Prayer support and Bibles for Councillors
The Highland Council in session [photo: Highland Council]
An article entitled 'Presentation Bibles offer prompts furore' has appeared in a Highland newspaper (Press and Journal; Monday 21 April 2008).
The opening sentence suggests: "An unholy row has broken out among Highland councillors after an Inverness group offered to present Bibles to every councillor and chief official of the council." The news piece reports of an e-mail from a councillor who thinks that religion has no place in politics - a view she has apparently communicated to all her fellow councillors. And it seems this e-mail has now been leaked to journalists.
A spokesman for the organising group, whose intention was and is to demonstrate support and prayer for political leaders and policy makers in the Highlands, has said that the church leaders involved had been following a procedure suggested by Council officials; and it is regretable that details of the proposal had emerged at a premature stage.
In response to the newspaper report the organising group have issued the following statement:
An offer has been made by Christian leaders in the Highlands, to Highland councillors and to chief officials of the Council, to support them in their role through prayer; and to further demonstrate this support for them by making a gift of a presentation Bible to each individual.
Acting on the suggestion of a council official an outline/summary of the proposal was submitted to the Council offices for onward transmission to all the individuals concerned.
The Council officer gave an approximate timescale within which responses would be gathered and collated. This period has not yet expired, and the responses are awaited. It is not appropriate therefore to make comment on the returns at this present moment, other than to emphasise that the offer of support was and is made in good faith; and, contrary to the newspaper report which mentioned an 'Inverness Christian group' , is being made by Christian leaders at a Highland-wide level.
The proposal, which has been jointly agreed, is that Lord Mackay of Clashfern would make the presentation at a future date and in a location and manner befitting the gift and the sentiment of support embodied in it. And it has always been the intention that a public presentation would be made as a signficant gesture of support from the Christian community to those who lead us in the Highland area.
Lord Mackay, a former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, is a prominent Christian living in the Highlands. Amongst his many involvements he is president of the Scottish Bible Society (SBS), and the correspondence with the Council has carried the endorsement of the chief executive of the SBS, Elaine Duncan who has written: “The Scottish Bible Society is delighted to support this presentation of Bibles to those charged with the responsibility of leadership in Scotland through our government and local councils”.
At a British Coronation ceremony a Bible is presented to the monarch with the words: "We present you with this book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom.This is the Royal Law.These are the lively oracles of God." Lord Mackay has commented that the offer of a Bible is indeed akin to that made to the Queen at her coronation, to mark the place of the Bible in the life of our nation; and the presentation copies of the Bibles being offered on this occasion have been carefully chosen and would be inscribed to carry each recipient's name.
Though it would appear that some councillors are less than enthusiastic to receive the offer of prayer and support, councillor Alasdair Rhind (Tain and Easter Ross) has been quoted as saying: "The Christian faith is our faith and it is part of the heritage of the Highlands." In expressing his regret about the content of the e-mail resisting the proposal he continued: "When councillors are elected they get offered advice on many things and I see this offer from church leaders as very appropriate. If any councillor doesn't want to take up the offer than that is fine, but this e-mail is discourteous."
Meanwhile, councillor Liz Macdonald has been quoted as saying: "I think religion and politics should be kept separate."
However Mr. Greer Johnston, a prominent Sutherland businessman, lay preacher and former Highland councillor has remarked: "There is a historical tradition of the church and state working closely together particularly in the realms of education and social services. Indeed most of Scotland's schools were established by the churches. So to divorce the church from the day-to-day affairs of the council would, in the light of that history, be a bit ridiculous."
While council convener Sandy Park has been quoted as saying: I don't think the Bible offer is erring into anybody's private life.."
Councillor Mike Finlayson (Cromarty Firth) is one of the elected representatives who takes part in leading with the prayer at the commencement of council meetings. He remarked: "Scotland is still deemed a Christian country and so it is appropriate to open council meetings with prayer."
While Norman Lindon, is a Highland-based accountant who heads up the local group of a CBMC national network of Christian businessmen and he comments: "I am very much in favour of presenting Bibles to political leaders as I believe that the Word of God is vital for today's world."
Councillor Margaret Paterson (Dingwall and Seaforth) also takes part in leading public prayer, and outlined that the time of prayer was of long-standing tradition and is enshrined in the standing orders. She affirms: "I regularly receives words of encouragement and thanks from both member of the general public and fellow councillors for the prayers said." Councillor Paterson said she would be delighted to receive a Bible.
[ The relevant extract from the Minutes of the Council Meeting of 14 June, 2006 states: A query was raised as to whether it was still legal under equal opportunities legislation to commence each full Council meeting with a prayer in Presbyterian style. It was understood that many other public bodies who had carried out this practice had now abandoned it. However, a view was also expressed that while it was accepted that Scotland was a multi-cultural society, it was still predominately a Christian society with Christian values and traditions and therefore the Prayer at the start of Council meetings should be retained. It was also noted that the Prayer was a part of Council Standing Orders relating to the conduct of meetings and if any change was to be made, this would require to be decided by the full Council. - Ed.]
The relationship between church and state has been in the headlines since the 3rd century and the Emperor Constantine. More recently it surface again when the Provost of Inverness took unilateral action to suspend the tradition of 'Kirking the Council'.
The issue is a personal one for each councillor and official to decide upon for his or herself.
Many years ago the leader of a great nation said to his people:
"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
In matters of faith in God through Jesus Christ, there is no middle ground: we are not given that option. So today, as then, the choice is ever before us.
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."
2 Tim 2:1-5
Anyone wishing to make their views known can do so by using the 'Add your Comment' facility at the foot of this page. A list of the Highland Councillors, Wards and contact details can be found on the Highland Council web site.