If you’re reading this then you’ve probably already seen, heard, or read about the interview. Kate Forbes, the SNP’s Finance Secretary and hopeful for the position of First Minister, recently shared her views on gay marriage, the shot-down Gender Recognition Act, and having children outside of marriage, all of which have lead to her receiving criticisms as both a member of the Free Church of Scotland, and of the left-leaning Scottish National Party.
This has led to the Catholic Church warning that these critiques of Forbes’s beliefs will make religious people hesitant about entering politics at all.
This is awkward. Seriously I don’t know how else to explain this situation other than plain uncomfortable. I spent my teenage years in the Free Church of Scotland, the last church I was involved in prayed for Forbes directly from time to time, and as a young Christian girl who told people in the church that she hoped to enter politics, it was Kate Forbes who always came up. “Och aye, well that Kate Forbes woman is in the Free Church isn’t she?” She was the role model, whether I liked it or not.
She’s sparked a debate regarding whether or not religious people still have a place in politics, and whether we should feel like we have one. Freedom, and the separation of church and state, is an obvious concern, but Forbes claimed that “in a liberal society you can co-exist” with people who you disagree with on these matters.
However, how can you allow people to co-exist, if you would have voted against their ability to marry, as Forbes admits that she would have voted against the legalisation of gay marriage in Scotland in 2014?
But to be honest, I think what a big issue is, is left-wing spaces reacting to religion, specifically Christianity. Christians have existed in right-wing political spaces for quite some time without criticism from others who occupy those spaces. Sure, the left has an issue with MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kemi Badenoch, but the right doesn’t have the same concern about religion existing in their politics as the left does with people like Kate Forbes.
You could argue that this is down to how religion and politics mix, especially in regard to LGBT+ rights and matters such as abortion. However, during this now infamous interview, Forbes explicitly attempted to stress that people shouldn’t be expected to adhere to the rules of her religion.
Her views were personal to her, reflected in how she claims that she wouldn’t change the law on abortions in Scotland despite the view of many more conservative Christians, especially in the Free Church of Scotland, have on the matter. But that doesn’t make for such a dramatic headline.
And that’s not a defence of Forbes’s comments, as how can we live in a “liberal society” when the potential future First Minister openly admits that she would have voted against legalising gay marriage? But it is a shallow and ignorant view to assume that a Christian politician will be a hateful bigot because of their religion, or that religious politicians are a threat to a progressive secular society.
For example, why would I consider myself a socialist? Because Jesus called for his followers to be compassionate to all, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and welcome the immigrant. It is because I’m a Christian that I’m left-wing, they aren’t separate identities, and I know that I’m not alone in those co-existing beliefs.
Religion may be somewhat invisible in Scottish politics, I only found out that Ian Blackford is also part of the Free Church when I was researching to write this article, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, that we’ve been living with all-atheist politicians all this time.
Why Forbes is in the spotlight for her religion, and why it has sparked debate, confuses me if I’m being completely honest, because she isn’t the first and won’t be the last religious MSP in the Scottish National Party, let alone Holyrood.
MSP Ash Regan, a rival for Forbes in the leadership contest, has called the “attacks” against Forbes’s faith “misogynistic”, and so whether or not this is even about religion in politics at all is something only time will tell us. But overall, the Catholic Church could be right in saying that religious people could be discouraged by the treatment of Forbes. This shouldn’t happen though.
Anyone of any religion of love can and should have the opportunity to have a place in politics, as long as the love of their religion can be used to serve the people who elect them. Including the ones in same-sex marriages, the ones who get abortions, the 16 and 17-year-old trans ones, and the ones who have children outside of marriage.
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