For the confused

August 31, 2009

Some of you are saying that you can’t follow the thread of the Ron Ferguson discussion.  Ron’s replies are in the “comments” after the actual blog.

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Anderson accuses!

August 30, 2009

A paper written by Rev.Dr. Robert Anderson has been doing rounds and causing consternation is some quarters.  If you haven’t seen it you can read it at www.blackburnandseafieldchurch.co.uk.  It’s under “Sermon of the Month”.  Robert gives his very critical analysis of how May’s General Assembly was run.

Ron Replies

August 29, 2009

Ron Ferguson has posted a very full comment on my “Open letter to Ron Ferguson” blog.  Like Ron I have no desire to keep this kind of correspondence up.  However, I am happy to post any reasonable and constructive comments from readers. 

Keep watching – I think next week may bring an interesting development in church affairs.

Who is Ron Ferguson?

August 27, 2009

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Rev Ron Ferguson

For the uninitiated, Ron Ferguson is a Church of Scotland minister who who is no longer in parish ministry but is now a full-time journalist.  He writes for the [Glasgow] Herald, and the Press and Journal.  He makes comment on religious, ethical, and social issues by and large.  He was minister in Orkney for a while, and I think was leader of the Iona Community at one time.  He wrote a very well received biography of George Macleod, who founded the Community.  He also writes a column for “Life and Work”, the Church of Scotland magazine. 

In the recent debate originating in Aberdeen Presbytery, Ron has been very vocal in his support for the ordination of practising homosexuals. 

The recent exchange of views between us arose because of my blog about “Life and Work” in which I mention Ron.  You can see his comment there. 

I have only met the man once.  He came to the inaugural lunch of Forward Together and declared it be the best free lunch of that year’s Assembly.  So it’s not as if he has never said anything nice about evangelicals.

Dear Ron,

Let’s start with the positive.  I am glad that you don’t detest evangelicals or our theology.  I didn’t know you used to be a conservative evangelical, and I am sorry that you are no longer one.  One thing I could never deny is that you are an effective communicator.  I am glad that you respect our position and I certainly acknowledge that in the past you have publicly pointed out the lack of an evangelical Moderator.  Our last “great hope” was Bill Wallace, who had been convenor of both Social Responsibility and Ministries in his time.  His nomination was deliberately scuppered by the last-minute appearance of Sheila Kesting on the list—our first female minister Mod.  And Ron, thank you for defending our right to free speech.  It’s good to know that the spirit of Voltaire lives on. 

Having said that, you must understand why I came to the conclusion that you detest evangelical theology.  I ask readers of this blog: had Ron given you that impression?  Especially during the recent debate which dare not speak its name (for the next couple of years at least).  You were unashamedly vitriolic in your defence of Rev. Rennie.  I don’t recall you helping your non-Kirk readers to weigh up the pros and cons, to see that both sides had legitimate reasons for their belief.  Far from it.  You undertook a veritable campaign of mockery against the conservative side.

And this is where I believe you are most culpable.  As the only Kirk minister who writes regularly for the secular press (as far as I am aware) you had a duty (as I see it) to help the outside world understand the debate.  Instead, you unashamedly joined the chorus of those accusing my friends and me of being homophobic flat-earthers.

Particularly disappointing was the way you handled scripture.  You publicly broadcast the notion that evangelicals base their theology of sexuality on a few obscure verses in Leviticus, an obscure Old Testament book.  You gleefully pointed the finger and asked us why we wear clothes of mixed fibres and why don’t we stone rebellious teenagers as the Mosaic law demands. 

To buy into that kind of disingenuous interpretation of scripture is reprehensible in a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  You added fuel to the secular belief that evangelicals are hypocrites who are mindlessly welded to an ancient and irrelevant text. 

