Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Lord's Day Observance Society

Christians on the Isle of Lewis (Scotland) face a dilemma that captures my imagination and reminds me of some of the challenges we face in America. The majority of the 18,000 islanders practice a form of Presbyterian Christianity that observes a strict Sabbath – no television, no housework, no shopping, etc. For decades (centuries?) this has been the accepted culture.

But the Scottish government recently received legal advice that it would be unlawful (discriminatory) to withhold ferry service to the island on Sundays because of the religious views of only one part of a community. Consequently, the Caledonian-MacBrayne ferry company (CalMac), which is owned by the Scottish government, says it has no choice but to run the ferry service on Sunday, lest it be in breach of European laws on equality.

You got all that?

The Christians are up in arms. John Roberts, spokesman for the Lord’s Day Observance Society, declares:

“The Sunday ferry service is a direct threat to this way of life, which stands for Christian beliefs, the Bible and the word of God. We’ll end up with Sundays like they are in the rest of the U.K. or the U.S. where it is just, go to church on Sunday morning and the rest of the day is yours.” (Scottish island’s sacred Sunday under threat,” Ben McConville, Associated Press, July 19, 2009).

Where do your sympathies lie in this situation? Well, let’s consider a few things. First, the Isle of Lewis has a rich history and part of that history is its distinctness from the rest of Scotland, most particularly in its Sabbath observance and its predominant use of the Gaelic language. So this is a spiritual and religious issue but also one of communal identity: Will they remain distinct from the “mainlanders?”

Second, how does ferry service, per se, impede the islanders’ observance of Sabbath? After all, if most of the Islanders refrain from travel, work or play, who will be arriving or leaving on the ferry or working at the terminal? And will non-Christians’ arrival or departure threaten anyone’s Sabbath observance?

Most significantly to me, how faithfully are people practicing their religion if they have no option to do otherwise? For the first half of the 20th century in the United States, most communities had “blue laws,” which functioned to enforce religious standards and most notably prevented retail businesses from opening on Sundays, i.e., they enforced Sabbath observance. Eventually most of these laws were repealed, declared unconstitutional, or simply left unenforced.

What happened in the United States is the very thing the people on the Isle of Lewis are worried will happen to them – they fear that Sunday will become just another day of commerce and pleasure-seeking with (perhaps) church squeezed in. And you know what, they’re probably right. Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, it’s hard to back the camel out.

But if the church has no competition is it really the church? What if the good Christians on the Isle of Lewis said, “Bring on the ferry if you insist. We welcome the opportunity to choose our sacred faith observances over modern practices.”

Now that would impress me.


Blogger Jerry said...

Would there have been a Fall without the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Or would Adam and Eve have managed to find some other way to Fall? I suspect the latter. I suspect that one reason the authorities on the Isle of Lewis fear the Ferry on Sunday is that they are not very confident of the faithfulness of their people.

1:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home