Covid in Scotland: Church magistrates speak to civil magistrates with respect
NOTE: several weeks back, I was browsing UK sources and came across this excellent remonstrance of church fathers to the government of Scotland. Noting our own Sanityville correspondent, Rev. Aaron Prelock (originally from Bloomington, Indiana), was among the signatories, it seemed good to post it here as an example of how we ought to speak to those in authority over us.
A letter from Church Ministers and Christian Leaders to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
January 6th 2021
Dear First Minister,
We write as ministers and leaders of churches in Scotland, supported by colleagues across the United Kingdom, to raise our profound concerns at the measures to suspend public worship in Scotland as part of the currently increased restrictions.
We understand entirely the exceptional difficulties of leading the country at the present time, and we and our churches have prayed for wisdom and clarity for your government repeatedly. But we strongly disagree with the decision to prevent the gathering of the Church at this time, which we believe is profoundly unhelpful and may be unlawful.
As pointed out by Sir Edward Leigh in his letter to you of 4 January, Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits governments from interfering with religious practice unless demonstrated as essential for public health because church services were proven a significant source of spread of disease. We know of no evidence of any tangible contribution to community transmission through churches in Scotland; to the contrary, since churches re-opened in July we have demonstrated that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission. It is for such reasons that legal challenges in other jurisdictions have overturned prohibitions of the freedom to gather for worship.
However, above all we are dismayed because there seems to be a failure in the Scottish Government to understand that Christian worship is an essential public service, and especially vital to our nation in a time of crisis.
Last November the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster and other national Faith Leaders wrote to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government clearly demonstrating that public worship is essential to millions: essential for sustaining their service to the community at large, which is urgent at a time like the present; necessary for social cohesion and connectedness, a vital lifeline in the present climate of uncertainty and fear; vitally important for the mental health of our nation, which has been battered by nine months of lockdown-related stress and strain; and above all essential as a sign of hope in the face of despair.
The United Kingdom Government has rightly heeded these important and persuasive arguments, and has since, even in the face of a national lockdown, preserved this essential contribution to the wellbeing of the nation by allowing public worship to continue in England. We urge you not to disadvantage the people of Scotland by failing to recognize both the moral and legal arguments for the priority of public worship, and also the weight of scientific evidence for its essential contribution to the public good.
As Christian leaders we are witnesses to much tragedy in our communities through the dehumanizing effects of the protracted disruption to life brought by the responses to COVID19. Like the NHS, we too have been engaged in a host of ways seeking to bring help and healing to many, and we must not be prevented from continuing to do so. For we also know that, especially in the face of the presence of disease and death, the greatest light of hope for all comes from a higher place than any earthly institution: not health services, however skilled, or Governments, however wise, but from the Divine hope that is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In national times of crisis past, governments have looked to the church and sought leadership in a national call to prayer to the Living God. We urge you not to be the government which denies our nation the collective prayer of the churches of our land in days when it is most greatly needed.
We echo the words of the Archbishop and other leaders to the Prime Minister and call on the Scottish Government to recognise and support this, and enable us to continue to worship safely, as part of the essential fabric of the nation.
Rev Dr William J U Philip, Senior Minister, The Tron Church, Glasgow
Rev Paul Rees, Senior Pastor, Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh
Pastor John-William Noble, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church Aberdeen
Mr Dave Dickson, Elder, Lochee Church, Dundee
Rev Paul Gibson, Minister, Knox Free Church Perth
Rev John Mackinnon, Senior Pastor, Calderwood Baptist Church, East Kilbride