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In Defence of the Free Church of Scotland – Article in the Spectator

The Spectator asked me to write an article about the Free Church – I was happy to oblige….this is my slightly edited version…You can get the original here..

Recent days have shown an upsurge of interest in a small Presbyterian church (the Free Church of Scotland, colloquially referred to as ‘the Wee Frees’) because one of its members, Kate Forbes, is running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister. As a former Moderator of that Church, an honorary role as an ambassador for the movementit is fascinating, amusing and not a little frustrating for me to watch the ‘expert’ commentators get it so wrong, so often, when they discuss it.

In the past few days, some have publicly wondered if Forbes believes in dinosaurs; if she will be able to do her job on Sundays; and even if she will ban homosexuality. I note how easy it is to pontificate and mock in ignorance a minority group that seems to be ‘on the wrong side of history’ (and that has no ability to do you any harm). Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was asked a very specific question: does he think gay sex is sinful? He could not answer. Forbes is facing a similar inquisition. It will be interesting to see how many – if any – journalists are prepared to ask questions of Humza Yousaf over his Islamic faith. In today’s Scotland, equality and diversity only apply if you join in the groupthink.

There appears to be a new Test Act being imposed upon politicians in the UK

The Free Church is neither a cult nor a sect. It is a historical Scottish Presbyterian church which has its roots in the Scottish Reformation and the Disruption of 1843. It is neither the Church of Scotland nor the Free Presbyterian Church, though they share the same roots. Its reputation is of being a Highland church (usually said with a somewhat patronising ‘oh those backward Highlanders’ – Forbes herself is a Gaelic speaker). But in an era of religious decline, it has shown surprising growth and new life (Forbes is a convert) partly because of the collapse of the Church of Scotland, it is planting new churches in the central belt and borders. It has a significant number of young members and continues to run its own college, Edinburgh Theological Seminary, which trains and educates ministers, teachers and other workers.  There are currently around 100 churches, with more than 13,000 attendees every Sunday.

Due to the influence of American media – an influence which has only increased as wokery and culture wars have infiltrated the academic, corporate, media and political establishments here – there are too many British commentators who seem to see the Free Church as some kind of southern US fundamentalist sect seeking to impose a theocracy upon the whole country. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The Free Church sees its responsibility as being to communicate the teachings of Jesus Christ – not to run the government. The Church does not endorse political candidates, nor does it believe that it should take party political positions. As a result, there are people of all different political persuasions in our congregations. In my former church, St Peter’s in Dundee, we had Labour supporters, Greens, Tories, Lib Dems, those who couldn’t care less and SNP members – including the party’s former leader, Gordon Wilson.

While we do not take party political positions, we do proclaim God’s word on a number of moral issues, including injustice, poverty, racism, euthanasia, abortion, family, sexuality, greed, violence and marriage. Like other Christians, we regard all human life as sacred and so oppose the taking of life within the womb, or in euthanising the elderly and sick. We also believe that all human beings are equally created as male or female in the image of God. While we recognise the struggle that some transgender people suffer with, we believe it is irrational and unscientific to claim that people can change biological sex. Others may not agree with those views, but we are disturbed that holding them is deemed, by some, to be a reason for exclusion from public life. There appears to be a new Test Act being imposed upon politicians in the UK.

Many people are confused by the term ‘theologically conservative’. This does not imply political conservatism but simply means the Wee Free Church is prepared to stick with and teach the message of the Bible. Once commonplace, that is truly radical today. In this regard it should be noted that the phrase ‘go woke, go broke’ applies to churches as much as to companies and commercial media. The irony is that in today’s Scotland, it is churches which have bought into the current zeitgeist to ‘appeal to today’s society’.

The Free Church of Scotland’s role is to persuade by life and teaching, not to coerce by government, force of law and indoctrination. And yet it appears that we are considered such a threat that while the UK can have a Hindu prime minister and London a Muslim mayor; Scotland should not be permitted to have a member of our church as leader.

Forbes would argue that her beliefs, like everyone else’s beliefs, would of course impact how she votes, but that she accepts we live in a law abiding democracy and in governing as First Minister would accept the democratic vote. There is a distinction between personal conscience and government law. But obviously that isn’t enough for the MSPs who are now withdrawing support for her because of her beliefs. Would they do the same if she were Muslim or Catholic? And if so, are we saying that members of such churches (or mosques) are only tolerated in public life if they renounce certain beliefs?

In the words of Mel Gibson, we can only cry ‘Freedom’. Or perhaps Jesus says it better: ‘If the truth sets you free, you will be free indeed.’


  1. Thank you and, if it does not sound patronising, well done for this and for the other CT articles you have written or provided links to lately .
    They have been my go to – for clarity, measure and truth.

    We are grateful to God for your voice David. I pray for you.

  2. Superb article. But will the narrow-minded bigots in our politics and press read it? Or are the only valid views and opinions theirs?

  3. Well done well said, praying the Lord will over rule and Kate Forbes against the odds will become First Minister.

  4. A quote from the article “Forbes has said that her beliefs would not change how she votes, so she draws a distinction between what she’d seek to do as first minister and her personal conscience.” Has this been added by an editor, because it makes no sense?

    Surely her beliefs SHOULD change how she votes? Surely her personal conscience MUST determine what she would do as First Minister. As Christians we can’t have it both ways. If her conscience says abortion is wrong, murder, then should would have to vote against it and speak against it. How could she in all honesty and integrity not vote to stop such a thing and speak out against it? The question is how can she stand on a manifesto if it is in conflict with her faith?

    Her beliefs on moral issues have to influence and determine her actions. If they don’t they she is as compromised as the Muslim politicians that promote policies directly in opposition to their religion’s teaching.

    As a non-conformist I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of thought. But as a Christian your faith MUST affect your actions. Her belief in the gospel MUST affect her votes and polices?

  5. Good article David, also encouraging that you were asked to contribute to the discussion in the Spectator. I note that thus far most of the comments left there are very supportive despite being from self professed non Christians.

    However the question that really bothers me is: What is God saying to us Christians here in Scotland if Kate (the Christian) loses and Yousaf (the Muslim) wins! We have the potential of having an Evangelical Christian First Minister and God says no (or maybe it’s wait…be patient)

    I hope there’s enough space in Australia for more of us Scots coming over?!

  6. I think a distinction has to be made between Kate Forbes’ suitability to be the leader of the SNP and her suitability to be First Minister of Scotland. If someone says that her Christian beliefs on certain social issues make her unsuitable to be the First Minister of Scotland then that is grossly unacceptable. It is blatant discrimination. But if someone says that her views on certain social issues make her unsuitable to be the leader of a party which holds precisely the opposite position on those views, then that seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. How can someone lead a party when they don’t agree with some of the party’s key policies? I don’t see how she can have any complaint when people point out that she is personally opposed to those policies. (What would be the reaction if a candidate said that she was personally opposed to independence for Scotland but would accept that was the policy of the party?) If I were a member of a political party I wouldn’t want my leader being personally opposed to key party policies. And, as a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed to hear certain American politicians who claim they are Catholics, saying that while they are personally opposed to abortion they fully support women who want to abort their unborn babies.

  7. David you quoted John 8. 32. It is preceded by Jesus saying in 31b. ‘If you abide in My word, you are my disciples 32 and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
    Kate to her credit is abiding the Word. The world would be so different if we all did that – we would be free!

  8. The fact that David Robertson feels he has to write this article explaining what the Free Church is, goes to show that things in Scotland and thoughout the western world have not changed for the better. Woa betide anyone who does not agree with group thinking. There was a time when such an explanation would not have been needed, not even by people who were not members of the church. those outside it had some respect. Now we are despised.

      1. We approve throughly – after all the Scripture does so…..but the question (accusation?) depends on what you mean by dancing…..! Whatsoever is pure, good and beautiful we approve of….Herodias dancing before Herod probably doesn’t fit into that category!

  9. I professed faith in a Church of Scotland congregation, after a radical shift from atheism many years ago. I would now be wary of taking communion in a Church of Scotland setting, on account of a crisis of conscience on their same-sex marriage policy. I was ordained in the Anglican Church after retirement, but am now disillusioned with our present drift on same -sex relationships and transgenderism (non-binary Bingo etc…. Also, it’s hard not to be sickened by safeguarding lapses and cover ups within Anglicanism, such as are being exposed or analysed by Lee Furney ( The Waco v Woke split in Anglicanism is unfair. That picture does not do the issues justice. All of us, in our faith journey, cringe at points where we used to be too liberal or too fundamentalist. That’s why the Apostle’s Creed, and simple doctrine on sexuality (Lambeth 1:10 and its fair application), are so important. I would undoubtedly be drawn to the Free Church of Scotland, if living ‘North of the Border. ‘ The adherence to simple biblical common sense, on abortion, on transgenderism and on gay marriage, is admirable and to be welcomed unreservedly. The expectancy at Free Church prayer meetings (and main worship services) is a real joy. The politeness and tolerance, which I have invariably encountered at Free Church fellowship meetings, is a real joy, too. My interpretation on Genesis-Revelation-Women’s Ministry differs from that of many Free Church members, but they have always heard me out politely, and we have had a lot of fun in dialogues. I would unreservedly recommend a Free Church midweek prayer meeting as a good place to take any inquirer.

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