A study in the challenge of dissent
© Eric Sparling - Amherst Daily News
Eldon Hay’s third book is about reform Presbyterians – or Covenanters – a denomination that emerged from strife around the formation of the Church of Scotland
AMHERST – There’s value in variety.
“Those who are different…I think we need to pay attention to them,” said author Eldon Hay.
The retired academic and United Church minister has a new book, his third. The Covenanters in Canada, published by McGill-Queen’s, is a history of a minority branch of Presbyterianism that emerged from Scotland during the reign of William of Orange.
The resident of Sackville, N.B., said his interest in Covenanters – they refer to themselves as reform Presbyterians – dated back to an old cemetery he visited in Jolicure, N.B.
“[It] intrigued me,” said Hay.
The author said his initial investigation into the history of the denomination was motivated by satisfying his curiosity. But two decades later, it’s a subject on which he’s written extensively (one of his other books was on Chignecto Covenanters).
“I’m in favour of people who go against the grain,” said Hay.
He described members of the church as biblical conservatives. Some home school their kids. They have right-wing social views, and many do not vote and will not perform jury duty. They do not use hymns in services, preferring Psalms, because the latter are the infallible word of God.
But while Hay may not share some, perhaps many, of their values, he said his book, in addition to being history, is about the role of dissenting perspectives. Views that differ from our own challenge us to live up to our own convictions – even when the differences are fundamental, he said.
The retired minister offered a scenario: Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to allow their young child a blood transfusion, and the state stepping in to do the transfusion anyway.
He supported that action – the intervention – but suggested it was nothing to trumpet: “A right to be exercised rarely,” he said.
Mainstream society would do well not to be dismissive of minority opinions, even if they differ substantially from our own shared values, according to Hay.
“They need to cool it (in a sense),” he said.
In his interactions with Covenanters, he found them genuine and praised the quality of their family lives, even while saying he disagreed with some of their views, calling them harsh.
Hay said the nearest congregation is in Lachine, Quebec, but a small church in Linden, out Highway 6, was built by a former Covenanter, and there are congregations in the HRM with historical ties to the denomination.