In three days, Scotland votes. The Bible has had no place in the debate, which is hardly surprising, but it should have a place in how Christians think about independence and the issues surrounding it. I’ve read a lot of things on Scottish independence, including articles by Christians. But I’ve not seen any which directly consider the Scriptures on the question of independence or the issues surrounding it. In this article, I’d like to address some Scriptural principles that Christians should consider.
There are historical, cultural, political, financial, and emotional factors in whether anyone, Christian or not, will want to vote for independence. My purpose is not to address those in any depth, but to focus primarily on Scriptural considerations. Nor is my purpose to draw a conclusion as to how Christians should vote. Sometimes, Biblical principles make our vote clear, but I’m not persuaded they do in this case.
Rather, my purpose is to encourage Christians to look to the Scripture for guidance as they work through some of the issues. Scottish independence is a very important decision. We should always look to Scripture for guidance on such decisions, even if it doesn’t directly answer every question.
First Preliminary Thought — the Biggest Issue for Scotland
The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them: he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again.
The concept of nations is a Biblical one. Deuteronomy 32:8 says God “divided to the nations their inheritance.” The earth is His, and He has chosen that it would be divided into distinct nations.
The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
Scotland, as a nation, answers to God. He can build Scotland up or destroy it, but the national destiny is in great jeopardy if Scotland continues to forget and oppose God. That is true whether the nation continues within the United Kingdom or separates from it. Many Scriptures tell us God holds a nation accountable for forgetting God, for rejecting His moral standards, and for the way it treats His people. Scotland, and the United Kingdom as a whole, must answer for these things.
Should nations join in alliances, unite together, or (if in a union of nations) part ways and institute fully separate governments? This is not a question Scripture answers directly, though Scripture certainly does speak to some of the issues being discussed.
Thus, we can draw a couple of conclusions: 1) We should not be surprised (or angry) if some Christians disagree with us on this question. 2) All Christians should recognise that independence is not the most important issue for Scotland and its future — the biggest issue is whether the nation will continue on its path away from God, or whether it will repent and turn to Him.
National identity can be very emotional, so it is hardly surprising that the debate has been intense, and downright nasty, at times. We have all heard reports of bullying, intimidation, and even assaults.
Presumably, Christians would behave better than that, but we should be on guard as to how we speak or write, especially in on-line communications, where inappropriate words seem to proliferate rapidly.
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Our words should be respectful of those with whom we disagree, whether they are Christians or not. We should speak and act gracefully always — even more so when those around us are behaving poorly and losing all sense of proportion.
If the biggest issue for Scotland is the relationship of its people to God, then we must remember that our greatest responsibility is to represent God. If a church’s unity is damaged by disputes over Scottish independence, we have forgotten that our real citizenship is in Heaven. Our real goal is not to further a view on Scottish nationality, but to join with our brothers and sisters in furthering the message of our real King.
Nations Can Be Severed
I Kings 11:11-13
11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.
13 Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen.
In I Kings 11, God told Solomon that because of his sin, his nation would be divided. God used a man named Jeroboam, even more wicked than Solomon had become, to divide the kingdom. The Lord made sure that His people knew that He had done it.
I Kings 12:24
Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
In this account, we see that God can and does use human instruments, even very wicked ones, to divide nations, and He did it, in at least one case, to judge a ruler who had behaved sinfully.
We cannot say whether this is what is happening in the United Kingdom today, but there certainly are some interesting parallels. There is no doubt the Westminster government has behaved very wickedly, going against God’s standards and passing legislation used to try to compel Christians to go along with immoral behaviour. It would be hard to say that the sins of Solomon were any greater than the sins of the UK government.
In principle, the severing of a union of nations has Biblical precedent and is certainly within the range of actions permitted by Scripture. Christians who wish to support independence need not fear that they are necessarily violating the Bible by voting for independence.
20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Though the UK government has behaved wickedly at times, the Holyrood government is even worse. Both have a perverse view of marriage, but the SNP administration intruded into the God-given role of parents in ways no government previously dared to do. They have been far from God’s standards — and independence is their great goal. If a vote for independence is an endorsement of the SNP, Christians should be very hesitant to do that. We do not want to send a message that what they have done is ok.
