“To be a political leader…and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me,” said Tim Farron as he resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. He certainly had a tough General Election campaign, being hounded for his essentially conservative views on abortion (he thought it “wrong“) and homosexuality/same-sex marriage (he abstained at the third reading of the Bill over conscience protections). The fact that he changed his mind on both of these matters during the campaign only served to highlight the merciless bullying and intolerance of the liberal-left media (or, of course, the weakness of Farron’s moral conviction and faith).
“I am pro-choice. I believe that abortion should be safe and legal and that the limit should be set by science,” he told the Guardian on 16th May. “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,”, he told BBC News on 25th April. “I definitely regret it… I would vote for equal marriage,” he told the Observer on 17th May.
“Are there any matters of principle, do you reckon, that Tim Farron isn’t prepared to give up on under pressure from a television journalist?” asked Melanie McDonagh in the Spectator. But it’s easy holding to your devout Roman Catholic principles when you’re a practising Roman Catholic writing for a magazine edited (deputy/associate) by Roman Catholics and owned by Roman Catholics. It’s easy to condemn when you’re bathed in sympathetic commissioning fellowship and surrounded by moral affirmation.
There’s a lot of hypocrisy and crass journalistic comment surrounding Tim Farron’s resignation. The bulk of it runs with the line that there is simply no longer space in public life for those bigots, homophobes and misogynists who hate gays and women, as Tim Farron obviously does. Honestly, there’s not a hair’s breadth between him and the DUP, as far as the media are concerned, so good riddance.
But let’s not forget Brian Paddick, who did a bit of hounding of his own:
You see how intolerantly illiberal these Liberal Democrats actually are? And then this pious tweet from the LibDem Christian Forum:
So wonderfully inspirational and such a dear friend was he that these Liberal Democrat Christians didn’t tweet a single word of support while he was being hounded and bludgeoned by Cathy Newman and her co-illiberalists. We know why, of course. The LibDem Christian Forum disagreed profoundly with their leader on the issues of abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, so they couldn’t be bothered even to defend his liberal right to have an opinion. “Thank you for your faithful service” is just sanctimonious LibDemspeak for ‘So long, farewell, we never really loved you anyway’.
In truth, Tim Farron has never been one to impose his moral views on others, but that doesn’t seem to matter to his party. When he says “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society”, he ought to be saying that the Liberal Democrats are kidding themselves if they think they are a liberal and democratic party. If the LibDem Christian Forum and senior colleagues like Brian Paddick had robustly defended and encouraged their leader instead of heaping pink coals on his head, it might have been possible for him to have withstood the illiberal media onslaught. It is his party which is to blame for his downfall much more than ‘society’.
But then this comes in from the Archbishop of Canterbury:
One can understand the Archbishop’s reticence to intervene during a political campaign, but Tim Farron was expressing his views (and being hounded for them) a few years before the 2017 General Election, and the Church of England was positively trappist – not one episcopal word in his defence; not a whisper of encouragement. Is it not preferable to shield your brother in political life rather than tweet a eulogy at his passing?
Tim Farron is indeed honourable and decent, and he has honourably and decently concluded that it is not possible to be a Christian and lead a political party in the modern era (not, as the Archbishop of Canterbury states, that “he can’t be in politics”). Yet a Christian leads the Conservatives. A Christian leads the DUP. A Christian led Ukip, and Labour, and the SDLP and the UUP. But these Christians tend to hold a view of their faith which coheres with the majority of their party: some are more secular-liberal; others more orthodox and robust. What Tim Farron has established is not that it’s impossible to be a Christian and a Liberal Democrat, but that it’s not possible to be an Evangelical Christian and lead the Liberal Democrats. It’s an important distinction which appears to have escaped the journalistic commentary on this matter.
But here’s a thing. If, as the Archbishop of Canterbury states, the media and politicians have questions to answer over Tim Farron’s forced resignation for daring to think and believe differently on abortion and homosexuality, do not the media and bishops have questions to answer over Philip North’s forced resignation for thinking and believing differently on the ordination of women? Does his treatment not stem from the same totalitarian intolerance of theological difference, and form part of the same drive to impose a kind of gender-sexuality moral uniformity?