Published March 2, 2023
On February 15, the radically progressive Nicola Sturgeon announced she would resign as first minister of Scotland. Her fall is without doubt something that should be greeted with joy by any who love the land of Scotland over which she presided with an iron hand for so many years. Her last act of any significance—attempting to codify gender ideology into Scottish law—was pursued with a personal zeal matched only by her remarkable and total ignorance of the philosophical problems inherent in trans ideology. Such is sadly a sign of the times.
Another sign of the times is the controversy that has subsequently engulfed the most talented candidate to replace her: Kate Forbes. Forbes is a young but very impressive politician, representing the Scottish National Party (SNP). There is only one problem: She is a Christian and dares to take her faith more seriously than her politics. A member of the Free Church of Scotland (the denomination in which I was ordained many years ago while teaching in Aberdeen), she is a Protestant of the traditional type that takes the Bible seriously, including those parts that conflict with the views our political and media class increasingly sees as necessary for membership in polite society.
The specific point of contention with Forbes is her opposition to gay marriage. Now, she has made it clear that she has no intention of campaigning to reverse Scottish law on this matter. She clearly believes something missed by the strident voices on both sides of the political aisle: that living in a representative democracy means living with a certain number of policies or practices with which one personally disagrees. But that is not enough. Such is our cultural climate that even conservative commentator Alex Massie in The Spectator considered Forbes’s admission on the gay marriage issue to be a stupid mistake. That may well say more about the state of conservatism than it does about Forbes. It certainly tells us much about our political culture: One’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues is now regarded by many as a litmus test for whether one can speak in public, such that any dissent—even at the level of a mere thought verbalized—is punishable.
The reaction of journalists and politicians to Forbes indicates that we are now in a world where identity politics is reaching a dangerously destabilizing point. If the terms of membership in society are as fluid and ever-changing as the design of the Pride flag, and if no dissent from such orthodoxy will be left unpunished, something deeply sinister is happening. Evangelical leaders may think that they can save themselves by inventing a new logical fallacy—the nos quoque, whereby highlighting the putative bigotry of earlier generations of evangelicals allows them to appear to be “down with the kids” of our current political culture. But to believe that is a mistake. Cheap repentance for the alleged sins of others in the past will not grant absolution for one’s own perceived sins in the present. Sooner or later the spinning must stop and straight answers must be given. The identity lobby is powerful, knows it is powerful, and uses that power at every opportunity. Just ask Kate Forbes. Or J. K. Rowling. Or Kathleen Stock.
Indeed, in a brilliant reflection on the Forbes controversy, Kathleen Stock points to the myth driving so much of contemporary identity politics: that of the powerful enemy who must be resisted by any and every means necessary but who actually no longer exists in any potent way. A moment’s reflection on modern Western culture confirms how the power of the LGBTQ+ lobby depends upon just such mythology. Contrast today’s LGBTQ+ people with German Jews in the 1930s. One clear sign of the grip of anti-Semitism was the fact that in that society, identifying businesses as Jewish was a means of marginalizing and even destroying them. The yellow star was an enforced sign of public disgrace, one that made persecution much easier. And there was certainly no day dedicated to the national celebration of Jewish history or Yiddish identity. All these signs indicate that the Jews were essentially powerless and living in a world of violent anti-Semitism.
When your movement boasts a whole month devoted to public and ubiquitous celebrating—nay, gloating—about its cultural power, when connecting your business to that identity is a savvy commercial move to boost your customer base, and when you wear your rainbow badge as a symbol of Pride (and pour public scorn on any who do not), there seems little ground for claiming that you still possess the coveted contemporary status of victimhood. Your identity is not invisible, nor is it vulnerable, and you are not operating from a position of cultural or political weakness or marginality. Yes, there may be bigots and crazy people out there trying to harm you, just as there are shoplifters, rapists, and serial killers harming small businesses, women, and random members of the general public. But these people are not the officer class of our culture. To claim victimhood as a class when you wield such cultural power is not only to trivialize the condition of real victims; it is to place yourself in the family line of those who have used such mythologies to give institutionalized thuggery and bullying a wafer-thin but oh-so-plausible patina of righteousness. And that is very dangerous.
As for Kate Forbes, I pray that she stays true to her convictions and to her savior. Perhaps her faith will cost her the leadership of the Scottish government. Maybe it will terminate her political career as a whole. But as someone once said, what will it profit someone to gain the whole world if in doing so she loses her soul?
Carl Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.