When Tim Farron gave his very honest statement standing down as leader of the Lib Dems, he made it explicitly clear that he has resigned because he feels he can no longer lead the party and also be a committed, faithful Christian in today's climate: "To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible's teaching has felt impossible for me."
Rarely in British political history has a politician spoken so clearly about his faith and how it interacted with his politics. Throughout his tenure as leader of the Liberal Democrats, Farron has routinely been under intense scrutiny over his privately held faith beliefs. During the recent election campaign, when he wanted to be talking about his party’s policies, he instead kept on facing questions about his views on issues such as gay sex and abortion. In his statement, Farron had the good grace to admit he could have answered those questions more wisely.
Farron has exposed the sobering reality that our modern, progressive, pluralist society is no where near as tolerant or as open minded as it likes to think. As he himself put it: "Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case, we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society”. Farron’s experience is by no means an isolated one. Think back to the media’s reaction to Dan Walker becoming the host of BBC Breakfast, or the hysteria from some over the DUP’s involvement in supporting the government.
Today, to be thought of as ‘tolerant’ you need to be fully signed up to society’s pre-determined and very ideological agenda. Fail to agree that same-sex marriage is right, or that abortion is a human right and you will find yourself ridiculed and dismissed as ‘intolerant’. Proponents of the new orthodoxy simply cannot abide anyone who publicly disagrees with them. Diversity for them is a diversity of people who all agree with their ‘progressive’ views.
Fail to agree that same-sex marriage is right, or that abortion is a human right and you will find yourself ridiculed and dismissed as ‘intolerant’
The result of this narrow and intolerant position is that orthodox and evangelical Christianity is viewed with ever increasing suspicion and hostility. As a result, our society is becoming more and more impoverished by our persistent refusal to accept there are different points of view. What’s wrong with thinking that same-sex marriage is wrong? Why should we fear those who disagree with us? The mark of a truly pluralistic society is one where people are allowed to actually believe different things.
The tragic irony is that Farron’s particular mix of faith and politics is very non-threatening. He did not believe in trying to enforce Christian morality on wider society. He openly admitted that to try to do so hinders, rather than helps the spread of the gospel. He was in that sense, a classic liberal. You might disagree with Farron’s policies, but he could hardly be described as some hard-line fundamentalist. It’s not as if he was seeking to impose the Christian worldview through state policy, in fact, the very opposite.
The Prime Minister has spoken before about the absolute right of Christians to speak about their faith in the workplace. But it is not enough simply to talk about these things. The proof is in the pudding. Policy makers must look again at introducing a reasonable accommodation clause into law to help safeguard the rights of Christians and others of faith against further encroachments on our freedom.
It is not enough simply to talk about these things. The proof is in the pudding.
The Christian charity CARE, in partnership with the think tank Respublica produced a report last year arguing for such a clause and suggesting a range of other policy solutions and the government would do well to engage with it.
Farron finished by saying it must have taken something incredible for him to give up being leader of the party he loved. It must, then, have been something: "so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all". These words, quoted by Farron are taken from the Isaac Watts hymn 'When I survey the wondrous cross'. They express a glorious truth about the sufficiency and quality of Christ's love for his people.
The great lesson of the Christian life is that Christ is worth it. He is worth the aggravation and trouble. He is worth the reproach that we will face from a hostile world. Farron clearly feels he cannot serve two masters. In my view, he’s picked the right one to follow.