Keeping the Snail’s March

For me, Kate Forbes epitomises the challenge and the triumph of what it means to be a Christian with a public profile. The church rejoiced openly as she rose through the ranks of her party, trusted with increasingly heavy responsibilities. In our more reasonable moments we remembered to give thanks for her witness.

Sadly, our reasonable moments are all too rare and the reality is that Kate is much more likely to be attacked on questions of faith by fellow Christians than she ever is by the atheist community. For the most part, unbelievers think her faith is irrelevant and would sooner take issue with her nationalism or her fiscal policy. Or the fact that she’s a Teuch. But the brethren, oh, we don’t hold back in our carping. Although the complaints against her take many forms, they can be grouped together under the broad accusation – a perennial favourite of mine – ‘no Christian should support the SNP’. 

Leaving aside the fact that no Christian should be so flipping judgemental, let’s consider what might be behind this opinion. Because the Nationalists are in power and have been for so long, their policies are subject to prolonged public and media scrutiny. So, the opposition parties lurk in the shadows and let the ruling party take all the heat. Amongst all the finger pointing, few remember that those who stayed silent are complicit in wrongdoing as much as those who designed and built it.

A person would have to be either naïve or partisan to believe that the SNP is alone in its stance on the big ‘moral issues’ (which, bizarrely, never seem to include child poverty or homelessness). Let’s be honest, all mainstream parties have a broadly similar policy on gender, on marriage, on abortion, and on euthanasia. 

Why is that, though? Simply because they are the elected representatives of an unregenerate world. They do their secular best to create an environment of justice and social equality, quite divorced from the instruction manual. A Christian like Kate Forbes is all too well aware how doomed to failure such an endeavour is. No politician can save souls, not even if they imposed Biblical law on the nation entire. Obedience to God’s law cannot be the starting point for redemption because it grows from it – it is like expecting the flower without first supplying a seed. 

Besides, party politics is a numbers game. It is all about being in the majority – that’s how you get your views heard at branch level, and nationally. That’s how your party gets elected into power. Strategy, predicated on what the people want will bring you to the place where decisions are made. Remember, though, these are unregenerate people, for the most part, voting in a well-meaning way to get a better society for themselves, their children, and maybe even for those they see as downtrodden and exploited. They do not see Jesus as the way, far less the truth and the life; he, and his irksome followers actually stand between Scotland and progress.

And we prove them wrong . . . how? By turning on our own. We tell Christians in public life that they are falling short. Instead of giving genuine thanks to God that there are a few righteous among us prepared to be bruised and bloodied in the fray, we attack them for being part of a system that actually we all helped to create from the moment we fell. Kate Forbes can’t be a real Christian because she holds membership of a party that condones things that are unbiblical. 

This is an object lesson in shortening the arm of God. It presupposes any number of things – including that a politician cannot be called in the same way that ministers of religion are – and it seems to deny the possibility that human government is not the ultimate authority. 

People who never do anything make the mistake of thinking that they will never, therefore, do anything wrong. But, belonging – as we do – to a body whose mission statement begins with the imperative, ‘go’, stasis and torpor might actually be a greater affront than the occasional misstep. 

I have often avoided asking God his will for me, entirely because I fear his answer. He has had his way of inconveniencing me in the past, and I tremble to let him have that opportunity again. However, that is probably true in the experience of every believer – which is exactly why we should be more mindful of those who have answered his call. By ‘answered’ I don’t mean those who assume the mere appearance of vocation, but people who get their nose bloodied and their knees worn in the journey of obedience.

You pray for your minister and elders, I am sure. Such people report feeling a heightened awareness of God’s protection because of the prayer that surrounds them.

But there are other Christians who have been called and, because they don’t serve the institution we like to think of as ‘The Church’, we not only neglect to pray for them, but actually turn on them when – in our flawed opinion – they ‘fall short’. Spurgeon was well aware that some Christians were jealous of those who appeared to have done more for the cause than themselves; instead of redoubling their own efforts, they sought to drag the champions of faith back. Let’s not hold Kate accountable for the sinful ignorance of others, but let us uphold her in prayer for all the battles she has to fight.

Ultimately, they are our battles too.

8 thoughts on “Keeping the Snail’s March

  1. There are two of us here in Suffolk who agree with the sentiments expressed in this piece. Christians seem to feel the need to criticise other Christians for all manner of simple failings, such as suitable hymns, suitable music for the services, (trivia by comparison with homelessness and child poverty or the refugee crisis). Thankyou for making this point so well.
    David and Sue, Suffolk, England, UK

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  2. Voting for a candidate not a party.
    If no party embodies Christian values, how about voting for the best candidate? At least that might secure one vote and one voice for righteousness in the parliament? It might do, but the elected representative might backtrack when under the pressures of party, media and political culture.
    Even if they are true to their colours, the main effect of your vote is to endorse their party, and possibly make it the government.
    Parties can cleverly place Christian candidates in areas where they fear that Christian views may be more common. By this tactic, they can keep Christian voters on board while steering a course in an anti-Christian direction.
    What can be done if a Christian MP or MSP is deserving of a more prominent role? The usual strategy seems to be to give them responsibilities well away from contentious moral issues. Finance, constitution, transport – they’re pretty safe bets. Education? Equality? Human Rights? Best keep them well clear of these areas or their Christian values might start “interfering” with their role.
    The emphasis on finding candidates’ personal views can be justified if politics remains a competition between parties that don’t promote distinctive Christian moral values. But what happens when a party that does make such principles a matter of policy enters the fray?
    Christian voters are deciding which party or candidate to vote for. They might be influenced by Christian MSPs in the current Holyrood parties, and also consider the Scottish Family Party. Their thoughts might run along the lines that a lovely Christian MSP goes to the church down the road and appears at Christian events, and the SFP seems to have Christian principles.
    Is there a danger that the existing Christian MSPs are inducing Christians to vote for parties that utterly reject some of their core beliefs? While they might exert some positive influence within their party, might the net effect be negative as they garner the Christian vote for parties with policies that severely infringe Christian moral teaching?
    That’s an open question.

