When A Conservative Presbyterian Runs For Office

There’s all sorts of interesting stuff going on here. Note that Scotland has gone, in the space of just over 40 years, from a country where male homosexual acts were illegal to one where failure to believe personally in same-sex marriage – even as you support its legality – is a disqualifier for high public office. That is an extraordinary social change in an extraordinarily short span of time.

Note also that we have moved beyond the age of tolerance into the age of affirmation. It is not enough that Forbes pledges to protect the right to same-sex marriage in law. She is expected to affirm other people’s beliefs, even their marriages. This is not a healthy development for freedom of conscience and, just as worrying, implies that elected officials should be moral arbiters of the nation’s relationships and private affairs. Mary Whitehouse, if only you could see us now.

… For these not terribly noble reasons, I don’t want Kate Forbes to win. But I don’t want her to lose because she’s a Christian. Nor do I want her to lose because she committed the gravest sin in politics and answered a question truthfully. If she does, it will confirm our ongoing drift from liberalism and its guarantees of the individual’s liberty of expression and conscience. It will confirm that the old intolerances are being replaced with new ones. Read More»

Stephen Daisley | “The real reason to be scared of Kate Forbes” | February 22, 2023


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  1. Kate Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland. The Free Presbyterians are a different denomination. The headline is a little confusing.

    • Hi Phil,

      Thanks for the clarification. We (the editorial team) were trying to find a way to communicate, in a headline, who she is (ecclesiastically) to a mostly American audience. In our context, to say “Free Church” signifies something rather different, e.g., a member of a denomination with roots in Norwegian Pietism. So, we used a headline, which would be a little inaccurate in a UK/Scottish context to avoid misunderstanding in an American context. Communication is hard.

    • “Conservative Presbyterian” would probably communicate better in a way that would be recognized in both contexts. There is a lot of history between the Free Presbyterians and the Free Church of Scotland that makes equating them problematic on both sides.

  2. But is she really a “conservative Presbyterian” if she makes every moral issue subservient to her overwhelming commitment to the issue of Scottish independence?

    • Crawford,

      Her religious commitments seem conservative. She’s part of a religiously conservative theological body. How would you her? Should we revise the title to say “theologically conservative”?

    • Forbes’s party, the SNP, is one of the most “socially progressive” parties in Europe. Among its active politicians is Ian Blackford, another member of the Free Church, who until recently led the SNP at Westminster – and broke party tradition by having his MPs vote on a non-Scottish issue for the first time in their Westminster history – by supporting the imposition of one of Europe’s most liberal abortion agendas on Northern Ireland a couple of years ago.

      These politicians might be Presbyterian, but they are definitely not conservative. They are people for whom the idea of Scottish independence trumps any commitment to defending Christian moral values in practical politics.

      I’ve every sympathy for a Christian being hounded for her faith, but in the case of Forbes, I’m with her critics – because they are right – her conscience SHOULD impact her politics, no matter how much she asks to be tolerated by promising that it won’t.

      • So, she’s not socially conservative but is she theologically conservative or does that distinction not interest you?

        I’m an ideological American and thus not particularly “conservative” socially by some definition. I side with 18th-century revolutionaries who killed Englishmen in order to be free of certain external constraints.

  3. The SNP are far, far to the left of the Democratic Party. When Biden supports his party’s view on contested moral issues, on the basis that his faith is a private matter, religious conservatives call foul. Forbes is asking for permission to do the same thing. I don’t think this is about America. It’s about someone who really, really wants to be in charge of the party that’s done more than any other (even the Tories, which is saying something) to destroy what’s left of our common grace legacies, and promising that she won’t try to turn it around.

    • Crawford,

      This is helpful. There are very few members (lay or ordained) of theologically conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches who are elected to national public office in the USA. Ben Sasse was a notable exception to this rule. There have, I think, been members of the PCA elected to Congress but it is not an every day thing. So, it’s interesting to me to see some of the reaction to Forbes (about whom I know almost nothing). Some of the criticism has been aimed at her religion. It’s been suggested that she’s disqualified from public office because of her religion. As an American, that’s interesting to me.

      I take it that you think that Forbes is guilty of privatizing her religion, i.e., not bringing it to bear sufficiently in her policy positions. Is that accurate and, if so, do you think she should be disciplined for it by her church?

  4. Well, from what I’ve seen of Ben Sasse, I could understand why Christians would vote for him. His conscience informs his decisions and when in office he was serious about addressing the abortion issue. Nobody in the SNP is likely to address that issue except as Free Church member Ian Blackford and other MPs did – which was to vote for its extension. The Free Church were concerned about his actions at the time and there was talk of censure but I am not sure that it came to anything.


  5. The Herald covers this story from an interesting POV.

    I’ve not always agreed with Robertson but it’s interesting that he did not rubbish her public service as incompatible with her religious commitments.

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