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The Tim Farron saga proves evangelicals are no longer welcome in public life

Society has decided that if you hold to traditional Christian sexual ethics, there's no room for you in public life anymore, argues James Mildred

Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian, resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, because, in his own words: "To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me."

Ever since then, its been impossible to ignore the question raised by the circumstances of Farron’s resignation: Can you be a Christian who hold orthodox views on marriage and sex and yet also be influential in public life?

In a brilliant interview with Rosie Wright and John Pantry on Premier Christian Radio's Inspirational Breakfast, Farron seemed to suggest that it might be possible for a Bible-believing Christian to be leader of a political party. When asked if there was a glass ceiling for Christians in politics he said: "I don’t know. There was for me, but that doesn’t mean somebody more talented and wiser wouldn’t get significantly further."

Some have claimed you absolutely can be a Christian and be prominent in public life and cited Theresa May as an example. But this overlooks the fact she rowed back on her previous voting habits on LGBT issues. She's also said she does not think gay sex is a sin. So we need to understand that May’s Christianity is not identical to Farron’s. He was widely known as a practising evangelical. May is not. So it's not a valid comparison.

What other examples can we point to of prominent Bible believing Christians who are regularly heard in the public square? The sobering truth is they don't exist. 

That’s not to say there are no orthodox Christians in politics, rather that they are more commonly found in less prominent roles than Farron achieved when he became leader. Remember Farron became leader of a devastated party following a disastrous election in 2015. It's unlikely he would have become leader in other circumstances.

Jesus warns his disciples to expect persecution and suffering

Yet, as Farron explained, when you look at the Bible, there are two notable examples of wise rulers who happened to believe fervently in God and who were highly influential - Joseph and Daniel. Moreover history reminds us of people like William Wilberforce who was a powerful force for good and a strong evangelical Christian. History also records that mighty theologians like John Owen used to preach to parliament.

But those days are long gone.

In fact, the New Testament sets our expectations. Jesus warns his disciples to expect persecution and suffering. He explains that it will happen ultimately because people hate him and as a consequence, hate the disciples too (John 15:20). The Apostle Peter wrote to Christians scattered across the Roman Empire and told them not to be surprised by trials and suffering. To publicly be seen as belonging to Jesus will more likely than not result in ridicule and scorn.

But then the Bible never suggests applause and respect from other people is our great aim. No! In fact, the Bible consistently teaches us that our aims are far higher. It is the glory of God that is our chief motive and aim. Moreover, a follower of Jesus is comforted by the promises of God that the verdict that matters, namely his, is 100 per cent positive.

There is a new orthodoxy that does not tolerate biblical Christianity

So evangelicals and those holding orthodox Christian views must resist the temptation to hide away. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That includes politics! The very last thing our secular society needs is for Christians to retreat behind the barricades. If God puts it in your heart to get involved in politics then do so! Do it for him. Do it in the knowledge that God will help you and give you the words to say. You’ll need to be careful. But then so do all God’s people.

If Farron’s resignation raises questions for Christians, it surely raises even more serious questions for our society. It likes to pride itself on its toleration, its equality and its acceptance. But the truth is our society is not truly liberal and free, far from it.

There is a new orthodoxy that does not tolerate biblical Christianity. Either society must give up the pretense and stop calling itself ‘liberal’. Or it must seriously reform itself to ensure that all minorities are afforded the right to be heard. The fact that Farron had to resign is a sobering reminder to us all of how far removed our nation now is from its Christian heritage. People need to be free to believe. Real debate exists only when differences are allowed to be discussed. That should be our aim. 

James Mildred is a political commentator and co-host of the Holy Political Podcast

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