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The Primus of Scotland speaks about his new book 'Dancing on the Edge

Posted on: September 3, 1997 12:26 PM
Related Categories: Scotland

A Transcript from NEWSNIGHT

The Most Revd Richard Holloway Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus

Q: You argue in your book that the Church should no longer give an absolute moral lead. But, isn't that exactly what the Church is all about?

A: No, I don't think so. I am not saying the church should abdicate the role of moral guide, or moral friend, but I don't think that we have the absolute authority to say to people 'this is how you ought to behave'. The church has done that very often in history. I am saying that role is now at an end and that we should be accompanying people in their confusion, in their anxiety. We should no longer, as it were, be ordering them from on-high, from a position of absolute certainty, because, I think, absolute certainty no longer exists.

Q: The reason for that is because, as you say in your book - in fact the title of your book is 'There Are So Many People Dancing on the Edge of the Church' - who are alienated from the church so the church has got to change its message?

A: I don't think the church has to change its message. I think people misunderstand the message of the church. The church's message is God's unconditional love and grace to sinners. That is absolutely guaranteed. You don't earn that by behaving perfectly. You have that, it's a guarantee. You then ask yourself, given that I'm already redeemed by that love, how then should I respond to my own needs, the needs of others, what's the best way to organise relationships, what's the best way to run the world? The steam comes out of it, the tension comes out of it. But a corrupt version of Christianity says, unless you get those things absolutely right you're going to hell. That is no way to help people be moral. You may scare them into conformity, but that is not morality.

Q: Bishop Holloway, isn't one of the reasons why so many people have abandoned the church because, it seems, it's woolly and liberal and not offering the old certainties.

A: There may be some people who have abandoned it for those reasons. There are some people who join churches that offer that kind of certainty. This book is for people who are not in that position. They are honest people on the edge of Christianity who can not buy its absolute certainties. But, they love Christ and they want to understand the meaning of God for their lives. I want the church to be generous and wide enough to include them. I think we would learn a lot from them. The church has constantly changed its attitude toward things. Look how at, only recently, we have changed our attitude to the emancipation of women. Women were subservient in Christianity. My own church only started ordaining them four years ago. It has taken us 2000 years. So don't tell me that Christianity has not been about change, but about resisting good change...

Q: But with the ructions that the ordination of women has caused within the church, surely the kind of things that you're suggesting; the blessing of gay relationships, these new-fangled weddings, surely they're going to alienate people within the church and who knows if they really will attract the people who are 'dancing on the edge'.

A: That may well be true. But that in itself is not necessarily an argument against doing it. The fact that the ordination of women caused ructions was no argument against doing it, it was a just and right thing to do. I produced this book to get the argument going. I am not actually suggesting a variety of marriage rites for people not until death. I am simply saying that if people do not want to go through a marriage- till- death ceremony come and ask for some kind of support from the church. I think we should be offering it to them. I do strongly believe in the appropriateness of offering same-sex people assistance to be faithful in their relationships. I believe in faithfulness. I believe in these bonded relationships. But, at the moment, the church only has one way of helping people: Get married or forget it. I think that is unrealistic.