Classic liberalism means everyone’s views have a place in the national conversation, says James Mildred. If Hindus and Muslims can lead political parties and hold high office, why can’t an evangelical Christian?


Source: Reuters

“To stop people from saying what they really feel is overly draconian.” So said Kemi Badenoch, the UK government’s minister for women and equalities, in an interview with Politico. She was talking about Kate Forbes, the Scottish MSP tipped to replace Nicola Sturgeon, before a media storm over her views on same-sex marriage erupted this week.

Pointing to her role as “guardian” of the Equality Act, which includes religious protections, Badenoch said: “To ask me to criticise someone for their religious beliefs, when I’m supposed to be safeguarding it, shows that those people don’t understand equality. What they want is to use the Equality Act as a sword to fight their own personal battles, rather than as a shield to prevent others from discrimination.”

Behind all of this, is a sovereign God with the power to raise up leaders and bring them down

In her defence of Forbes, what Badenoch was articulating was classical liberalism. The idea is that you have your own beliefs and worldview and, naturally, that shapes how you think about everything. It doesn’t mean everyone will agree with you, but it does mean your ideas and convictions can be part of the national conversation. You have a right to be heard.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a society like that? One where there is a plurality of views, but where there is a genuine respect and willingness to accept difference. Theologian Richard Mouw called it “convicted civility”. You have strong opinions, but you can also listen well and communicate them graciously.

Mutant liberalism

If this week’s evidence is anything to go by though, what we’re really witnessing is what Lord David Alton called “a mutant version of liberal ideology: all-knowing, self-regarding and autocratic.” Many people seem to think that because their views are ‘progressive’, or ‘on the right side of history’, they shouldn’t have to tolerate views like the ones Kate Forbes has articulated. Of course, the supreme irony is those same people who love to preach tolerance exhibit a radical intolerance of any views different to their own.

One journalist tweeted that Forbes’s views on same-sex marriage disqualified her from being First Minister. They added: “faith is no excuse for ignorance”. It was a stunningly ironic tweet. I wonder if they realised that they were demonstrating their own ignorance, based upon their own ‘faith’?

Yet again, it seems that Christians are effectively being told to keep their faith at home. But this just will not do. Jesus said we are “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth” (see Matthew 5:13-16). There can be no such thing as private Christianity. Our faith demands a public expression.

Meritocracy, defined

But perhaps more importantly, our politics will be significantly poorer if we continue on this path towards marginalising Bible believing Christians. Kate Forbes is a talented and gifted politician. She has real conviction and has led as Finance Secretary with skill.

Her active faith in Jesus makes her more, not less, suited to the challenge of being First Minister. As she said in a statement this week, she believes in the “inherent dignity of everyone”. This view alone makes her a superb candidate.

In Scotland, a great experiment is being played out, for all the world to see. Can a committed, evangelical Christian hold high office? With Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, we know a Hindu can. With Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London, we know a Muslim can.

But based on what I’ve seen, their religious views are not deemed offensive enough to bar them from top jobs. Whereas, if you listen to the Scottish establishment, parts of the media and commentariat, Forbes’s Christian convictions clearly do disqualify her.

Standing for more

I wholeheartedly agree with Badenoch when she said she admired Kate Forbes for being so honest. This week, I have watched with growing regard as Forbes calmly and honestly articulated her Christian worldview before a hostile media. I don’t want to gush here. At times, Forbes did seem rattled – understandably – and you might quibble with some of her phrasing. But, my goodness, she’s been a refreshing blend of courage, conviction and sincerity.

Watching her, I found myself convicted about my own hesitancy and fear. It made me stop and think about the media bids I’ve turned down because I’ve been afraid. Even though I completely agree with her, could I say what Forbes said?

Those people who love to preach tolerance exhibit a radical intolerance of any views different to their own

It remains to be seen what the results of this experiment will be. As I have read media reports predicting the demise of Forbes’s campaign, I couldn’t help but think of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 1:20. There, the great apostle tells us that God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world”. The great minds of Paul’s time dismissed Jesus and the cross as mere weakness. But God showed them up. In his wisdom, weakness is the very path to glory.

I’m praying God does the same in Scotland. The pundits may have written Forbes off. But behind all of this, is a sovereign God with the power to raise up leaders and bring them down. Intriguingly, a poll of SNP members published today had Forbes as the favourite to win. Wouldn’t that be amazing.

Whatever happens, I praise God for Kate Forbes’s courage and example. Let’s hope it emboldens us all to step into the public square, make our views and voices heard with conviction and civility.