marriage offers no other block against sibling marriage. It is only the traditional Christian concept of marriage that does that. But the government is destroying that.
We were also assured that the Scottish government would not stop using the terms father and mother or husband and wife in official documents. There was some discussion about government support for the Equality Network as we asked about why the government funded a lobby group that then lobbied the government to provide for it. In the course of this discussion it became clear that we as Christian churches could lobby the government for money for example to combat Christophobic bullying, or to ensure that Christians were fairly represented and not discriminated against. It seems as though the worthy cause of preventing homophobic bullying is a bit of a cash cow for groups like the Equality Network and Stonewall. No government wants to refuse money for such a self-evidently good cause….but what’s sauce for the goose…!
It was good to get the reassurances we received. Whether they are worth the paper they are written on only time will tell. Actually given that they were not written on paper we will hold on to this and bring it back to mind when we face, as we inevitably will, the first petty minded over zealous politically correct bureaucrat who wants to discipline a teacher/prison chaplain/social worker for being a homophobic bigot because they don’t support the redefinition of marriage.
For me the most interesting and frustrating thing of all is that Alex Neil clearly had little interest in SSM and does not see it as the great egalitarian anti-slavery type social campaign of our era (as both American and British liberal fundamentalists have made it). In fact he told us that for the ‘man in the street’ this would never be in one of their top ten issues. So the question remains why as it become so important for the British and Scottish governments? Because they are told it is ‘progressive’ and ‘on the right side of history’ and they don’t want to be seen as ‘regressive’ and ‘on the wrong side of history’. They don’t really care about or see the importance of this issue, and so they are just quite prepared to let it happen. They do not see, and have not investigated, the possible consequences of such a major change. The bottom line is that almost all our politicians are conformists. They conform to the spirit of the age. There are very few radicals, thinkers or idealists left. You either fit into the machine or you are expelled. Dare to go against what the metro-elites want and you will be on the outside.
And that is where the church is. On the outside. We are not going to be, and should not want to be, the powerbrokers, surrounded by lawyers and civil servants, lauded by media and paid for by billionaires. Instead we are to be the infiltrators. The virus of salt and light. Preserving what remains that is good, adding taste to society and showing up both the evil and the way to the good. As we watch the coming disasters unfold and the further social disintegration of society, we are to be there to pick up the pieces and to show forth the love and compassion of Christ, especially for a broken society in suicide mode.
June 27th 2013