Reverend David Robertson
How would you describe your religious or ideological identity?
I am a Bible believing Christian. In theological terms I am described as a Calvinist… I am a Scottish Presbyterian, ideologically I would be politically I would be regarded as quite left wing and morally quite right wing.
What made you choose to remain within this tradition if you grew up in it, or made you choose it?
I didn’t grow up in this tradition. I went to the University of Edinburgh and I became a Christian. Initially I went to a Baptist church, but in the course of studying Church history and reading for myself theology I became convinced of the sovereignty of God. I also got very interested in Scotland’s Church history, because Scotland has traditionally been Presbyterian, a country with a Presbyterian Church, the State Church. Ultimately I chose it because I regarded it biblical and it fitted my own culture.
Would you say that generally speaking Great Britain (and particularly Scotland) is an equal and tolerant society, particularly in relation to religion and belief?
I think there is an element of equality in terms of religion and belief. I think there is freedom of religion, but there is bias towards certain worldviews. We are in danger of losing that freedom and my greatest concern about equality is economic equality. That is decreasing and not increasing.
How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your Presbyterian faith in Scotland? Are there any challenges and if there are, are they social, political or legal in nature?
Growing up, virtually no challenges other than it is becoming more difficult because of the default position of the established Church is secular liberalism and that is becoming increasingly intolerant and illiberal. Although I don’t experience persecution, I am used to receiving a significant amount of discrimination and abuse because of my beliefs. I think we have a Scottish society which includes a significant principle of equality and diversity, which was largely founded upon Christian principles. As we have taken away the roots we are in danger of losing some of the fruits. We are becoming a more intolerant society.
How does Presbyterianism regard human rights? Has the Free Church of Scotland contributed to or influenced the way they are understood in the world?
I think they do actually, because the disruption of the CofS in 1843, from which the Free Church of Scotland came was a significant political movement as well, particularly in the Highlands, where the landlords were responsible for the clearances and the people embraced the Free Church, and the landlords the established Church. So, there is a history of radical politics within the Church. It is kind of strange… a conservative theology, but a political and social radicalism, and I actually think that that mix has benefited some people in Scotland. How do we regard human rights? I think they must be based on something. I don’t like the way people presuppose they are self-evident. We have to define what we mean by human rights and where they come from. Ultimately we will regard them, alongside Catholics and other Christians, that human rights are the result of the fact that we are made to the image of God, and that there is a fundamental equality because of that, whether you are rich or poor, regardless of your gender, and so on. Personally, I am quite concerned about the contemporary view of human rights which seems to be that whatever the elites are that is what human rights are. I think we have a much deeper basis than that. I think, providing a basis within Scriptures and theology, that if for example I see somebody lying on the street in their own urine I have no right to despise them, and to think that they have less human rights than if the Queen came here right now. Both should have the same right and that fundamental egalitarianism is not a scientific point. In fact, Science teaches us the opposite. I think it is a theological and philosophical proposition.
Are there any ways in which the Free Church of Scotland has a practical influence on human rights in Scotland? Does it actively campaign on any issues?
Number one… we are very small within the society. Probably 15000 people out of 5 millions. However, in some areas we are stronger than in others. For a small Church, we punch far and above our weight. Things we are actively involved in? I would like to think that we are actively involved in education rights. So, for example, I as a Moderator and in other capacities, have defended their right to have their own schools, even though I don’t agree with many of the Catholic tenets. That would be one aspect. As a Church, we don’t have a set of political views, but you would find that we stand for the rights of groups such as the refugees. There is a very strong anti-racism aspect of it. What is interesting is that in the beginning of the Free Church, there was an issue of the Free Church taking money from southern Presbyterians in the USA, many of whom were slave owners. There as a big campaign ‘bring back the money’ and some of the leaders of the Free Church refused to do that, but others such as my own congregation in Dundee were part of the anti-slavery movement. It wasn’t anyone, I don’t think, who was prepared to defend slavery per se, but there were people who were more radical than others.
