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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Is Kate Forbes electable?

You may be following the SNP leadership contest north of the border following the abrupt resignation of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.

Forbes, the current Cabinet Secretary for Finance, came out of maternity leave to offer herself as a candidate. On being asked her views on gay marriage she was honest and upfront in explaining that had she been a member of the Scottish parliament in 2014 she would have voted against same-sex marriage.

She spoke as a Christian, as a member of the theologically conservative presbyterian Free Church of Scotland, knowing full well she was offering a minority opinion. However, I think she was unprepared for the subsequent furore, especially when several key backers withdrew their support.

One Member of the Scottish Parliament, Gillian Martin, tweeted: “We must be full throated in our support of equal marriage. No if or buts. I won’t be supporting Kate’s campaign on that basis. I wish her well- she’s extremely talented. But I have red lines. And this is one.”

As followers of Jesus we will inevitably adopt minority positions: that’s always been the case. However, are we reaching the stage when Christians may find themselves cancelled for their views – which incidentally may not be necessarily shared by their fellow disciples?

As James Marriott argued in yesterday’s Times: "Today, as the implosion of Forbes’s political career demonstrates, Christianity is becoming an impediment to a person’s movement in the upper reaches of society.”

He continues: “Anybody attempting to expound traditional Christian teachings on sexual morality, Hell or sin on the premises of a modern law firm, bank or management consultancy will find themselves standing outside the door of an HR department in short order.”

This was certainly the experience of Tim Farron, who led the Liberal Democrats between 2015 and 2017 and who had to resign after being repeatedly challenged about his views on gay relationships.

You may remember him being grilled by John Humphreys on the Today programme. His perceived stance on gay relationships led Humphreys to ask "Would you seek advice from God when it came to making important policy decisions?" You could almost hear the sneer.

Are we now in the situation when Christians may find themselves at a disadvantage in public life as our faith is unfashionable? This is certainly the case, claims Tory MP Danny Kruger who says he has been cancelled over his position on abortion.

One of the leading Christians in public life is the former MP, Frank Field, with whom I once had a short conversation on the train home from Euston. He had just been deselected by his Birkenhead Labour party and it seemed his days in the House of Commons were numbered. I simply thanked him for his advocacy for the poor and marginalised.

As it happened he was interviewed in yesterday’s Times. Looking back on his life in politics he admitted that while an MP he was largely silent on his religious views because he thought they made him look eccentric. “I didn’t go around saying that, you know, this was an extension of the kingdom,” he says. “I thought I’d look totally cranky if I did that.”

When asked about Kate Forbes he replied: “My guess is there will be a difference and that she’ll be much stronger amongst the membership than she is amongst the MP activists.”

I hope he’s right, that members of the SNP will see Forbes as authentic and not eccentric, as one who is prepared to be honest and open about her faith, even though she is against the flow of public opinion.

But it is never going to be easy. As Jesus spelled it out to his disciples: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

However, what seems to have changed in our cancel culture is that we are forced not just to defend our beliefs but to defend our right to even teach or practice them.

And it comes from a society which would appear to be liberal when in fact, it is very opposite. How many institutions of higher learning, for example, are pro-diversity except when it comes to viewpoints that oppose the mainstream cultural agenda?

The key question surprisingly is asked in this morning’s Financial Times: how can we function as a society when there are competing values, religious and otherwise? (I can’t quote directly because they will sue me for copyright!).

The FT argues that religious beliefs should be allowed some sway in public deliberation: we need to be honest and open. But at the same time individual matters of conscience should be open to vigorous examination. For as a society we need strong moral foundations, which need both to be articulated and tested. I can live with that.

So would the apostle Peter. “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.” (1 Peter 3:15)

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