The local patriarchy of the Free Church this week played a blinder: they allowed a woman to share a platform with actual men. She was asked for, and allowed to express what can only be described as opinions.
Of course, it was a safe enough move – they probably know that they have brainwashed her so thoroughly that whatever she says is really just furthering their agenda.
But what is their agenda? Well, that depends on who you speak to.
The people of superior intellect, the ones who really know where it’s at, they say it’s about hanging onto power. That’s why these men want Lewis to be a six-day island, why they want folk going to church and reading their Bibles. It’s about maintaining status and holding sway.
My dizzy wee brain has been working on this problem for a while now, but I can’t for the life of me figure out the nature of their power.
Some of them have a strong handshake. And there are others who can lift a pretty flat rendition of the psalms out of the doldrums. Is that the power?
Or maybe they mean something a bit more, well, mysterious.
On communion Sunday, I’ve seen a few elders do a deft, wee trick in which they simultaneously shake your hand and take your token. That?
Or, perhaps it’s the power to drive cailleachs in minibuses to church. Or the power to visit the housebound. Perhaps it is, when all is said and done, the power to be a stoical presence for you in the worst moments of your life.
I have not forgotten the elder, despite all the hard times I give him, who came to me after my husband’s funeral service, and put a comforting arm around my shoulders. Or the minister, up off his sickbed, to visit and pray with me on my first morning as a widow.
Nor do I forget the moments of real empathy I have experienced from men who had plenty other things on their mind, but still saw how fresh grief for others might reopen old wounds for me.
They are counsellors, encouragers, friends. I see them as what they are – men who love Christ and try to serve Him in an increasingly hostile world. Many of them are husbands, fathers, grandfathers. Some are retired, the rest are in a wide variety of jobs.
Among them are people who can’t hold a tune, who are handless in the kitchen, who can’t match a tie to a shirt, who are hopeless at small talk, whose jokes are a bit corny, who are simply not for turning.
These men are human. Real. But they are making an utter hash of being an exploitative patriarchy.
Not one of them has ever whacked me over the head with the Shorter Catechism (or the Larger, which has more impact). They do hover protectively about the pulpit steps as I pass, but I don’t think they actually expect me to try storming it.
Or maybe it’s all a clever ruse so I won’t spot their real agenda.
The Presbytery event they permitted me to attend marked 500 years since the start of the Protestant Reformation. This was, amongst other things, a reaffirmation of the complete sufficiency and authority of the Bible.
In other words, if you are trying to figure something out and popular opinion says one thing, while the Bible says quite another, scripture gets the final say. It’s well worth being clear on that point – scripture, not ‘the church’, and certainly not individual men within it.
Recently, a shopkeeper in Stornoway was sent a Bible by the Lord’s Day Observance Society/Day One, accompanied by a supporting letter. She, it would seem from all the media coverage, felt threatened and harassed by this, which I would assume was not at all their intention in contacting her. Their motivation I think I can guess at. They were trying to remind the lady that, whatever she thinks is right and acceptable, the Bible says otherwise.
This, to the unbeliever feels like an imposition, like the dark-suited men of the church trying to assert some authority. They are – but not their own. It is not about control; it’s about love.
I know already what the response to this would be: ‘I don’t believe what you believe. Live your life the way you want and leave me to do likewise’.
However, the plain truth of the matter is that, regardless of whether you believe or not, God’s supreme authority as revealed to us in scripture is that: supreme. For a Christian to accede to the ‘leave me alone’ request would be a denial of one of the central tenets of their faith. When you have been plucked out of dangerous waters yourself, you do not sail blithely away, leaving others to drown.
Remembering the birth of reformed doctrine is not just an idle look into history for Christians. The man credited with sparking the birth of Protestantism – Martin Luther – is an example of that. He also felt the weight of unwarranted authority pressing down on him and, like many non-Christians, regarded God as a distant figure, threatening damnation for every misdemeanour.
And then Luther’s eyes were opened, and the chains which bound his heart fell away. He risked his life to bring that same freedom to others – all because he opened scripture and really read it.
Receiving a Bible should not offend you: it means that someone cares for you very much, and wants you to have all the chances they’ve had.