By Jonathon Van Maren
Can a devout, Bible-believing Christian still become the head of a major Western political party in a post-Christian world? According to Stephen McAlpine in a recent column titled “Kate Forbes Is Done (or Why an Orthodox Christian Can Never Lead a Western Political Party Again),” the answer is no. Forbes is running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as the head of the Scottish National Party—but unlike Sturgeon, she is not a trans activist, but a Presbyterian. She also openly shares the Free Church of Scotland’s position on issues like same-sex marriage (and indeed, it has been suggested that the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform bill was rushed through while she was on maternity leave due to her presumed opposition to the legislation).
Throughout her career, Forbes has been open about what she believes. She has said that that how society treats the unborn is a “measure of true progress.” She has noted that having children outside of wedlock would be “wrong, according to my faith,” and has publicly backed religious freedom, including in the context of so-called “conversion therapy bans.” Most bluntly, Forbes has stated that a “transgender woman” is a “biological man who identifies as a woman.” All those things are true—but all are presumed, in our current political climate, to be unsayable. On BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, she explained that faith comes first: “Politics will pass. I am a person before I was a politician and that person will continue to believe that I am made in the image of God.”
Predictably, the backlash to her candidacy has been fierce. The progressive gatekeepers in the press wish to ensure that a Presbyterian gets nowhere near political power, because to permit such a person a leadership position would be to endorse genuine diversity in politics. As McAlpine notes, many have forthrightly stated that a woman with Forbes’ views has no place in politics. In his view, the Highlander’s chances of winning the leadership are nil: “Kate Forbes will not be First Minister of Scotland.” Indeed, McAlpine suspects that the no orthodox Christian can ever lead a major Western political party again (with the exception, presumably, of the United States—at least for the time being).
Time will tell—I’ve been encouraged to see that Forbes still seems to have broad support among Scots who do not work in politics or for the press. But there is certainly growing evidence that McAlpine’s broader thesis is becoming a reality. Tim Farron, the head of the UK Liberal Democrats from 2015 to 2017, was driven from office after being interrogated over his views on homosexuality. As a Christian, Farron held the same views Christians have always held. He decided, to his credit, not to sell his soul for success in politics, and resigned from the leadership (unsurprisingly, he has been front and centre in defending Forbes). Farron had to choose, and he chose wisely.
McAlpine believes that no orthodox Christian could lead Australia while openly endorsing Christian positions on life or sexuality; I don’t know if that is true, but it is likely true in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed to be some sort of evangelical, but his wife was known to be aggressively pro-abortion and he himself was a primary enforcer of Canada’s abortion regime, which permits feticide throughout all nine months of pregnancy. His successor Andrew Scheer was a Catholic, but wilted like a salted snail under any sustained questioning of his specific beliefs (which he surely should have known was coming). He was replaced by Erin O’Toole, who allegedly had beliefs of some sort, but was booted after enthusiastically endorsing Trudeau’s totalitarian “conversion therapy ban.” The current leader, Pierre Poilievre, has abandoned the socially conservative positions he once held.
Can Kate Forbes remain true to her beliefs and become First Minister of Scotland? I hope so. It would be a welcome sign that we have not yet passed the point of no return. As Carl Trueman put it in his column “Pray for Kate Forbes”:
The reaction of journalists and politicians to Forbes indicates that we are now in a world where identity politics is reaching a dangerously destabilizing point. If the terms of membership in society are as fluid and ever-changing as the design of the Pride flag, and if no dissent from such orthodoxy will be left unpunished, something deeply sinister is happening. Evangelical leaders may think that they can save themselves by inventing a new logical fallacy—the nos quoque, whereby highlighting the putative bigotry of earlier generations of evangelicals allows them to appear to be “down with the kids” of our current political culture. But to believe that is a mistake. Cheap repentance for the alleged sins of others in the past will not grant absolution for one’s own perceived sins in the present. Sooner or later the spinning must stop and straight answers must be given. The identity lobby is powerful, knows it is powerful, and uses that power at every opportunity. Just ask Kate Forbes. Or J. K. Rowling. Or Kathleen Stock.
Post-Christian cultures increasingly see Christian beliefs not just as foreign or confusing, but as ugly and intolerant. Kate Forbes may be the UK’s canary in the coal mine—an answer to the question: Can a Christian still lead a post-Christian country?