Is religious belief incompatible with public service following reaction to Kate Forbes’ comments? - Bill Carmichael
With a quick catch-up I discovered that she is a whip smart, Cambridge educated, a fluent Gaelic speaker and passionate about social justice. She trained as an accountant before entering politics and experienced a meteoric rise up the ranks, and at the age of just 32 already has the important post of Finance Secretary in the Scottish government under her belt.
Even if you do not agree with her politics - and as a unionist I certainly don’t - there is no doubt she is a formidable young woman with a bright future ahead of her, and it was little surprise when she threw her hat into the ring to take the top job in Scottish politics.
She is just the sort of person, you may think, to get the SNP train back on the tracks after Sturgeon derailed it with her unhinged obsession with toxic identity politics.
But not a bit of it. Instead, Forbes has become just the latest female politician to suffer a tsunami of misogynistic abuse and online bullying amid claims that she is “unfit for public office”.
Why? Because in a series of interviews earlier this week she expressed views, in a mild and conciliatory manner, that are mainstream in pretty much every religion on the planet.
Forbes is a member of the 13,000-strong Calvinist Free Church of Scotland, colloquially known as the “Wee Frees” north of the border, and it is clear she treats her faith very seriously.
Unlike many politicians she is not prepared to obfuscate, or downright lie, about her beliefs and when asked a series of straight questions by a journalist on contentious issues, she was refreshingly honest in her answers.
Asked about same sex marriage she answered that she believed “in the mainstream teaching in most major religions that marriage is between a man and a woman”, although she went onto stress she would respect and defend the current law of equal marriage “to the hilt”.
On Sturgeon’s disastrous gender reforms, which resulted in a rapist being sent to a female prison, she said she would drop them.
On having children outside of wedlock, she initially said “it doesn’t fuss me, the choices other people make”, but when pressed she added ”my faith would say that sex is for marriage”.
Now you can reasonably disagree with any or all of these comments, and I am sure that those who pride themselves on being “progressive” will think them terribly old fashioned, but are we seriously saying that such views are beyond the pale and make her unfit to serve the public?
Following the furore the Free Church of Scotland put out a statement accusing critics of anti-Christian intolerance, adding that “such ethical convictions have been held for centuries by Christians and other religions. There is nothing new or strange about them.”
But already Ms Forbes has been forced to apologise for “any hurt or offence that has been caused” and she is haemorrhaging support within the SNP. Some pundits are saying her leadership bid is over almost before it had begun.
So are we to conclude that religious belief is incompatible with public service? It certainly seems to be going that way. You may remember that Jacob Rees-Mogg was lambasted for saying that as a Roman Catholic, he followed the Pope’s teachings on abortion. And former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, a devoted Christian, was constantly hounded over whether he viewed homosexuality as a sin.
And Christianity seems to come in for more scrutiny than other religions. After all, our current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is a practising Hindu, but rarely gets asked about it. One of Ms Forbes' rivals for the First Minister job, Humza Yousaf, is rarely questioned if his Muslim faith conflicts with his trendy progressive politics.
For my part I believe it would be a great loss if we hounded every person of faith out of politics.
The world’s great religions have endured over thousands of years, and are founts of wisdom that can guide us to do the right thing, and provide a steadfast anchor that can prevent us drifting hither and yon on the ever-changing currents of fashionable opinion.
Religions have a valuable role to play in shaping a diverse, tolerant and just society that serves people of all faiths and none.