Fresh in from far out - Shetland

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em> - Souter is right - and God knows it

The Church of the Nazarene used to huddle among the council houses near the harbour: harled and grey-washed and grim. Bethany Hall, the home of our own Brethren assembly, was bigger and more ostentatious - and, temptingly, opposite the Beach Cafe, premier ice-cream supplier to Troon.

The only Nazarene I knew (apart from The Man Himself) was the son of a policeman, cheery and acceptably evangelical at after-school Scripture Union meetings. What, I asked my father, was the difference between our own fundamentalist born-again-ism and theirs? Not much, he replied, apart from their pastors and their sinless perfectionism. Their what? We believe mankind can only be made perfect in heaven, they think it can happen here on Earth. I looked at the policeman's son in a new light. He certainly smiled a lot.

These days, the Church of the Nazarene hardly huddles. It is a big-time fundamentalist player in American religiosity, and, over here - in the quaintly jacketed figure of Brian Souter - it is a power in the land, pursuing an intifada of outraged holiness against the Scottish Executive over Section 28; or 2a, if you're a fundamentalist about these things. Souter is a Bible-class teacher at the Church of the Nazarene and holier than thou or me. A whole lot holier.

The doctrine of sinless perfectionism sounds weirder than it is. While it remains, albeit in metaphorical form, a central tenet of mainstream Methodism, even among Nazarenes it does not imply a kind of detached, monastic holiness. It is linked with the "second blessing" or Baptism in the Holy Spirit, seen as a crucial aspect of the developing Christian life by many believers, and in other denominations is expressed by speaking in tongues and, infamously in the so-called Toronto Blessing, falling over, uncontrolled dancing and other aspects of hysterical behaviour.

Not among Nazarenes, though. This very conservative, highly disciplined church has no truck with such wild, explosive spirituality. All that happens is you become filled with Holy Spirit, and essentially sinless. Perfect. Established Methodism (the first church publicly to support the repeal of Section 28) would see that as implying an integrated, holy life, with Christian values permeating all aspects of life and leading inevitably to social and political action. The Nazarenes, apparently, use it to draw a dividing line between, for example, a personal, sinless holiness and the kind of merciless capitalism that runs competing bus companies off the road, buys them up, closes them down and puts people out of a job. Hence Souter's infamous comment that running a company according to the Ten Commandments would see him quickly bankrupt.

There is a (very Protestant) theology of wealth, where it is seen as God's will that all His true chosen will be rich: blessed are the poor, for they can get more money if they ruthlessly exploit other people and keep their faith in its place. And Souter considers himself blessed. Very blessed.

But if he has, until now, kept a barrier between his business morality and his beliefs, what has prompted the sudden move into the business of public morals? The answer lies in the particular demands of Nazarene faith: its line-by-line biblical fundamentalism means that the Old Testament's Sodom-and-Gomorrah outlook on homosexuality still applies, jot, tittle and flaming deluge of lava. Make no mistake: under the veneer of scruffy, couthy millionaire socialism, we are talking Pat Robertson here. And then there's the question of holiness. Souter is right. He knows he's right, and God knows he's right. Add to that the Nazarene concern with cash (tithing income is crucial to membership) and Souter's access to the stuff, and Cardinal Winning's your uncle. So to speak.

Despite the grotesque anomalies in the Keep the Clause campaign and, in particular, the manipulation of a completely irrelevant "referendum", the Scottish Executive is crumbling in the face of a God of closed minds and narrow, embittered, socially damaging belief. And money. For cash is the fuel for this attack on democracy, the teaching profession and sheer common sense. Money has made this campaign count, is keeping it in the public eye and has the morally and intellectually weak Scottish Executive running for cover.

You'll find some Keep the Clause campaigners who say that God is on their side. Not my God. But I do see the trademark clawprints of the idol called Mammon, that bastard deceiver.