In the previous set of notes I suggested that Christianity lends support to cultural diversity and thus indirectly to nationalism. But, at the same time, it proclaims the fundamental unity of all human beings. This is evident from the creation stories of Genesis 1–11, which present all human races as descended from the family of Noah and behind that from Adam and Eve.
This fundamental unity is reiterated by the New Testament with its insistence that Christ has broken down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. Look particularly at Acts 10; Galatians 3:27–28; and Ephesians 2:11–22. In light of these passages, how would you assess the relative importance of human unity and national identity?
Living with multiple identities
Christianity emerged and thrived in an era of large centralized multi-ethnic empires (e.g. Roman Empire; Neo-Persian Empire; Chinese Empire). Being a member of the dominant race of one of these empires was often socially advantageous. However, the other member races were still fully part of the empire: the different races retained their distinctive traditions and even languages, but also saw themselves as citizens of the empire (in the case of Rome, this was aided by the Roman tendency to assimilate local religions into the Roman pantheon).
The Jewish nation was exceptional in that its monotheistic religion was extremely resistant to assimilation. At the time of Christ, Judea was a hotbed of unrest because of this resistance. It was widely expected that God’s Messiah would be a supernatural general who would overthrow Roman power and inaugurate a divine kingdom based on ethnic identity.
Some of Jesus’ disciples shared this expectation (e.g. Simon the Zealot) and even after his resurrection, some still saw the kingdom in nationalistic terms (Acts 1:6). However, that expectation was contradicted by both Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent development of Christianity within the Empire.
The example of Paul (Acts 16:36–39; 22:25–29) is instructive. He is clearly happy to exploit advantages afforded by his Roman citizenship. Elsewhere he plays on his Jewish heritage (2 Corinthians 11:22; Philippians 3:4–6) and commends identification with the local culture for the sake of promoting the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). In view of these passages, how do you think Paul understood the relationship between his Jewish ethnicity and his Roman citizenship? And how does he relate both of these to his identity as a Christian?
Union as the status quo position
Scotland has been a more or less willing member of the UK for three centuries. This is the status quo position. It follows that it is up to the ‘Yes’ campaign to make the case for independence. As indicated earlier, from a Christian perspective, such a case can’t simply be about material well-being. Among the things they might do to be persuasive to Christians is present clear evidence that:
- the current relationship is exploitative
- continuing the Union will implicate us in immoral or illegal behaviour (e.g. unsustainable environmental practices or abrogation of international human rights legislation)
Responsible Christian engagement with referendum
We must recognize how the referendum differs from a general election:
- It is an irreversible, long-term decision. Another independence referendum is unlikely for many years.
- It is not party political. Therefore, we should not make our decision simply based on our usual political loyalty.
- A ‘yes’ vote implies major changes in the cultural, social and political life of Britain (not just Scotland).
- A ‘no’ vote implies acceptance of the political status quo and current long-term political trends.
- Either way, it is the most important political decision we are likely to make in our lifetimes.
- We must think and pray very seriously about the issues.
- We have a duty to read the news headlines and the partisan propaganda of the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns critically.
- We must set aside our own self-interest.
- Having assessed the arguments on both sides, we must ask which option is more likely to create a society that better approximates Christian virtues.
- And we must vote one way or the other on 18th September.