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  3. Catriona, I hope you don’t mind me taking issue with some of the points in this blog post?
    You find it “bizarre” that the “big ‘moral issues’ … never seem to include child poverty or homelessness”. I understand you to mean this in contrast to abortion, gender issues, marriage and euthanasia, which you mention later. But to equate these in this manner is surely to make a major category error. The two issues you raise can be grouped as symptoms of poverty. This is a sad evil in our world, but it is not immoral. The early church repeatedly emphasised the efforts of Christians to alleviate poverty, but they did not categorise it’s existence as a moral evil. Doing this dilutes the enormity of the real moral evils that are to the fore in public discourse at present, which you go on to list.
    If Christians condemn a cabinet minister for supporting Scottish independence then they are guilty of the same thing, as the Bible is silent on the principle of whether or not Scotland should be a part of the UK. But if they highlight that a Christian cabinet minister is in danger of being unfaithful to Christ by the policy positions they support under collective responsibility, then that is surely legitimate? That the other main parties are just as bad, is hardly a strong argument.
    Perhaps you’d agree that arguing that biblical laws won’t make our populace into Christians, is something of a straw man?
    Kate Forbes did good for the cause of Christ when she witnessed in her interview with Nick Robinson. We must pray for her, and will rejoice when she stands firm on the great issues currently afflicting our nation – but we’ve not seen that yet.

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    • Hi Mark. No, I don’t mind, but I’m a bit puzzled as to why we would categorise sins and take it upon ourselves to decide which merit more attention – which was my original point. Ezekiel 16:49-50 makes it clear that failure to take care of the poor and pursuit of personal greed IS a sin. Unfortunately, it’s one in which most of us are complicit, which is probably why it’s not so much talked about as those that are ‘other’.
      No, I don’t agree that I have set up a straw man or I would never have written the blog. There are many Christians who spend their lives on these big moral issues – telling unregenerate people that they’re sinning against God, without ever mentioning the redemptive love of Christ. It is futile. Christ didn’t berate the woman at the well; she saw herself as the sinner she was by being in his presence.
      ‘The great issues currently afflicting our nation’ are not merely euthanasia or abortion or homelessness – but the sin that causes them to be acceptable in our eyes. And the cure for sin isn’t politics, nor is it finger-pointing; it is as it has always been, redemption in Christ.

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  4. Catriona, I’ve not taking it upon myself to do any such thing. I’m simply re-iterating a well understood, longstanding distinction between physical evils (wars, earthquakes, loneliness, sickness, pain, poverty, floods) and moral evils, ie sin. It is an important distinction, for otherwise we can make God the author of sin.
    You seemed to be saying that child poverty and homelessness are national sins in the same sense as abortion and sexual sins. Whereas the true case is that these (poverty and homelessness) are sad symptoms of the fallen world in which we live – not sins in and of themselves. The Ezekiel 16 reference points out the sin of failing to do anything to help the poor, and there is no disagreement there.
    I’m not sure it’s helpful to speak of ‘berating’ and ‘finger-pointing’: these are obviously loaded words. Was John the Baptist ‘berating’ Herod when he condemned him for an immoral sexual relationship? Was he failing to preach the love of Christ? He told Herod, the unregenerate governor, that his relationship was not ‘lawful’ – which law was he holding Herod to?
    Christ with the woman of Samaria is an interesting, and instructive, example. I would respectfully disagree with your assessment that it was the mere presence of Christ that convicted her. When we read the passage, we see that it was in fact His word, when He put his finger on the particular sexual immorality that had characterised her life. Far from repelling her, this brought her to see the grace of the Saviour.
    Surely we all wish our nation to be governed as righteously as God’s common grace will allow. It has been governed more righteously in other days, even by non-Christian politicians. The Bible everywhere requires those in authority to rule according to the standards of the One from whom their authority is derived (2 Samuel 23:3; Proverbs 8:15). It is surely incumbent on us to hold them to that.

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    • I’m saying that the sin in you and I which causes, and fails to alleviate, poverty, hunger and homelessness are at least as deserving of our attention as what we perceive as moral failure (almost always in others).
      You will forgive me, but you are not John the Baptist and Kate Forbes is not Herod. She is a Christian in a hostile political arena, and deserving of the prayerful support of her brethren – full stop. She is not personally responsible for the sinful policies embraced by her party. I find it peculiar, therefore, that she – one of the few witnesses for Christ in the Scottish Government – should become the target for criticism from within the church, rather than prayerful support.

      I think it’s fair to say that you and I don’t agree on the best way to approach Christianity in politics, nor issues of morality. It’s my belief that insistence on doing what we think is ‘incumbent upon us’ has emptied our churches and turned our nation away from God. What right do you or I have to tell anyone that their behaviour is sinful? So is mine; so is yours. I continue to maintain that the starting point is and must be Christ. Show them Christ, and all other things will fall into place.

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  5. Excellent and thought-provoking blog as usual. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although I’m not sure if what was meant in one of the other comments by war being classified as a “natural” evil
    Also, when we see the effort that various self-interest groups put into making sure that the rich get richer (the ‘Pandora Papers’ being the latest evidence of this) then it does seem that the continued existence of poverty and homelessness is indeed a truly moral evil.
    Keep up the good work Catriona!

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