Honey from the Lion

Does the Bible have anything to say about the Scottish independence debate? Well, it won’t tell you how to vote but, as Doug Gay demonstrates, it has a huge amount to say about nationalism, nationhood, identity and the future shape of politics in Scotland.

I have to confess to being a novice when it comes to the world of political theology. Yes, I recognise the names of Brueggemann, Yoder and Haurewas but that was my limit before reading this Scottish nationalist’s journey of exploring his political understandings in the light of a Reformed, Anabaptist and, at times, Catholic reading of Scripture. 

The introduction and opening chapter, “rethinking nationalism as normal”, was a real academic challenge, with the reference to Goldilocks a welcome relief: “That size of nation is too big, that size of nation is too small, but this size of nation is just right.” I also appreciated deeply the reflection on a various  types of nationalism, in particular his section on Anti-colonial nationalism, complete with reference to the 1960 UN declaration.

Gay explores, in summary, the political history of Scotland, the Union and the protection this Union gave to a protestant Presbyterian church in Scotland to which he belongs. He explains this privileged position in law given to the Church of Scotland, and challenges his church’s own understanding of its place in the nation, arguing for a more Baptistic expression of religious freedom and equality in a new Scotland.

Occasionally, Gay drifts from political theology into an exploration of biblical texts, exploring for example the significance of the opening narratives in Genesis with regards to identity, family and belonging, and the tower of Babel narrative where he poses a significant question relating to nationhood: “Blessing or curse?”

He returns several times to the concept of the church’s witness within a nation, upheld in our own Baptist declaration of principle, and calls on Christians to be faithful in witness as a vital part “of a process of catechism and prophecy which the church owes the state.”

If you, like me, are fed up with the idea that this monumental decision for our nation is purely about money, and  you are looking to read an informed, researched and thought-through theological perspective on the ethics of nationalism and how they relate to Scotland today, this is a great place to start, with plenty of options for further reading if you catch the political theology bug.