Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal". XV.

The question of the disestablishment of the Church is one that can raise nearly no enthusiasm today in England, less in Scotland, and raises only confusion in North America. Yet in the latter part of the 19th Century Disestablishment was a topic on which anyone and everyone in the United Kingdom had an opinion to share. In Wales it was loudly declared that the established Church was the Church of the gentry. The Welsh went to Chapel, only the English and the Anglified went to the Church. In England there were not wanting orators who would declare that, if a proper survey were to be taken, it would be found that most of the English went to Chapel too (although it was admitted that the majority would be very small). In Scotland, however, Disestablishment agitation took a different form. It was too plain that the Church of Scotland was still a national Church. She had recovered with astonishing speed from the effects of the Disruption, and even in the Highlands and Islands she was beginning to recover strength. To argue numbers would be very hard. It would be like England, only with the Presbyterian dissenters against the equally Presbyterian national Church.

Principal Rainy was himself in favour of Disestablishment, but he had kept clear from taking part in any sort of campaign for Disestablishment until 1881, when it began to appear that the Liberal party, which had hitherto seemed quite open to disestablishment talks in Scotland, began to express itself more cautiously on the matter. It was the opinion of James Denney that, "Rainy never does anything he can help." Rainy could not help getting involved in the campaign for disestablishment. He contacted the Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, expressing in the name of the Free Church his concern that the Disestablishment question was being pushed into the background. Gladstone replied in a non-commital letter, in which he said: "I had gathered from your previous communication that there was no desire in your communion to stir at the present juncture the question of Disestablishment in Scotland."
Rainy replied: "The object of my earlier letters was precisely to prepare you for a public movement which I felt to be near and which would require to be publically dealt with... I must have expressed myself unfortunately if I did not convey my anticipation that at the present juncture the question of Disestablishment would be stirred more emphatically than ever before."
Gladstone delayed. The Free Church vote alone could not keep the Liberals in power, and no Disestablishment-minded Free Churchman would think of voting Tory. In any case, he was not convinced of the need for Disestablishment.
Rainy wasconviced, not on the grounds that most men were, that of strongly-held doctrinal beliefs, but on the ground of general expediency: he thought that the reunion of Scottish Presbyterianism would be easier if the question of an established Church were to be taken out of the way.
This exposed Rainy to fire from both sides. The doctrinaire Disestablishmentarians attacked his position as unprincipled, while the Antidisestablishmentarians (haven't you always wanted to use that word too?) attacked him for (as they saw it) being a mere pragmatist. Principal Tulloch of the Church of Scotland declared in the Church of Scotland Assembly that the 'Establishment Principle' was not up for negotiation, "We must stand somewhere. We stand here."
Rainy replied, speaking in the Free Church Assembly, that he also thought that the Church ought to have a central role in the life of the nation - but that he could not restrict that to the recognition of one denomination by the government to the exclusion of all else.
In 1885 the Scottish Liberals made Disestablishment 'a plank in the platform of Scottish Liberalism'. That meant that the matter would be finally settled by Mr. Gladstone. In November 1885 Gladstone arrived in Midlothian. As an act of courtesy to Mr. Gladstone, who was having throat trouble, the Free Church granted him the use of their Assembly Hall for the meeting. It was ironic that Gladstone refused Disestablishment in his speech. His reason was not Scotland at all, but England; if the Liberals promised a vote on Scottish Disestablishment, the Tories would eagerly spread around the story that England would be next, and the Liberals would be voted out of government. What was more, the Liberals were divided on the issue, and he was not going to split his party over it. The Disestablishment cause was lost.

Rainy was not one to be disheartened easily. He took up cheerfully the alternative to Disestablishment - reunion. God willing, we shall say something about that next time.

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Anonymous G.T.J Charmley said...

One notes that in 1892 the Liberal Party only got into government because of the Celtic countries voting for them (England stayed Tory), in Scotland's case, the Liberals had a majority of 29. This Tory MP and member of the Welsh Church Defence League Arthur Griffith-Boscawen attributed to the promise of disestablishment in Scotland.

Gladstone, a high churchman if ever there was one, seems to have been utterly cynical in his attitude to church establishments.

11:44 am  

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