From the Parish Priest
Fr Nicholas Clews
Is it possible for a Christian to be a leader of any mainstream political party? The question arises following the resignation of Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrat Party. The answer is a clear yes. The evidence for this is simple: all our Prime Ministers for the last twenty years have claimed to be Christians and Theresa Maya and Tony Blair were both regular worshippers.
One of the purposes of public scrutiny, especially in a General Election, is to root out inconsistencies in political statements.
And for Tim Farron there is a tension because the conservative evangelical part of the church to which he belongs takes a very different view of sexuality from that of the Liberal Democrat Party. Is there an inconsistency here? Even hypocrisy? It is a legitimate question.
Tim Farron actually voted in Parliament in favour of equal marriage so his public position is in line with that of his political party. But the questions were about his views on the morality of gay sex, not about the law. Morality and law are not identical. The answer the Mr Farron gave was that he did not think it was sinful. But he prevaricated. He tried to avoid giving an answer. He did not say those words readily. He did not want to say them because he knew he was contradicting the position taken by conservative evangelical Christianity. It is possible he may even have said something he did not believe himself.
What he said of his resignation was that
‘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.’
What we can conclude from this is that the tensions were too great for Tim Farron personally. Others may have been better able to deal with that tension. Others may have not felt the tensions at all.
In fact, many Christians would agree with Liberal Democrat line on gay sexuality. The Anglican Church in Scotland has recently agreed to celebrate same sex marriages. When Theresa May was asked whether she thought gay sex was a sin she gave a straight reply: ‘no’.
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 are taken from the Isaac Watts hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’. They make it very clear that Tim Farron put loyalty to Christ before loyalty to a secular consensus. Whether he interpreted Christ’s calling correctly is another matter.
His decision raises important questions for all of us. Politics and faith do not exist in separate worlds. The Christian faith has something to say about the world of politics. And it is quite possible that for us, just as much as for Tim Farron, there are issues where secular consensus and our faith come into conflict and we have to make a choice. So where are the differences? Is it gay sex? Is it abortion? Or is it nuclear missile systems? Or foreign aid? Austerity? Welfare? Equality? Racism? Or the way that the health and safety of the poorest people is society is neglected by the owners of high-rise social housing.
What do you read in the gospels?