Now that the Liberal Democrats have been left to their own devices to elect a new leader, the attention inevitably turns to Labour and their continued attempts to find an electable leader. But before moving on we need to thank Norman Lamb for his clumsy attempts to drag Christianity to the forefront of political discussions involving leadership candidates who show any sign that they may have some sort of faith.
Clearly undaunted by the hoo-hah stirred up last week regarding his beliefs, Tim Farron gave a parting shot in the Guardian on Saturday, which turned into a particularly explicit interrogation of his faith. Irrespective of what you think of Farron and his Christianity, you’ve got to admire a politician who isn’t afraid to discuss some potentially unpopular views and upset various people in the process. Firstly he took a shot at liberal Christians saying he has ‘little patience with many contemporary Christians’ wishy-washy notions of a “half-baked, low-wattage, part-time God”.’ Then by declaring that everyone will go to heaven or hell he’s probably annoyed a whole group of people who ironically don’t believe in either heaven or hell. And beyond that – shock horror – he even prays about his job.
In contrast we have Labour leadership hopeful, Andy Burnham speaking late last week to Pink News about his relationship with the Church. Burnham is a Roman Catholic and is the only Labour contender who has expressed any commitment to a religious faith. In the past he has said that ‘the three most important things in my life are Everton FC, the Labour Party and the Church – in that order.’ Despite being an altar boy when he grew up, he is ‘not a regular church-goer’ anymore, which does beg the question of how much he really cares about Everton and his party too.
Anyway, unlike Farron who has stated that God is sovereign, Burnham appears less than convinced that God, or at least his church, has as good an understanding of what is right in politics as he does. Given that he was talking to a gay news site the subject matter was inevitable, but as far as he is concerned, the Pope should be sanctioning same-sex marriages within Catholic churches and that faith schools should be forced to teach sex and relationships education giving ‘absolute equality in terms of all relationships’.
For someone who professes a faith it is both curious and sad that he has little to say about it that is positive. Instead as he puts it: ‘I have been repeatedly at odds with the Catholic church for all of my time as an MP. I have always been going against what they were saying, and that is challenging.’
So there we go. It looks as though churches and Christians aren’t going to be seeing much love and support coming from whoever wins the Labour leadership contest. Ed Miliband may be an atheist through-and-through, but he nonetheless publicly declared his thanks on several occasions for all that churches do in our society to make it a better place. Can we expect even this much from his replacement?
A couple of final thoughts on this matter: It is good and right that politicians should be able to freely talk about the place of religion and faith in their own lives. It provides a window into their minds and souls that reveals a great deal. It would be beneficial therefore for each candidate standing for leadership being given a similar level of interrogation on their beliefs and philosophies instead of focusing most of the attention on those who have come out as Christians. Are the views of agnostics or atheists any less newsworthy?
Secondly, why are we finding out much about their approach to the Christian faith initially from Pink News? Tim Farron also discussed aspects of his faith in an interview with them long before Norman Lamb raised the subject. This is in no way a criticism of Pink News. They’ve obtained these exclusive interviews through their own efforts, but the question is why are we not seeing the candidates giving interviews with the Christian press? The likes of Christian Today, Christianity Magazine, Premier Radio, the Catholic Herald and the Church Times have enough readers and listeners to make interviews, especially with Christian candidates, a worthwhile and valuable endeavour. Only a fool would argue that Christians are not interested in these matters. If it’s because these outlets haven’t bothered, then shame on them, but if it’s down to politicians’ reluctance to engage with a less fashionable press that they would rather not associate with, then that is hugely unimpressive and bordering on prejudice. Is that not too much to ask?
Of course if any politician should want to collaborate with this widely read blog, we are more than open to offers…