But a vote for independence is not necessarily an endorsement of the SNP. God divided Israel, not to endorse Jeroboam’s evil, but to judge Solomon’s. If God, through the votes of Scots, divides the United Kingdom, He is not endorsing the current Scottish government any more than he was endorsing Jeroboam. The division of a nation into two distinct nations is not necessarily an endorsement of those in power.
There is a difference, in that those who followed Jeroboam did not know that he was going to institute idolatry in the northern kingdom of Israel. By contrast, the SNP has been quite blatant about many of the things they do and intend to do. God DID know what Jeroboam would do, and He still used Jeroboam.
So, will a vote for independence be an endorsement of some of the evil policies of the SNP? The Scriptures simply do not clearly define what constitutes an endorsement, and what does not. In this case, Scottish Christians must decide themselves. The Biblical principle, that we do not endorse evil, is clear. The application, in this case, is not so obvious.
Believers who wish to vote for independence will have to decide if they can do so in clear conscience, or whether they believe it endorses a party they should not support. If the sins of the SNP administration make it impossible to vote for independence with a clear conscience, a Christian must follow his conscience.
One Danger of Independence
I Timothy 2:1-2
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
We are to pray that governments will be such “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Many Christians wonder if that will be the case if Scotland becomes independent. While the United Kingdom has passed laws hindering Christians from living their faith, the Scottish government has passed the same laws, plus others. The debate on “gay marriage” in Edinburgh was particularly virulent against Christians.
An amendment to the “gay marriage” law was proposed, offering simple protection to Christians, which included the following: “no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages.” It was defeated by overwhelming majority. Independence means more power to Holyrood — and Holyrood chillingly blocked legislation to protect our freedom to disapprove.
There is great hostility to Christians in the Scottish Parliament (more than at Westminster if recent debates are any indication), and it is something Christians may wish to consider. In voting for independence, we risk establishing a government that, even more than Westminster, will hinder us from peaceably living a godly life.
Christians should understand, though, that this is a relatively temporary consideration, on a question (independence) which matters for generations. Ten years from now, which parliament will be more hostile / less friendly to Christians, Edinburgh or Westminster? No one knows. So while this is a legitimate concern, it is perhaps of less importance than some others.
The Question of Self-Determination
The Yes campaign has argued, and even some Christian ministers have used their position to argue, that Scotland should have the right to rule itself. This actually has no basis in Scripture. Democratic forms of government have definite benefits, but the right of self-determination is not one found in Scripture.
Side note: This argument also fails logically. If Scotland should have self-determination, why should not the Kingdom of Fife? If Fife should, why should not Glenrothes? If Glenrothes should, why should not my neighbourhood have self-determination and be an independent country, if it wants it? In fact, why can’t I turn my own house into my own country? If there is a right to self-rule, where does it end? If I can’t have my own country, but I can vote and participate in Scottish democracy, I can also vote and participate in UK democracy. This argument does not hold up logically.
Christians should not be opposed to self-government, for democratic forms of government and greater / more local self-determination can have very real benefits. But we should not speak or act as if this is a Christian / Scriptural argument. It is, however, related to the next principle I wish to discuss.
Restraint of Evil Power
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
I Samuel 15:17
And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
The most compelling Biblical argument in support of independence is one the Yes campaign will never make, for it has to do with the sinfulness of those in power.
All men are sinful, and power often leads to pride and increased wickedness. Structures that restrain the power of individuals tend to better government, limiting both the corrupting influence of power and the ability of the corrupt to do damage.
In an independent Scotland, those in authority would be more susceptible to losing power. The larger the government, the less the direct accountability to the people. Sinful people often elect other sinful people, but the greater the accountability, the less likely there is to be oppressive government. Elected governments only get away with oppressing their own citizens when they become so big and remote that accountability is lost.
As a general rule, democratically elected governments of small countries are much less likely to oppress their constituents. From a Biblical perspective, this is perhaps the best reason for devolving authority to a local level. Scottish independence would obviously be a major step in moving authority to a more local level, thus providing additional restraint on the sinfulness of those in power.
A Few Aspects of the Debate
In general, the above Scriptures provide the main Biblical considerations, as far as I know, related to the independence question. Scottish Christians should consider these in making their decision.
