Despite its size and location, the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland occasionally makes national news in the United Kingdom because of its conservative religious practices—including the strict observance of the Sabbath by many on the island.
Lewis was the site of the UK’s last great revival—beginning in 1949 and carrying on for three years—and remains one of the most devout parts of the country.
Over the years, there have been controversies relating to the operation of ferries to the mainland on Sundays. More recently, a movie theater has opened seven days a week, while a leisure center maintains its Sunday closure. All have drawn media coverage with quotes from Christian spokespeople reported as being “outraged” by the proposals.
The latest twist in religious affairs has occurred in Stornoway, with 8,000 people the largest town in the group of islands. However, it doesn’t involve Christians outraged about Sunday openings, but that a Free Church of Scotland minister was not outraged by plans to build the first mosque on the largely evangelical churchgoing island.
The last census in 2011 showed just 61 Muslims living in the Western Isles; however, this number has been bolstered in recent years by six refugee families arriving in Stornoway fleeing the war in Syria. Plans to build a mosque have been granted planning approval and funds crowdsourced for the conversion of a derelict house—hoped to be completed in time for Ramadan in May.
The press did manage to find a source who was outraged by the plans. But the quote came from a small breakaway denomination, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). This was not representative of the majority of local Christian opinion.
James Maciver, leader of the largest church on Lewis, was quoted in The Guardian newspaper saying: “They [Muslims] have always been regarded by the local community as people who’ve contributed to the local economy and integrated well. I don’t remember any animosity towards them. Outsiders may have got the impression that the Christian community here have resisted the mosque, but that’s not the case.”
Writing about the attempt to concoct controversy where it did not exist, David Robertson, a minister in the island’s main denomination, the “biblical Presbyterian” Free Church of Scotland (not the smaller breakaway group), commented: “So what is going on when the Free Church does not oppose the building of a mosque in what was our heartland? Have we gone soft? Given into political correctness?”
“The Free Church would prefer that there was no need for a mosque to be built in Stornoway, because we would love everyone, including Muslims, to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. But we also believe that there is no coercion in real Christianity and that people have the right to reject, or to worship as they see fit. It is for God to judge, not the State. We defend the freedom to preach the gospel as we also defend the freedom of others. The Christian message is pleading and persuasion, not force and coercion. In a world where religious and secular groups alike are seeking to use the power of the state to impose their beliefs, we must not go the way of the world.”
Robertson cites how a Free Church leader made the same argument before the House of Commons in 1847, and goes on to say: “We don’t agree with Islam and maintain that Jesus Christ is the only way. But equally we don’t believe that our beliefs can be imposed upon other people by denying them the religious liberty that we demand for ourselves.”
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Source: Christianity Today