The topic of the conference was ‘Church and State: The need for role definition.’ The aim was to discuss the role of the Church in the light of the Anabaptist Network's core conviction number three, which challenges Christians to ‘alternate ways of thinking and behaving.’
The first session, led by Rev. Eric Boyle. Eric talked about the relationship between the State and the Church of Scotland, as compared to other national churches. Eric discussed the founding aim of the Church of Scotland to be the ’establishment of the Godly kingdom’ and how this goal has been pursued through its development, schisms and unifications. This led to a short discussion about the development of the different denominations and where Anabaptist thinking may fit into this.
The second session was led by Iain Kirkman. Iain’s topic was ’Limitations of Christian Involvement in Politics’. Iain broadened this to include the attraction and pitfalls of relationships between a range of religions and states both theistic and non -theistic. Iain discussed both the positive effects of religion as well as the more negative effects. Iain proposed to the group the idea of a belief respecting ’non-faith state’ which, whilst not giving pre-eminence to any religious group, but would allow freedom for those of faith and non-faith communities, to practice without hindrance.
The afternoon sessions were going to be for open discussion, looking at the following topics:
1. The argument between the National union of Students and Christian Unions.
2. Sexual Orientation Regulations.
3. Charity Law.
The majority of the discussion focused on the Charity Law section and its wider effects on how churches operate.
Questions such as :
a) Should churches be accept money from the State, i.e. Gift aid?
b) Does the accepting of this money give the State the right to dictate Church policy via Charity legislation or the Sexual Orientation Regs?
c) Should Churches/Christian organizations cease to operate as Charities and cut this link to the State?
The Conference's conclusion on these questions was that this link should be severed and this should be part of the challenge for us to find ‘alternative ways of thinking and behaving.’ Whilst this and the previous conference in 2006 have been interesting and thought provoking, it is not enough.
If the Anabaptist discussion is going to carry on in Scotland it will need more than a few people in a village hall. I hope there are more people interested in taking this discussion forward. If so, feel free to contact myself via the Anabaptist network