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Scottish Independence and Progressive Christianity: A Perfect Fit

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During the three decades I've known about Progressive Mainline Protestantism -- the religious tribe to which I now belong -- the radical left coast of America's spiritual landscape has been populated largely by people interested in working for change in far-off places, in nations whose native populations suffer various types of tyranny and oppression. Following this proclivity we stood in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and we supported the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua over and against the CIA-funded Contras. We agitated for an end to Apartheid in South Africa and we continue to support the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. We speak out against genocide in Darfur and against Ugandan laws that make homosexuality a capital offense.

Now it's time to add to the catalogue of our righteous support for justice abroad by coming out in favor of Scotland's bid for independence.

The timing on this is important: We've just a little more than a year and a half to make our voices heard before the people of Scotland vote in a referendum to decide if they will withdraw from the United Kingdom. That's not a lot of time to build a broad movement of solidarity with the daughters and sons of Caledonia who want to follow, 238 years later, in the footsteps of England's North American Colonies, but theirs is a cause that should quicken us to action for two reasons.

First, if ever a secular political movement embodied the values and goals of Progressive Mainline Protestants, it is the movement for Scottish nationalism. According to its website, the pro-independence Scottish National Party envisions an independent Scotland that will be committed to making housing affordable and education free for everyone -- even for immigrants. In an independent Scotland, healthcare would remain available to all. An independent Scotland would outlaw nuclear weaponry, and would strive to become Europe's largest exporter of wind-generated power. In an independent Scotland, improvements in public transportation would be considered an essential part of a healthy economy. Most importantly, an independent Scotland would shake off the adverse influence of the banks and businesses whose power is as strong in Westminster as it is in Washington, which means that in an independent Scotland the social safety net would be kept safe from those who believe the poverty of vast multitudes is necessary for the ongoing work of keeping a few people very rich. Think "Occupy Wall Street," only with a seat in the European Parliament.

If Scotland becomes independent it is very possible that we will witness the birth of a Western democracy in which national security is achieved through education rather than by military prowess and in which the wealth of a nation is tied to the well-being of ordinary people rather than upon the solvency of financial institutions. And who among Progressive Mainline Protestants cannot support such ideals as these?

So the first reason Progressive Mainline Protestants should support Scottish independence is political: The goals of an independent Scotland are goals that just about all Progressive Mainline Protestants share. But the second reason to support Scottish independence is spiritual.

In all my years participating in Progressive Mainline Protestant calls for justice abroad, I've not heard much concern for, or actions on behalf of, those who may well be considered our economic peers. When injustice happens in Latin America or in Africa, we are quick to act and to speak and otherwise to express our opinions, even when those opinions are uninvited. But we are hesitant to speak out with equal strength when those longing for justice are educated, middle class and European; and I fear this reticence is born of deference for the sensibilities of those we consider of equal social rank. But I think it's worth asking why it is good for us to temper our words and to measure our actions regarding Scotland, when we may not also be equally judicious in speaking out on matters of justice that affect residents of the developing world.

Because I believe speaking out on matters of justice is a Christian responsibility, I cannot assent to the idea that such prophetic witness should be reserved for the world's poor nations, for all of God's children are equal. If freedom in Scotland is a matter about which we must not speak for fear of inserting ourselves in other people's business, then neither must we speak of freedom in Tibet; if Scottish independence is beyond the scope of prophetic witness for fear of causing offense, then so is independence in Palestine. It would be alarmingly colonial to assert otherwise.

So, my fellow Progressive Mainline Protestants, let us make Scottish independence a matter of faithful conversation and prophetic witness. Let us work to restore the independence of a nation whose values we share, and let us remember that the cry for freedom is not meant to be paternalistic, directed only to the world's poor, but must be felt across the globe, wherever God's children long to live in a land governed by self-determination. Let us unite our voices with those who cry "Alba gu Brath" ("Scotland forever") and who long to be free.