Leviticus, when studied carefully and reverently, turns out to be one of the most beautiful books in the Bible.  If it is obscure to you then shame on you.  The New Testament teaches us (the book of Hebrews for example) that these Old Testament sacrifices and laws are all pointing forward to Christ.  By studying them we can learn more about the wonder of the atonement.  And as for these laws about mixed fibres etc, they are tied in to notions of holiness, of appropriateness.  All of which, again, are fulfilled for us in Christ.

And as for homosexuality, you know fine well that we base our whole teaching on sexuality on the creation narrative.  Leviticus, far from being our base authority, is itself a working out of creation norms; which are then continued in the New Testament.

As for our Lord Jesus who never once uttered a word on homosexuality, since when did the argument from silence become so persuasive?  It’s more reasonable to assume that our Lord accepted the Old Testament teaching about homosexuality.  He had nothing to add. 

Finally, will you ever be able to resist the temptation to make personal wipes?  Ron, it was beneath you to insult Louis Kinsey.  Go to his church; see for yourself what an asset he is to the Kirk.  As for myself getting a bit over-excited, I seem to remember that the early Evangelicals were referred to as Enthusiasts.  Yes, I am enthusiastic about the gospel, about our Lord Jesus, and about his Church.  So from time to time I probably will get excited.

Ron Ferguson reads my blog

August 25, 2009

You can read Ron Ferguson’s comment on my blog about “Life and Work.”  I’ve got real work to do at the moment so I can’t reply right away.  But I intend to.

Misplaced compassion

August 24, 2009

During the evening of  Wednesday 21st December 1988 I was wrapping Christmas presents.  I lived in Kinross at the time, a small market town.  It was my first year as a trainee solicitor.  I was living in cute cottage that belonged to my boss.  Outside was wintery, but inside was warm and snug.  I was listening to the radio, a Radio 4 discussion of some sort.

And then there was an interruption.  News of a plane crash over the border town of Locherbie. 

The next day was our office Christmas dinner.  As we were driven in the minibus to our restaurant the talk was of the crash and the seeming randomness of it.  If an obscure town like Locherbie could be hit, so could Kinross. 

And then the news came that it hadn’t been an accidental crash but a deliberate bombing.  For over 10 years the hunt for the Locherbie bombers appeared and then disappeared from our minds until January 2001 when there was finally a conviction.  The trial, of course, was not straight-forward.  I knew a prison guard who was stationed at Camp Zeist for a while.  It was all rather surreal.  Even after the conviction there was the appeal.  Locherbie just wouldn’t go away.

Now Megrahi has been released, on compassionate grounds.  I must admit that initially I thought releasing him on these grounds was the right thing to do.  The Church of Scotland has taken this position.  But on further, deeper reflection I’m not so sure it is right.

It seems to me that the role of the individual and the role of the State have been confused.  As a Christian I believe that I am called to forgive those who have harmed me.  The State, however, has as different role.  The duty of the state is to ensure that those who threaten and disrupt the lives of others and of society are punished in a way which is proportionate to their crime. The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 states that the secular governing authorities have been “established by God” and that the “one in authority” is “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. What I believe has happened in this current situation is that what should belong only to the subjective realm of personal responsibility is being inappropriately brought to bear on the objective judicial responsibility of the state.

Kenny MacAskill, our Justice Minister, acknowledged the pain of the loved ones of the victims.  Does he not see the importance for them of receiving justice and that for most of them the release of Megrahi is only going to increase their pain? Has compassion for Megrahi been considered more important than compassion for the victims loved ones? Certainly those who believe in Megrahis innocence will not be adversely affected by his release but what about those who do not?  Inasmuch as it is appropriate for compassion to be exercised by the justice system should compassion for the victims families not demand that whatever help otherwise Megrahi is given to cope with his illness he serve his full sentence or as much of it as his life span will allow?

I do believe in compassion.  Megrahi was shown a great deal of compassion by the Scottish people.  He was held in very comfortable conditions.  His family lived nearby and were able to visit him.  Compassion did not demand releasing him to return to a hero’s welcome in Libya. 

[I’m grateful to Rev.Dr. Cameron Macpherson for helping me think through this difficult issue biblically].