Did you hear the one about the Irish referendum, the Scottish Church Assembly, the Ulster bakery and the English politician?
Let's start with the Church of Scotland General Assembly. Last week was for me an incredible week. I was installed as Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly but in reality all eyes were over the road at the much larger Church of Scotland Assembly. After voting to allow ministers in same sex civil partnerships the Kirk had to decide what to do with the anomaly of those in same sex marriages. By a narrow margin the Assembly voted to permit SSM for ministers (although somewhat bizarrely holding to the teaching that SSM is wrong – thus ending up with the ludicrous position that ministers cannot conduct SSMs but can be in them!), and then by a narrow margin they voted to pass it down to Presbyteries under what is called the Barrier Act. This in effect means that if a majority of Presbyteries vote yes it will come back to next year's Assembly for final ratification. The evangelicals were disappointed although only 79 out of 730 recorded their dissent – (it was interesting that many of those were women). But then something strange happened. The former moderator proposed a motion that in effect meant that ministers already in same sex marriages would be protected from discipline. Commissioners were puzzled. SSM is against the law of the Kirk and until recently was against the law of the land. Why was this successful motion necessary? The reason became apparent the following day when the news broke that the gay minister who had started the whole argument back in 2009 had been 'married' back in December. Although some of the evangelicals stated that they would stay on to fight it is unclear what they can actually do. In a church in which the liberals can just ignore church discipline and those who dare to uphold biblical principles will be disciplined, it's game set and match.
The secular media has largely welcomed the decisions of the Church of Scotland. Is this not after all a church catching up with society? That view was further reinforced by the Irish referendum result. A result that, while indicative of the social revolution going on in some parts of the world, still amazed me. Not because the 'Yes' vote won, that was a foregone conclusion, but because it was so close. Close? Is 62-38% close? Indeed it is when you remember that only 60 per cent of the electorate actually voted. I had expected an 80/20 split on a higher turnout. Why? Because the Irish media, the Irish political parties (who even enforced a whip on it), the Irish celebrities (from Daniel O'Donnell to U2), the Irish Police and the global silicon valley corporations (Google, Twitter and eBay all put their considerable weight behind the Yes campaign. Even the Psychological Society of Ireland got in on the act by warning that the arguments of the No campaign could cause psychological harm. With the Catholic Church being sidelined because of its dreadful and disgraceful record it is astonishing that 40 per cent of those who voted, voted no, and 40 per cent of the electorate didn't vote at all. But of course this has not stopped the general hysteria about the advancement of the new progressive secular utopia coming upon us all. And the intolerance that goes along with it. The wonderful Marxist writer Brendan O'Neill was one of the few voices sounding a warning.
But the pressure to conform to the new absolutist morality is incredible. The favourite to become the new Lib-Dem leader, Tim Farron, is a Christian. Unfortunately for him he committed the blasphemy against the Holy State, by abstaining on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. He has had to repent in public, take the sackcloth and apologise. It was depressing to listen to Farron and another Christian politician (Nicky Morgan) speaking on Question Time about the Ashers bakery case and in effect joining in with the baying mob and the vacuous statements of the other politicians.
Speaking of Ashers, at the end of a tiring week, I was asked to speak on the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject. After a tough session it was incredible the level of vitriol and abuse I received: "You're a villain. You are anti-love. You're a homophobic Christian scumbag..." and so on.
And it didn't end there. Steve Chalke dropped his call for a balanced and respectful dialogue and tweeted this:
Ireland's people vote in favour of Same Sex Marriage. The angels rejoice! God's love triumphs! Another dimension of oppression is ended!— Steve Chalke (@SteveChalke) May 23, 2015
Thus putting all those who disagree with him in the camp of the oppressors and himself on the side of the angels. I'm not quite sure that it is the angels who are rejoicing that God's creation have told him that he got it wrong!
Meanwhile the SSM thought police were keeping their watchful eye everywhere. Even the winner of the Eurovision song contest Måns Zelmerlöw has been forced to repent of some anti-SSM remarks he made in the past. What happens at a macro national level, is repeated at a micro local level. On Sunday evening a local level teacher asked me what to do because he was being compelled to show a pro-SSM video to children and thought he could lose his job if he refused.
And then it gets really personal. Friends and family (Christian and non-Christian) use social media to express their support for SSM and get furious, angry and hurt when you dare to suggest you don't agree. Immediately they accuse you of being 'unloving' and start citing verses about 'peace and unity'. I found it incredible how many people sent me 'love wins' messages that were themselves so full of hatred and abuse. It seems that the rainbow flag really only has one colour. Churches are split and confused as the devil has a field day.
Which brings me back to the Free Church General Assembly. It was smaller, quieter, more understated than its big brother. It was harmonious, warm and encouraging – even with difficult decisions to make. And we did not ignore the pressing issues of today. In my moderator's address I spoke of the wider situation in church and society.
It is clear that there is a sifting going on in church and society in the UK. As indicated above the church is coming under enormous pressure to compromise and fit in with the new secular establishment 'morality'. I spoke of the need of those of us who refuse to bow the knee to Baal or Caesar to stick together, whatever the denomination and proclaim that Jesus is Lord, whatever the consequences. Twenty years ago I am pretty sure that my message would have been received in either stony silence or with polite applause. This year it received an unprecedented standing ovation. Maybe a small indication that the Church is waking up....?
David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Follow David on Twitter.