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Kate Forbes, Scottish Finance Minister. Picture: Scottish Government
Kate Forbes, Scottish Finance Minister. Picture: Scottish Government

'Only the Bold Need Apply'

Wednesday January 25 2023

Adam McPherson considers the pressures facing Christians in politics.

Why would anyone want to be a politician?

According to pollsters Savanta Comres, only 7% of respondents trusted national politicians to make decisions concerning their local area. In 2012, YouGov polling ranked MPs as the least trusted profession below bankers and journalists. A dismal 21% said they trusted their MP to tell the truth. That statistic has not improved over the last decade.

The numbers make for stark reading. Starker still when you consider why a Christian would want to enter the political fray in the first place. But are Christian values such as trust and honesty compatible with a career in politics?

Tim Farron, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2015-2017, has discussed his own orthodox Christian beliefs in his book A Mucky Business. A criticism levelled at Farron when he was Leader was how he reconciled his faith with his party's policies. At a deeper level, journalists were keen to establish who Farron believed he was ultimately accountable to: was it God or the voting public? This is a question many openly Christian politicians face. For Farron, he identifies as an orthodox Christian first and a Liberal Democrat second.

Farron's justification centres on the proposition that politicians can “compromise politically without compromising theologically.” In their book, Compassion (&) Conviction, Justin Giboney, Michael Wear and Chris Butler remind readers that though it is a mistake to believe all Christians will reach the same political conclusions, Christians “should make... decisions from a Biblical framework.”

Giboney, et al. are correct to highlight that Christians do hold a range of political views but these will be rooted in an individual's conceptualisation of the status and role of the Bible. Farron states that “the Bible is not a manifesto” but he also writes about “biblical standards” which can be compromised in order to “fit in with society's expectations.” The Bible itself may not be a manifesto, but Farron will have stood on numerous Liberal Democrat ones during his career. Both create bonds; the former with the spiritual world and the latter with the physical.

The pressure for liberal-minded politicians in particular to consent and support progressive policies which are in opposition to any “Biblical framework” must be immense. Kate Forbes, Scotland's Finance and Economy Minister, has spoken about how she tackles the conflict which arises from being a member of the Free Church of Scotland and a senior government minister.

Forbes said on the Premier Christian Radio podcast (October 2021) that “it's a lot easier to defend a position that you inherently believe rather than defending a position that you just think Christians should hold.” This is presumably left to the individual to differentiate, but if a policy does undermine one's own “biblical standards”, can a compromise be reached which satisfies both personal belief and the will of the electorate?

Farron contends that he is “not here to legislate to make people who aren't Christians live as though they were.” His central thesis that anyone with a belief rooted in “love and truth, compassion and conviction, social justice and moral order” should engage more politically is compelling. Christianity remains a potent binding force in communities across Scotland. There's a reason why 40% of respondents to the Savanta Comres survey said they trusted local people the most to make decisions about their areas.

As fewer people identify with a Christian faith, it may become harder for those entering politics to speak openly about their beliefs. The journalist Peter Hitchens warns Christians considering going into politics that they will be “reviled” and the Bible is replete with examples of those of faith being met with hostility. Christians should enter politics because they can make a positive impact to society but they must do so with their eyes open, aware that their faith will be challenged and scrutinised. Only the bold need apply.