DISCLAIMER: Please note that CARE is non-party political. We do not endorse or support any one political candidate over another. This article represents the views of its author and is not intended to be seen as an endorsement of Ms Forbes or any other candidate.
In Scotland, a great experiment is playing out. Can an evangelical Christian who would have voted against same-sex marriage, believes only married couples should have children, is pro-life, and believes biological sex is immutable become First Minister of Scotland?
Over the course of a couple of days, Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government and a member of the Free Church of Scotland, did media interview after media interview. She articulated sincerely and honestly her views on a range of hot button issues. Unsurprisingly, it’s caused a strong backlash. The outgoing FM, Nicola Sturgeon, essentially tried to warn members of voting for Forbes. Deputy FM John Swinney said he disagreed with Forbes and members of the SNP would need to think carefully about whether she was the best candidate.
Commentators like Alex Massie argued Forbes had already blown her campaign up. Ayesha Hazarika called Forbes a ‘dinosaur’ which is rude, offensive and absurd. Journalists were quick to tweet the same. On Wednesday, Ms. Forbes relaunched her campaign, apologizing for any hurt she has unintentionally caused. She also has made it clear that she’s carrying on, not least because she thinks it’s important to finish the experiment: how tolerant is the public square to an evangelical Christian holding high office?
As I’ve reflected on what’s happened this week, there are three words that come up in my mind continually: fairness, reality and hope.
In terms of fairness, it’s depressing that in the United Kingdom, you can be a Hindu and hold high office, as shown by the fact Rishi Sunak is the Prime Minister. You can be a Muslim and hold high office, evidenced by Sadiq Khan, who is Mayor of London. But if you’re a Christian, it’s simply not the same.
The intense scrutiny of Ms. Forbes and her views on a range of social issues has simply not been as intense for Humza Yousaf or Ash Regan. As far as I’m aware, no journalist has asked him exactly what he things about the Quran’s teaching on sex, the roles of men and women or other controversial topics.
It’s more than that, though. I also wonder if some of the backlash against Kate Forbes is also because she’s a young (in political terms) woman who’s been remarkably successful. At only 32 years of age, she’s already delivered budgets as Finance Secretary and has demonstrated a surefootedness in her political career so far.
There’s another level to this unfairness. All across the media, journalists, commentators and producers who clearly know very little about the Free Church of Scotland are characterising it as ‘strict’, ‘hardline’, ‘fundamentalist’, to name but a few.
None of them know the Free Church. I might not be a member, but as Christian I know the Free Church is so much more than this reductionist view. Free Churches across Scotland are involved in reaching into deprived communities, helping the most vulnerable, representing the good news of Jesus Christ to men and women across Scotland. Many of the journalists, if not all, have no idea about what the Free Church of Scotland is really like. It took a former Moderator, David Robertson, to write the article that needed writing and which calmly explains that the ‘Wee Frees’ are more than just ‘anti-gay marriage’.
This brings me to my second key word: reality.
The sad, tragic reality is in secular Scotland (and England, too – remember Tim Farron during the General Election of 2017?!), being a Christian now seems to put you beyond the pale. Alex Massie, the Times Scotland writer, and normally a sage guide to Scottish politics, wrote for the Spectator and argued Kate Forbes should have come out and said she now supports gay marriage. It was a staggering piece of writing that lifted the lid on what many in Scotland seem to think.
A few years ago Lord Alton, former Liberal Democrat MP and now Crossbench Peer, coined the phrase ‘mutant liberalism’. He said that today’s liberalism was fundamentally illiberal. It refused to accept views that do not conform to its ‘progressive’ agenda and this includes Christianity. We’re seeing this mutant liberalism play itself out in Scotland.
From SNP MPs, to MSPs, to political commentators, we keep being warned that Kate Forbes’ faith in Jesus is basically a barrier to her getting the job. They’re as well saying: you can’t be leader because you’re a Christian. As Ms Forbes told journalist Colin Mackay, if that’s the case, these are ‘dark and dangerous days for Scotland’.
The battle lines have then been drawn up. On the one side, you have Christian Kate Forbes saying she hopes she’ll be shown tolerance and in a liberal society, difference of opinion is welcome. On the other, you have the establishment and those who adhere to a mutant liberalism where they cannot stand what Kate believes on various topics and therefore think she’s disqualified for being First Minister.
This is the unfair reality of being a Christian in the public square in an increasingly secular society. This does not, however, mean we should despair or allow anger to be our only response.
But now let me turn to my final word: hope.
There is still hope in all this. Firstly, there is hope because of the courage we’ve seen from Kate Forbes in how she’s spoken about her convictions and beliefs. She has demonstrated both grace and truth and in doing so, she’s followed the example of Jesus: “He came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Ms Forbes has modelled for us a better way of doing politics than the polarizing approach operated by so many. She has been light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16) and a faithful ambassador for Jesus. May her example embolden others to speak candidly and honestly about the better story we believe in.
The reaction to Kate’s candidacy is hardly unexpected. Jesus warns his disciples: “If the world hates you, it hated me first”. He also said ‘Blessed are the persecuted’. It’s part and parcel of the Christian life that we experience, from time to time, real scrutiny and criticism for our views. In the midst of that storm, we can trust in God’s grace. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to approach God, who is seated on a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16-18). We should ask for mercy and we’ll find grace. That’s as true for Kate now as it’s ever been.
Remember, the nations rage against God. In Psalm 2, we have a poetic and vivid description of the rulers of the world coming into coalition with each other to reject the authority of God’s anointed King. Yet the LORD simply laughs in response. He’s already chosen His King. And he’s given him all power and authority. In Psalm 2, the Father tells the Son: ask me, and I’ll give you the nations as your inheritance. Later, the prophet Habakkuk will reveal that the earth will one day will filled with the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In other words, contests will rage and leaders will come and go. Over it all, our God reigns supreme. The reality of God’s Sovereign control is like a pillow on which we can rest our often worried and troubled heads.
I’ve personally reflected most on 1 Corinthians 2, where the Apostle Paul teaches us that God puts to shame the ‘wisdom’ of the wise through the cross of Jesus. No-one would look at the cross and think it’s a symbol of hope and salvation. But in God’s plan, that’s exactly what it is! God has chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the ‘wisdom’ of the wise.
In other words, the prevailing wisdom across Scotland among the commentariat and media is Kate Forbes has blown it. But they don’t reckon with God who loves to confound worldly wisdom and remind people He is in control. Even if Kate doesn’t win, her standing has ignited a vital debate and may stir the church in Scotland to recognise afresh just how marginalized it has become.
If that is a dark scenario, we should remember God’s power to transform a situation. It wasn’t that long ago there were plenty of countries in Eastern Europe that were closed to the gospel and hostile to Christianity. Albania, for example, was declared ‘God-free’ in the early 1990s. But then God moved and now there are gospel-churches there, faithfully holding out the word of life. As dark as Scotland appears to be, its days are not numbered. The capacity for God’s Spirit to powerfully awaken and revive power is as real as ever.
I urge you to lift up Kate in your prayers and to pray for God’s blessing, grace, protection and strength to be granted. Please pray too for the other two candidates: Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan. Whoever wins, they will need God's wisdom and help.