Currently? I think we want to preserve the human rights of freedom of religion. It is a huge concern for us. We are concerned with the increasing secularisation of our society. Religion has been marginalised. Again, a couple of examples. I was a minister in the Highlands, in the village of Sutherland, and the Catholic Church at that point had no church in Sutherland and they applied for the local council to build the church beside the Free Church. The council split fifty/fifty. The chairman of the council was a Free Church minister and we were almost surprised when he voted that the Catholic Church had to be permitted to build its church there. He was asked why and he said they had a right to worship, the same as everybody else. That is a small example. A lot of our people are involved in foodbanks, homeless people’s help, and so on… practical compassion. Myself, I belong to an organisation called Solace. We are campaigning for the right of people expressing their own points of view. I am very concerned as in our current situation, what I would regard as the liberal elites establish what they think the reality should be and they don’t allow any deviation from that. For instance, take the question of same sex marriage. I think it is very difficult for someone to be a journalist, a politician, or indeed a teacher, if you don’t support same sex marriage. But I think we should be allowed to have a different point of view and not being discriminated because of that. So, at that level the right for freedom of expression and freedom of worship, we would strongly advocate for them.
Some commentators have stated that increasingly we are witnessing a hierarchy of rights when it comes to freedom of religion and belief and prohibition of discrimination on different grounds, including sexual orientation. Do you think that is happening in Great Britain, although theoretically there is not such a hierarchy?
Absolutely! There is a hierarchy of rights, and many of the rights… what bothers me is the lack of basis. So, if someone says for example, ‘there must be a right to same sex marriage’, my view is that same sex marriage is an oxymoron… it is like arguing for a square circle. My view would be that human rights… homosexuals should not be discriminated against and homophobia is wrong, but if you redefine marriage for everybody then to me, I don’t accept that definition and I reserve the right to disagree with it. One of my concerns is that human rights are being taught as obvious… and I don’t like that sense of ‘obvious’. That is a sort of fundamentalism. I warned a few years ago that if we followed the route of same sex marriage, we would have to end up discussing polygamy. I was told not to be ridiculous, but that is certainly the case now. Or something as complex as transgender, I have done a lot of work with transgender people. It is very complex, very difficult, but all of the sudden in our media people just say that you can change sex if you want it. No, no… it is more difficult than that. And immediately people jump to your throat and they accuse you of being unloving or whatever… So what bothers me is that morality and ethics and rights are not thought through. They have put in an emotive or media level, which later on politicians catch up with if you like. But I am concerned about the basis in law of human rights. That is my main concern.
Would you say that human rights are generally respected by the government and other public bodies in Scotland?
Overall, I think they are. I am thankful to live in this country where I have an element of freedom and where there is a general recognition and respect for human rights. I am afraid of losing it, but for me this is one of the freest and most respectful countries that I know of.
Would you say that public authorities in Scotland intervene too much or not enough in the lives of individuals and groups in relation to freedom of religion and belief or do they take the right stance?
At the moment I think the balance is about right. Taking an extreme example. If there were a religious cult which had the right to abuse children, the Government would intervene, and rightly so. But I think that at this moment in time the Government allows, or even encourages, freedom of expression and religion… freedom to worship, we are regarded as charities, our buildings are not regarded as businesses… we are recognised within the education system overall. I think the overall balance is right. I am concerned about the general trajectory, as I have just said, but at the moment I think it is right.
You have referred to the presence of faith schools in this interview. What is your view about them?
This is a very interesting subject to me. First of all, I regard them as a basic human right, recognised by the UN and the Council of Europe… parents have the right to educate their children in accordance with their faith. Furthermore, I think in the context of those rights stated there, that includes education. It is not only that the rich can take their children’s religion seriously through private education. Now, there are all kinds of complications with that. Scotland is different from England. We don’t have nearly the same number of faith schools. The 1872 Education Act, the Free Church, the United Presbyterian and the Church of Scotland handed over all the schools to the State on condition that those schools would remain not only Christian, but actually Presbyterian, and so they were. The Catholics refused to do so. There is a separate Education Act. I can’t remember the date.. first part of the XX century. That is why in Scotland you have Catholic schools and what you would call non denominational schools. However, as Christianity has declined in Scotland, more and more of these non denominational schools are being seen as secular. Upon until very recently every school was expected to have a weekly act of worship. This is not the USA, where there is separation between Church and State in education. My concern at the moment is that partly because of increased secularisation, and partly because of ignorance about our history, partly because of a more militant form of secularism, the Christian element has been moved out in many schools and I am now moving to a position where I prepare to advocate and argue for the Free Church to set up their own schools, alongside the Baptists, maybe the CofS… Another possibility is that maybe the Catholic schools and other Christian schools will cooperate together. That may be a possibility. This has been suggested by a senior Catholic journalist. This would be a shock to many people indeed. But I am interested in that idea. The social cohesion argument? That is interesting. I thought we wanted to be a society that encouraged diversity and tolerance. I do not want schools to be places of social engineering, particularly when they are controlled by the Government and elites. That is fascism and not the root of liberalism. So, I would argue for the Dutch system, in which I think if there are fifty parents who agree that they can establish a faith school, as long as it fits with a certain curriculum, I would actually like to see that. My concern about our current schooling model is that it is encouraging a greater division between the rich and the poor, and I think we need Christian schools to help the poor. You will get a very good education in the education State system in Scotland if you are middle class and you can afford buying a house in a good area. You get then a decent school. In Edinburgh a third of pupils go to private schools actually, and that is not cheap. My concern is for the poor and for the sake of the poor I would like to see more Christian schools. I would argue that they are better for society, not worse. Division according to wealth is far more divisive than division on religious grounds.
Do you think that living in a parliamentary democratic society makes it easier or harder for you to live in accordance with your Presbyterian faith? Is there any other form of government which you would consider preferable?
I would say it is easier. Democracy is the best form of government that we can have. I would not want to live in an autocracy, or in a theocracy. I want to live in a liberal parliamentary democracy.
Given that we live in a democracy, does your faith mean that you feel that you have a personal responsibility to vote?
Totally. I would regard it … even when I find myself not agreeing with any of the candidates or parties, I would go and vote for the least worst. So, yes, totally.
Is it a good or bad thing that Parliament) has the final say in making and changing British law? Should judges have the power to strike down some laws, and if so, on what basis?
I am beginning to move towards that anyway. I am incredibly concerned that our democracy is undermined by the establishment of a self-perpetuating elite, including the judiciary. So, I think our democracy is under danger by that. I think that having an unelected Supreme Court where a number of rules come, let’s say, from Europe, or indeed unelected Supreme Court telling a Parliament that can’t do something even when it has been voted to do that, I think it is a very dangerous precedent. Having said that, I think that an independent judiciary must be there in order to ensure that laws are coherent, but the point of the judiciary is just to interpret the law, not to make it. Basically, I am satisfied with the current legal framework.
Do you think an understanding of democracy as the will of the majority of the people is a problem for minority groups? Do you think that parliamentary democracy is inclusive of all groups and citizens in society, or is it more difficult for some people to participate?
As we move to a majoritarian position in a multicultural society, democracy is weakened in this country. As an individual I feel disenfranchised in this country from the British Parliament. I feel more connected with the Scottish Parliament and I think that one of the reasons for the rise in Scotland of Scottish Nationalism and one of the reasons why the UK will probably break up, is not so much about the rise of traditional nationalism, but a rise in the sense of being disenfranchised and with lack of power. I think that is because we have a parliamentary democratic system, which we try to marry because of the media, with a type of presidential American system… I think what that means is that people who I would call the elite become self perpetuated. A significant number of MPs come from an Etonian elite background. It is harder for somebody like me, with a working class background to get into Parliament. And you will see that the parliamentary system which allows individuals to express diverse opinions, because of the party system, because of the media, because of the way parties are run, in my view has become less democratic. I also think that the British executive has many more powers than it should have. It is not any more answerable to Parliament.
Would you say that it is problematic that members of the House of Lords are not elected by citizens?
There was some advantage in the system as it existed before because it acted as a check. My problem with a wholly elected second Chamber is that it will fall within the same party system. However, I think that the HofL has become an embarrassment in the democratic system, and I would like to see it abolished and replaced by an elected Chamber. I think the level of cronisim means that it is totally discredited.
We need a second Chamber though. In a democracy you need a system of checks and balances indeed. I am not sure how this can be done, but personally I do not advocate for unicameralism.
Do you think that religious and ideological groups should have a voice in the UK Parliament? Specifically, do you agree with the presence of Anglican bishops in the House of Lords?
I would like to see the HofL go, but suppose that the HofL stay. At one level I would stop and say ‘I wonder if bishops are more objectionable than landowners or businessmen that donate millions of pounds to the Tory Party. I don’t think that the new religion of money should be rewarded that way and that the old religion of Christianity should be punished. However, the problem with the bishops of the CofE is that although there is an established Church in England (no longer in Scotland), given that maybe one per cent of the population attends the CofE, it seems to me that having 26 bishops is incongruous in today’s world. So, I’d rather have either no bishops or religious representatives from different backgrounds reflective of the size of their communities.
I am interested in the last point you made… could you expand on that a bit?
I think that we have in Scotland now is a relic from the past, if you like. It is a bit like an old suit that is hanging in a wardrobe, but in terms of day to day use is not used. I think we have the relics of a civic religion in Scotland. We don’t even have prayers in the Scottish Parliament. We have time for reflection, which includes different people. You have a certain civil recognition, but that is more associated with Westminster in London than with Scotland.
The Church of Scotland is a Church by law established, but I think it is so weak that it is almost irrelevant.
Given all the challenges posed by secularism which you have identified, would a stronger form of establishment the solution?
Not now. It is too late for that. You could argue, and I would be prepared to argue, from an ideological point of view in an ideal Scotland, that there should be a recognition of the Christian religion as the religion of the country. I would be happy with that. I would love to see that indeed. But I think that at the moment that would be largely farcical because most people don’t have a clue what Christianity is. So, I would like to see a renewal of the Church before anything like that happens. My concern at the moment is that a secular State without a Christian ethos would be belligerent against us. I have no objection to a secular State as long as it has a Christian ethos.
In your view, do public authorities try to respect the democratic voice of citizens as expressed through decisions made by Parliament? If not, can you give some examples for public bodies ignoring legislation?
Not really. I think in general public bodies do try stick with the legislation. My concern is that legislation itself is not enough. We have a welfare State that is designed to provide for the unemployed, the poor, the sick, etc, but as it has become more complex, and as I think society has moved away from its Christian roots, where the welfare State was based, we are finding that local authorities are moving away from being server providers to being server purchasers, and we are finding that in many instances, because of budget cuts, they are just doing statutory services. The classical example for me is that a drug addict steals something and goes to jail. They are in jail, they serve their six month sentence. When they come out, what happens? There is no statutory obligation on councils to help them. They are back in jail within six months. I wonder if in our welfare State now there are insurmountable gaps.
What does your faith teach you about people with power?
I think the law is the king and I think that in a civilised democratic liberal parliamentary democracy you need checks and balances, because in my theology every human being is corrupt and power is a corrupting influence as well. It can be an aphrodisiac. There should be checks and balances, and no monarch should have absolute power. There should be a proper separation of Church and State and a proper separation of functions within the State. So, for example, I have just read an article about why it goes against our Christian ethos for us to have a Prime Minister who can order the execution of citizens in other countries without a trial and a due process. I think that I don’t trust our leaders. I think there should be checks and balances, powers should be limited, they should also be devolved and spread around.
Do you think that Free Church of Scotland members are appropriately and proportionately represented in terms of MPs, local authorities and the judiciary?
I think the answer to that is no, but by my group I don’t mean the Free Church of Scotland. We are about a quarter of a million who regard themselves as Evangelical Christians in Scotland. I really don’t know. I wouldn’t go and say ‘is that judge Christian?’ I wouldn’t want people to be elected or appointed on that basis. I think that there is a tendency to have a judiciary appointed from the Upper classes. Socially, there is not… a lot of people in my Church come from a working class background. I think that for someone who is evangelical Christian is becoming increasingly difficult to stand for Parliament. I would give you one example without mentioning names. I know of one person who has been selected to become a Scottish MP, but she has already been hounded because of her faith. I know of many people who have given up… Dave Thomson, who was the Scottish Parliament MP in one of the constituencies in the Highlands, just recently gave a lecture to my organisation, Solace, about why Christians have been forced to hide their faith in Politics. I do think that is happening and it is a very disturbing trend. At the moment we are well represented, but I think that is changing. The demographic or background from which people come, from both the judiciary and the political process is becoming more limited in my view.
Do you think that the judiciary in Scotland and the rest of the UK are sufficiently independent?
Again, that is a changing scene. They probably were. There is a tradition in Scotland and certainly here in Edinburgh of the independence of the judiciary. I think that is still there, but it is changing because of the increased size of Government and its powers to set up quangos and self-perpetuating governing bodies. If you are a rebel against that, it is possible that you might find yourself not appointed in committees and inquiries and so on. There is certain pressure for you to go along with and to play the game. I worry more about the independence of the judiciary than I have done for some time.
What sort of system of checks and balances would you like to see between the legislature and the executive at both British and Scottish level?
At British level I would like to see an assertion of the supremacy of the Houses of Parliament as opposed to the Government. I am also very unhappy with the idea of a Supreme Court. This is an idea which comes from America. I do think that it becomes a self perpetuating thing for the elite. An increase in Parliamentary authority is what I would like to see.
In Scotland I am happier at one level because I think we already have that. As long as we can retain an independent judiciary and an independent Parliament and there are clear distinctions between those who are elected and those who are appointed, I would be quite happy.
Do you think that public authorities (e.g. local authorities, NHS, courts) etc really understand the needs of evangelical Christians? Do you think the understanding of any of these bodies is better or worse than others?
I think that there is a tendency to marginalise, to ridicule and a confusion which means that many people are unable to distinguish between an ISIS terrorist, a normal Muslim and an evangelical Christian. They lump all religions together, and in my view, they end up unfairly discriminating. My view would be that there is a considerable lack of understanding.
In hospitals there is a chaplaincy system and there is not a particular problem. My concern about the NHS is the different levels of treatment, not because of religion, but because of wealth, and at the moment you are meant to receive the same treatment for all, but I think that will change. I am generally quite happy about the NHS. Having said that, there are areas of local government and also national government which are coming to recognise that without the contribution of Christians and other people of faith they could not function. As councils have moved from being service providers to service purchasers, who are the people who are providing services? They tend to be Christians indeed: Catholics and evangelicals. You therefore find that the biggest provider of foodbanks is an evangelical organisation, and the Government works with them. If in my city, Dundee, you took away the Christian youth workers, you wouldn’t have any youth workers left. Or just a handful. So, I think there is an increase moved in some aspects of local government to recognise the role played by Churches, but that also goes hand in hand with an increased militant secularism which seems to minimise the role of the Churches.
Is it important for you personally always to act within the law of the land? What circumstances, if any, justify breaking human law?
Absolutely. For me the whole basis of the RL is a kind of civil contract, and as a contract, you can see it in different ways. It is a contract between the people and the Government or whatever… from my point of view, I am bound to obey the rule of God first. Therefore, if the law of the land says to me that I must execute Jews, I wouldn’t do it. That is an extreme case, but a more obvious case just now is if I was commanded to conduct a same sex wedding, I wouldn’t. On the other hand, say, an issue like child protection, if someone comes to me and report, I would automatically report to the police, because that is the law. I think you obey the law even if you don’t like the law, but there will be times when you have to disobey the law. And in fact, every healthy democracy will recognise that.
Is the Free Church of Scotland actively campaigning to change a specific piece of legislation?
Before all this refugee crisis arouse, we would have liked to see a situation in which the Scottish Parliament, because Scotland is more scarcely populated than the rest of the UK, enabled to welcome refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere and not be subject to the UK Government’s decision. That would be an administrative decision. There are other things which we would want… we don’t believe that the Church should be involved in politics… we wouldn’t therefore campaign on tax issues… or there are people who in the Church are socialists, conservative… people who are royalists, republicans… people with very different political views. We would never in our official pronouncements take a party political line. We would support absolutely people who refuse to perform abortions, for example. We would be clearly against abortions, rather than in the most extreme cases. And real politik means that we campaigned for allowing of the abortion age, but ideally we would like abortion not to take place at all. That kind of things.
Do your beliefs require you to speak out against injustices affecting third parties, particularly the weak and the vulnerable?
Yes, for example. Any of the things we would speak out about is not because they affect us as a Church, but because we believe it is harmful to others and we believe that we have an absolute obligation to speak out. Using the jargon is a prophetic way. Religious freedom doesn’t just mean that we have the right to practise our own faith, as if we were in a knitting club. We also have the right to try to influence social policy in order to help other people.
Do you think that the RL is applied equally to everyone in Scottish society? Or do some groups experience either preferential or prejudicial treatment?
I think the law is designed to provide equal treatment. I don’t think any system can do it absolutely. So, it would be a lie to say that they do it completely. I think that there is a bias or a prejudice towards those who are well connected. If you know how to work the system, then there is a bias. I am concerned about changes in legal aid, or the issue of defamation. I write a lot of things and I do it publicly. Sometimes it is controversial. If someone who is very well-off sues me, I can’t defend myself, as I don’t have that kind of money. People can defame me… there is a level of protection for the wealthy and the well-connected, which doesn’t exist for others, and we need to be very careful that this gap doesn’t increase.
Should the same rules which apply to private citizens, apply equally to public authorities, including the police? Should they be allowed to suspend certain rules under specific circumstances?
Again, there is a balance to be struck here. First of all, it is obvious to me that you cannot have public authorities and private individuals being treated exactly the same. I think the police have a right to stop me on my way home if I have been driving badly. I don’t have a right to stop someone else. So, obviously there will be distinctions. However, there is a legitimate concern that we could end up with some sort of authoritarian police State by mistake. In Scotland, for example, we have a police force, for the whole of the country, and many people regard that as a mistake now. For example, you have policemen with guns walking around Inverness. Why? It doesn’t make any sense. The danger is with centralised policies and also with centralised policies which are controlled by politicians, who are obsessed with targets. I am very concerned about this culture of targets, in the NHS and elsewhere. Civil liberties could be restrained. I shall give one personal example. I was travelling up north, when my son was born and through a village, I forgot the speed limit. I was pulled over by a local policeman. He said ‘name and address’, and I told him it, and then he said ‘oh sorry, David, if I had known it was you… to be honest, we have just been sent by the superintendent to catch certain people, so that our figures go up for this month’. So, they were actually catching people in order to make sure that they met the target. That kind of thing, I am very disturbed by it. Perhaps the price of civil liberties will mean that more crimes will be permitted. An useful illustration is my daughter, when she was younger… she is now seventeen… there was one way I could actually guarantee that she wouldn’t get beaten up, raped or become pregnant, and that would be to lock her up in her room. You could say I was caring for her… actually I would destroy her… at the age of 12 or 13 I let her go to town, catch the bus… and to get her own independence. I think in a civilised culture you will have to allow freedoms which may be abused. If in order to prevent any abuse you don’t allow freedoms, you are actually destroying the culture that you are seeking to preserve. That goes with things like freedom of speech, assembly and so on. When something goes wrong there must be justice and the rule of law. Secondly, proper punishment and restoration as well, and proper consideration of the victims. My main concern is that in the name of preserving civil liberties the Government uses the weapons they have in terms of the law, the police and the judiciary, to preserve itself and not to protect its people. And I shall give you an example of this. One classic example is the terrorist legislation. A conservative MP recently said that the anti-terrorist legislation could be used against evangelical Christians who oppose same sex marriage. There we have reached the level of insane, but that is to me the logical way where we are going. I think we’ll fight that tooth and nail.
For example, I don’t agree with Islam, but I will defend the right of an Islamic preacher to preach in this country, provided that they don’t break the law. You know, if he is inciting people to kill people he is breaking the law, but I also want to preserve my right for me to say that I don’t agree with the Koran, and that I think it is wrong and whatever. I should have the right to say so without being accused of hate crime. One of the big dangers which is coming here is when Governments try to define what hate crime is. If I am accused of being a Bible basher, is that a hate crime? By saying that I think Mohammed didn’t travel on a donkey from x to y, does that mean this is hate crime? I don’t think so. This kind of things is really bothering me. We need more coherent laws and I think we have to pay the price for freedom. I would be prepared to pay that price. Freedom is far too important to sacrifice freedom for people’s safety. I would wonder what freedom would be for.
Are you aware of any legal rules which have a direct impact on your freedom to practise your faith?
I am probably very concerned about hate speech legislation. That would be the main thing in terms of the legal framework. I would say that there are biases in other fields, but the attempt to protect people by limiting their freedom of speech really bothers me.
A final question on establishment in Scotland, do you think that there is still some room for the Church of Scotland to speak on behalf of all Christians or all people of faith? Do you feel represented by them?
Well, you asked me! The answer is no. I think the CofS is in a mess, which is probably fatal. I think it will disintegrate… In ten years’ time the CofS will be almost irrecognisable. The Free Church is interesting from your point of view, because we actually believe in establishment as a principle. I wrote a chapter in a book entitled ‘Good Neighbours and Good Friends’. We are not Church/State separatists like Americans… We do believe that the Church and the State should recognise their separate roles. We don’t want a theocracy and we don’t want to be in Government, but we recognise that it is good for society that Christianity is publicly recognised. And therefore, what I would like to see in Scotland is a Christian Church, including the Catholic Church (there has been traditionally an anti-Catholicsm stance, particularly in the Free Church of Scotland) and I am a bit unusual on this. I would like to see stronger cooperation. There should be a recognition. More than a third of people in a survey a month ago still believe that Scotland should be perceived as a Christian country. I would argue that we are a secular liberal democracy based upon Christian foundations and I think we need a Christian ethos. That is the level of establishment I would want. For me, that Christian ethos would include freedom of religion for other religions. I think that there is a danger in Islam, because Islam by definition is a political system which can’t be divorced from politics. I don’t know how you can have a secular liberal Islam, because the separation of mosque and State is inconceivable in Islamic theology. For me, I am not an American separatist or an English Baptist. I think there is a role for Church in Government. It is very limited though. It is what I would call the prophetic role, in providing stimulus, foundations and input on ethics and morality, and guidelines for Government policies, rather than stipulating what the Government should do.
Is there anything else which you would like to add on this topic?
Secular is often used as a phrase to refer to militant secularism. But I am a secularist myself! I don’t want a theocracy. I think secularism is used as a guide for a particular philosophy. It is not a political movement as such, but they would use a phrase ‘freedom for religion and freedom from religion’. Actually what they mean by that is that there cannot be freedom for my religion, because they search the marginalisation of faith and then you are not more than a private club, a golf club or something like that. I think it is very important that in law the law recognises its own limitations that the State is not conceived as absolute and that we are given the freedom to practise our faith in the public arena as well as the private. That is for me is the battleground in the next years. Do I have the right to practise my faith in the public arena? Do I have a right to be a Christian politician? I am not saying the right to impose my beliefs on anybody else, but do I have the right to be involved in that sort of things? Typical examples will be euthanasia, medical ethics, and so on. Do I have the right to have a Christian understanding of humanity?
However, you would not argue with those citizens who argue that Christians are being persecuted in this country?
No, when people say that, there are different reasons. It suits some people to say that, because that is where they get the funding from. I think that is a bad exaggeration. I think there is some evidence of an increasing prejudice and discrimination against Christians. Some would say that this is right because we had power, bishops in the House of Lords, and so on… In other words, some people would say that we are now where homosexuals were fifty years ago. I don’t think we are, but we are heading in that direction. I think that if I am refused a job because I am a Christian, or I am not selected as a candidate because I am Christian, I think that is prejudice, not persecution. Persecution is when we would be sent to jail, beaten up, etc. There may be some elements of that. In an island with more 60 millions some stuff obviously happens, you know. An Anglican vicar got stabbed by a mentally ill person who claimed to be an Atheist. Well, I am not going to turn around and say that is what Atheists do… but I do think that the increasing decline, intolerance and inequality in Britain, will harm Christians and the poor much more than anybody else.
David Robertson was born in 1962 and brought up in the Highlands of Scotland where his father was a farm worker. He attended Tain Royal Academy and afterwards the University of Edinburgh (MA Hons in History) from 1979-1983. He then did a theology degree at the Free Church College, Edinburgh (1983-1986).
He was ordained and inducted to Brora Free Church in 1986. He is currently the minister of St Peters I wears a few other hats. He is the Director of The Solas Centre for Public Christianity and a chaplain at the University of Dundee. He is also a trustee of Discovery Camps (an organisation which provides Christian holidays for disadvantaged children in Dundee) and a regular speaker at student conferences and missions. He has spoken at numerous debates, evangelistic meetings etc and regularly speaks at conferences in Europe and the USA. He is regularly involved in the media whether through writing newspaper articles, speaking on radio programmes or more recently some work for TV’s Channel 4. He is a regular columnist for the Christian Today website as well as the directing editor for a new European Christian magazine.
He was Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, having been appointed in May 2015 for one year.