This Easter, be grateful for our religious freedom – Murdo Fraser
A cynical and weary public always expects politicians to put ambition before principles. I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me over the years that when I stood for the Scottish Conservative leadership in 2011 I should have kept quiet about my proposal to convert the party into a new centre-right force distinct from the UK Conservatives.
If I had done so, as the favourite at the time, I might well have won the contest. But it was my view then, as it is still, that the change I was proposing was so radical that I needed to get an explicit mandate from the party membership to take it forward, and it would be simply dishonest of me to stand for election having a secret plan that I was not prepared to explain and debate. Despite not winning, I have never regretted that decision.
I can imagine that friends of Kate Forbes have said something similar to her in the week that has passed since the announcement of the winner of the SNP leadership race. If she had not been so open about her personal views on social issues, informed by her Christian faith, then there is little doubt that today she would be First Minister of Scotland.
The outcome of the contest was so close that, if she had been prepared to renounce – or at least stay quiet – about her position on gender recognition reform, or same-sex marriage, it would have been enough for her to win the race. It is indicative of her strength of character, and the importance of her faith, that she was not tempted to take the easy option.
Whilst many in her own party, and across the political and civic establishment in Scotland, were appalled at her views, the public seemed to take a different tack, with opinion polls showing that she was by some margin the most popular of the leadership candidates with the broader electorate, if not with SNP supporters. Perhaps Scotland is not as “progressive” as some claim, or at least is more forgiving of those with deeply held religious views.
This weekend Christians across the world will celebrate Easter, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His message of sin and salvation was deeply offensive to the religious and political establishment of the day, so much so that it led directly to His crucifixion.
If He had conformed to the opinions of society at the time, Jesus would not have been dragged to his death. It was His message of the need for individuals to turn from their sins, to follow Him, to love one another, and that all were equal before God, that was so offensive to the powers that be that they felt they had to kill Him. He knew that His message would not be popular, that His followers would be hated. “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me first,” the Gospels tell us He said, counselling His disciples: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well.”
There are those today, even in the Church, who seem not to understand this, who argue that the church should conform to the social mores of the day, whether in the UK or elsewhere. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the message of Christianity, which has always been counter-cultural. It is perhaps no surprise that those churches which have been most ready to abandon Biblical standards in a rush to be ‘relevant’ to today’s society are usually also those which have seen the steepest decline in membership.
Christians in our society might face ridicule, or even vilification for their views, as we witness in some of the reaction to Kate Forbes’ opinions. We are fortunate, though, that in our country we do not see some of the horrific persecution experienced by Christians elsewhere in the world. The advocacy group Open Doors has calculated that at least 360 million Christians worldwide experienced high levels of persecution and discrimination in 2022, while the number killed for their faith reached an astonishing 5,898 last year, up from 4,761 in 2021. Nigeria is today the most dangerous country in which to be a Christian, with four out of five martyrs worldwide, driven by an increase in Islamist extremism.
Persecuted Christians are sustained in their faith by the message of Easter, that life follows death, and that darkness turns into light. It is not Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, that His followers celebrate, but Easter Sunday, the day that He rose from the dead. It is the essential confidence in the truth of that message that means that Christians will bear any trouble or torment because the prize of eternal life in Jesus Christ is worth every pain.
Abandoning one’s principles, or compromising on one’s faith for material wealth, career advancement, or simply to “fit in”, may be superficially attractive. However, it offers nothing but misery in the longer run. As Jesus Himself put it: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”
This Easter, let us be grateful that people of all faiths in our country do not suffer the persecutions that are familiar to others across the world. May I wish all readers a peaceful and joyous Easter celebration of our risen Lord.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife
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