There are a few other issues related to the campaign and the debate which do not necessarily speak to the principle of independence. However, since they may tell us something of what kind of nation an independent Scotland would be, believers may want to consider these additional issues as well.
The Money Focus
I Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Both sides have spent most of the debate on financial issues, often on the relatively short-term question of whether you will be better off with independence or not. Gordon Brown gave five reasons for staying united, and they all had to do with money. YesScotland has pictures on their front page, and if you hover over each it gives an argument for independence. The first five are about money for different groups –further down, they claim an independent Scotland will be one of the wealthiest nations in the world.
Money is important, and God expects us to be wise with it. But when both sides, after polling and focus groups, have decided that the “you will be better / worse off” argument is the most important one, it does not bode well for the country. They appeal to the love of money and encourage the idea that the government is the source of blessings. Those running the campaigns show by their statements and the things coming through my letterbox that they think the Scottish citizenry looks to government to provide, trusts man rather than God, and is swayed by short-term financial gains for themselves.
Does that argue against independence? Not necessarily. It would be hard to claim that the UK is any better (or, for that matter, any Western nation). It does call into question the rosy predictions that each side is making for the future of the nation (if their side wins). The political “leaders” have a corrupt view and believe the electorate is also corrupt. This aspect of the debate should temper the enthusiasm of Christians for either outcome to the referendum. It seems likely that difficult times are ahead for Scotland, if not in our lifetime, in the lifetimes of our children.
4 …He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
5 …He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
The SNP has threatened to renege on Scotland’s share of the national debt after independence if their demand for a currency union is not met by the UK government. This is reprehensible, and something no Scot (and certainly no Christian) should endorse, whatever one’s view on independence.
People should keep their promises and “change not,” and pay their debts. Everyone knows some of the debt is rightfully Scottish. Scottish roads, bridges, airports, and hospitals have been built with UK funds. UK Naval ships have been built in Scottish shipyards, benefiting Scottish workers. Millions of Scots have received various benefits from the UK government. Scotland has greatly benefited from the willingness and ability of the UK government to incur debt. Scotland has encouraged that by repeatedly sending to Westminster those who have continually advocated higher spending.
Certainly, the amount of debt should be a matter for negotiation, but to even threaten to simply walk away from the debt is unacceptable from a Biblical viewpoint. The proposal is one more reason to view the current Holyrood government as a wicked one. This is not, alone, enough to say that Christians should not vote for independence, but it certainly is concerning. If the referendum passes, Christians should be at the forefront of saying, “Reneging on the debt is wrong, and Scotland must not do this.”
There are other Biblical principles relevant to the referendum. A Biblical responsibility of government is to protect people from violence. In an increasingly hostile world, where a nuclear-armed Russia is growing aggressive, where new weapons may be developed and demagogues and dictators may arise in Europe in the coming decades, how will we be defended in an independent Scotland? Saying we will get rid of Trident is all well and good, but does that mean independent Scotland is actually dependent on the UK or the US to safeguard us? Where is the coherent plan for defending this nation from the dangers of the 21st century?
The No camp says more devolved powers are going to come, but have they told us what they will be? Why couldn’t they? Their message is “trust us, it will be good” — just like the Yes camp is telling us to trust them on things from the pound to pensions to whatever. The Bible tells us not to trust in princes (human authorities). Yet, it seems both sides are asking us to trust them. If we can’t trust either side, which side (if it is treacherous or simply mistaken) will do the most damage?
We’ve made a commitment to pensioners — they have paid into UK pensions for years, both through National Insurance or private pensions. I know what the Yes campaign says, but can we really say with certainty that their pensions will not be worse? Can we be sure they won’t be hit badly by currency fluctuations? What if their pensions are with an English institution and there is no currency union? Do we run a risk of breaking faith with pensioners? The Bible speaks to that, as well.
The Scriptures don’t answer this question definitively. In principle, independence is certainly Biblically permissible, but also certainly not required. We cannot say that the Bible tells us to vote Yes or to vote No. But it does give us some guidelines that, if we are going to be faithful to our God first of all, we must consider. It is not enough to base a decision (either Yes or No) on historical, cultural, or financial reasons. We should start first with Scripture, and work from there.