30th June 2020
Ms Aileen Campbell MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
Dear Ms Campbell
Government’s Route Map for Reopening Churches for Communal Worship
As Moderator of the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, I write in reply to your letter of 22nd June to Scotland’s faith communities, and to express the extreme dismay and frustration that we feel at the subsequently-announced and inexplicable delay in the opening of Church buildings for services of corporate worship in Scotland, while Churches in England will be free to resume such services as of 4th July, as churches in Northern Ireland were from 29th June. Whatever the reasons were which led the Scottish Government to allow this discrepancy to develop, they have not been made clear and it would be only fair that churchgoers in Scotland should have those reasons explained to them.
The sense of bewilderment is heightened by the dreadfully-misguided decision on the part of the Scottish Government to allow public houses and cinemas to reopen shortly. This means that it will be perfectly lawful for someone to enter a bar on the Lord’s holy day, for example, and drink as much alcohol as they please, while the sacred worship of the true and living God is officially still banned and the public preaching of the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ is silenced. With all due respect, is it credible to expect that the activities of a public house lend themselves to social distancing, good hygiene and public order at a time when the threat from the coronavirus is by no means over? Contrast that with the orderly, decorous worship of a Presbyterian congregation carefully observing a well-rehearsed hygiene plan while it gathers for an hour or so in the house of God, and I think that both common sense and conscience will indicate that a gross error of judgment has occurred here.
If the fear in official minds has been that certain religious groups will not observe proper safety procedures then the following points need to be considered:
- Firstly, the threat from a whole range of social activities now permitted is still much greater, including those I have already specified above. It is a case of downright unlawful discrimination on the part of the Scottish Government to restrict religious observance and yet to encourage more risky activities, simply because the latter may be deemed more economically important or more gratifying to popular demand.
- Secondly, there undoubtedly are certain religious groups whose activities clearly might pose a public health threat. These should be told that they must wait until the health situation improves before they are allowed to resume, at the very least. There are, however, Churches whose worship forms and congregational arrangements pose an extremely negligible risk to public health. These should be permitted to reopen for corporate worship immediately, as in other parts of the UK.
- Thirdly, if Church buildings are safe to use for “private prayer”, then they are safe for socially-distanced corporate worship with restricted numbers for the initial period. Protestantism has no place for “private prayer” in Church buildings. It is a plain case of discrimination against Protestant worshippers to allow “private prayer” and yet not to allow gospel preaching to our congregations.
We believe that this decision will incur the further displeasure of the Lord upon a godless nation that is already smarting under His afflicting hand but which is too spiritually-ignorant to recognise that solemn fact. We ask those who are responsible for this discriminatory decision to rescind it, remembering that it will be something for which they will yet be held accountable before the highest tribunal of all. It is the duty of the civil authorities to “reverence God’s sanctuary” by supporting Biblical religion and fostering the true worship of God as much as it is the duty of all men as individuals. “Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Samuel 2:30). It is time for us all, personally and as a people, to be seeking the Lord’s mercy, and not to be hindering the public worship of His holy Name.
[Revd] Roderick MacLeod
Moderator of Synod
Cc. The Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon PC MSP, First Minister
Mr John Mason MSP for Glasgow-Shettleston, Convener, Cross Party Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief