Kate Forbes: What is the Free Church of Scotland and what are its beliefs?

Scottish finance secretary current favourite to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader

Martha McHardy
Friday 24 February 2023 10:54 GMT
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SNP candidate Kate Forbes says she would have voted against gay marriage

Scottish National Party (SNP) MSP Kate Forbes has been engulfed in controversy after saying she would have voted against gay marriage.

The Scottish finance secretary was among the favourites to replace Nicola Sturgeon as party leader after she announced she would be stepping down last week.

But Ms Forbes has faced a backlash over some of her views, having said she would have opposed gay marriage as “a matter of conscience” if she had been an MSP when it became law in Scotland in 2014.

She later told Sky News she believes having children outside of marriage is “wrong”, saying it was something she would personally “seek to avoid”.

The MSP is a devout Christian and a member of the Free Church of Scotland.

Here, we explain what the church is and what its beliefs are.

What is the Free Church of Scotland?

The church was formed in 1843 as a protest breakaway group from the mainstream Church of Scotland. It is an evangelical and Calvinist denomination.

It is the second largest denomination in Scotland after the Church of Scotland and is sometimes known as The Wee Frees.

The church has around 100 congregations across Scotland and over 13,000 members.

A new congregation was opened in Montrose in November 2015 and in Dundee in September 2017.

Finance secretary Ms Forbes was seen as a front runner to replace Nicola Sturgeon
Finance secretary Ms Forbes was seen as a front runner to replace Nicola Sturgeon (PA)

The church states that its mission is “not to grow an organisation. Nor is it to become just another club or group within the community”.

Instead, a statement on the church’s website says: “We exist because of Jesus Christ. We want to fulfil his commission to us to ‘make disciples’.

“That means we share his message so that men, women, boys and girls who would know, love, follow, worship, confess and serve Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.”

What are the church’s beliefs?

The Free Church is known for being opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, arguing that they go against the teachings of the Bible.

Former Free Church moderator, the Reverend David Robertson, previously compared abortion to slavery.

He claimed society will “look back with horror” on the “evil” of abortion in the same way that it now looks back at slavery.

The church has also stated its opposition to conversion therapy and its website states: “This revolution has had a very destructive impact on society’s understanding of morality, love, liberty, marriage, the family, and much more that is critical to God-honouring living.

“God has appointed the marriage union between one man and one woman and protected it with the Seventh Commandment. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ includes the prohibition of ‘sodomy and unnatural lists’.”

Clare Haughey MSP is among those who have withdrawn their support for Ms Forbes
Clare Haughey MSP is among those who have withdrawn their support for Ms Forbes (PA)

According to its website, the church’s mission is to “speak about Jesus and explain why he lived and died on the cross as a substitute for sinners”.

The church states that its goal is to “establish a healthy gospel church for every community in Scotland”.

“A healthy church will want to reach out beyond Scotland and have a global perspective,” it says.

“Our group of churches believe that the local church is the engine of mission and a base for each member to be effective multipliers of the message. All subsequent growth comes by the power of God.”

The church aims to “fight against being selfish, greedy, mean, judgmental and every other sin in our hearts, and we want to see a society that is being changed by God’s love and power” it adds.

“We live to serve God in our neighbourhoods, workspaces and communities by serving others, and sharing his values of love, justice and equality.”

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