Rev Dr Doug Gay’s speech

Here is the text of the speech by Rev Dr Doug Gay at the launch of the Scotland the Nation booklet:

Friends, comrades, sisters and brothers,

I want to thank Christians For Independence for the invitation to speak at tonight’s launch.

We have come a long way since many of us started on this road – for me it was in the 1980s – for some of you it was long before that.

The booklet notes that Christian minds, hearts and voices have been present in this journey since the beginning – in my case, Will Storrar, Jock Stein, and Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh were key influences – but Anthony Ross, Kenyon Wright, Lesley Orr, Kathy Galloway are other names we could cite, who have contributed much to years of campaigning and claiming for self-determination – as well as folk on this Zoom call and in this booklet.

As I found when I wrote my book on the theological ethics of nationalism, there is still a great deal of inhibition and reserve around among academic theologians and Christians in the pews about the concept of ‘nationalism’. In fact, this has acquired a new complication since I wrote Honey From The Lion, because in the USA, academics have begun to describe a racist, xenophobic, Trumpian approach to politics as ‘white nationalism or Christian nationalism’. I now have to describe my position, even more carefully, especially when there are Americans in the room or in the zoom.

If we are going to reassure people who may be suspicious or sceptical, if we are going to win their support, we will have to continue to explain, as patiently and graciously as we can, how we address the ethical objections folk may raise to nationalism. I think this booklet does that well – it makes its case humbly and without any ‘here’s tae us wha’s like us’ – it is profoundly unchristian to pursue a project of national superiority or domination of others. In this year when the affirmation that Black Lives Matter has rung around the globe, we need to show how the form of self-determination or nationalism we support, can resist all forms of racism.

In this year when a Brexit we voted against is being forced upon Scotland in another reminder of the democratic deficit which exists here, when a right wing Tory government we didn’t vote for is cutting international aid to the world’s poorest nations, we need to show how our belief in the unity of humanity made in the image of God and our belief in the catholicity of the church, lead us to a strong and determined internationalism.

In this year when we prepare for the world to come to Scotland for the climate summit COP26, we need to show that our love for this country which God loves, is an invitation to share in God’s love for the whole planet, the whole of creation.

This booklet will be of no use to you if you have an idolatrous view of the nation, if you believe in my country right or wrong. What is commended in this booklet is a way of thinking about Scotland’s future, which is enthusiastic about support for Scottish independence, only in so far as it can be part of our discipleship of Jesus Christ, only in so far as it can be an expression of our call to love God and to love our neighbour.

It does not advocate a theocracy – what is commended here is an open liberal society – in which there is freedom of religion, but also where appropriate, freedom from religion and freedom for religion – for me as a reformed Christian, in the Calvinist tradition, God will always be sovereign wherever we are in the world. We pray for God’s will to be done and we look for the coming of God’s kingdom but we seek to do this through participating in a free and democratic society alongside our neighbours of all faiths and none.

It also advocates for a vision of national humility – and it includes a prayer recognising how we have failed to be the nation again, and again – that God has called us to be.
For Christians this is a journey and a project in and for which we will be praying – praying for our leaders, praying for our neighbours and praying for our opponents, even for our enemies.

Let me close by saying something about this moment in which we find ourselves. On the one hand, there is real excitement in the air, because for me we are nearer to the prize than at any time since my support for independence began in the 1980s.

On the other hand, we need to face the fact that there are ongoing divisions. Divisions within my own party, the SNP and within the Greens; divisions across the wider YES movement and divisions between those who do and don’t support independence.

There are days when I fear, very seriously, that these divisions could cause our movement to implode – that we could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

From a Christian perspective – there are beliefs and ideas, principles and practices, stories and scriptures, metaphors and traditions which we can draw on in this moment.

  1. Let me start with three T’s: trust, truthfulness and transparency. There are always huge temptations in politics to sacrifice these, or to be economical with them, when we fear that they might damage our own cause. But for Christians, these are sacred values, which we are called to uphold.
  2. Let me give you three more things: grace, forgiveness and the possibility of a new beginning.
    We are facing a moment on the broad political Left-Green spectrum – when some of our conversations, particularly those around gender and sexuality, are becoming deeply polarising and embittered. At the heart of our identity as Christians, is the experience of being accepted when we were wrong, forgiven when we were wrong, shown mercy when we were wrong – we have been reconciled to God in Christ and we have been given a ministry of reconciliation.

I believe 2021 is set to be a year in which we will need to exercise that ministry of reconciliation – in which without compromising on our convictions about justice and rights, we will also need to reflect on how we can be a means of grace to others.

How we can show the grace of God in how we speak and write, in how we act and organise – in how we work with our political allies and our opponents –
So let me close with this prayer that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, on this St Andrews Day in this election year and through all the days to come, AMEN.