Being a liberal. The “persecution” of Tim Farron

I’ve read a great deal about Tim Farron in the last few days, following his resignation from being leader of the LibDems. He said that it was impossible to reconcile being a Christian with being a political leader. That is a very ambiguous statement – but most people have taken it to mean that his views on homosexuality made it impossible to be the leader of the LibDems. I shouldn’t imagine that the DUP would find his views problematic, so it is not an issue about politics in general, more his own party and his own views.

I had rather wished Farron would have worded his speech better – his implication is that being a Christian means holding the views he does, and as we know well in the ‘pisky church, there are a multiplicity of views on the subject of same-sex relationships. But that’s by the by. The real issue I have with what he said was the flavour of self-pity which his speech brought to the issue. This has been taken and run with by many people, accusing Farron of being persecuted for his beliefs, and how “illiberal” the LibDems are if they can’t have someone with his views leading their party.

There is certainly a discussion to be had about the place religion in the political and public sphere. But also there is an issue concerning Farron’s inability to be honest about his own views.

I suspect (and it is simply a suspicion) that he lied about his own views on homosexuality, when he said he had no problem with gay sex, because people told him he had to. If he did “have” to lie that is indeed a shame. But he didn’t have to. The issue is about how he answered those questions, and the fact he wanted his Christianity to be public only when it suited him.

There are many ways in which Farron could have successfully answered the question – he could have said “I have an issue with equal marriage, but I would never vote against it because I don’t demand my opinions become universalised”. Or he could have said “I have no issue with equal marriage” But what he actually said was a series of fudges, and something about his private beliefs not being at issue.

Of course they are. People want their politicians to have a morality which they can see and understand. To say that your views on homosexuality are not important would be like saying your views on Trident, or austerity, or equal rights for women are private. If you are a Christian, that is a huge part of what you are, and I simply can’t understand any Christian saying that their faith is compartmentalised in the way Farron believes it can be. Either you are proud of your beliefs, in which case, proclaim them, or you are ashamed of your beliefs, in which case, examine them. To do anything else is to refuse to trust people with the truth – and that is something people are heartily sick of in their politicians.

His speech had the whiff of self-pity to it. Some have even suggested that Farron has been persecuted because of his beliefs. He has not. If someone does not vote for you, that is not persecution. If someone does not want you as the leader of their party, that is not persecution. Beinc bullied, isolated, treated as a lesser human because of your sexuality is being persecuted. Someone disagreeing with your opinions is not.

All political activists do what they do out of a sense of morality. Imagine being a LibDem activist, leading a morally good life, with a same-sex spouse. Imagine finding that again and again your leader refuses to say whether he disapproves of the life you lead or not – a leader whose voting record on LGBTQ rights is mixed, wont tell you what he thinks about your life because he feels it’s none of your business. If Tim Farron can move towards seeing the position he has put those people in, rather than focussing on the position he put himself in, perhaps he can move on from this without regret or rancour.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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8 Responses to Being a liberal. The “persecution” of Tim Farron

  1. Julie Stevenson says:

    He never had the charisma or leadership of Nick Clegg anyway. Sadly Nick lost his seat to labour. I don’t think Tim’s a great loss to the leadership. He always seemed like he was uncomfortable with it. Move on.

  2. Peter Woodifield says:

    I enjoy your blogs Pip but I think you have completely missed the point on this one. Tim Farron was hounded on this and on abortion because his views were not acceptable to the self-appointed PC self-righteous mob in the media. As I understand it, the only times he voted, bar one, against what might be called LGBTQ rights was to support what is effectively the position of the Scottish Episcopal Church in terms of the provisions it has made for those people who can’t in good conscience agree to conduct same sex marriages. Surely you’re not suggesting the SEC has got that wrong?
    I don’t think Farron has put anyone ‘in a position’ as far as I can tell. As I understand it, he thinks gay sex is a sin, certainly as far as he personally is concerned, but he has never tried to impose that view on anyone else – his resignation statement is clear evidence of that.
    That is part of what being a liberal/Liberal is all about. Another part of being liberal is defending people’s right to opinions that one disagrees with, and I don’t think Farron can stand condemned for that either. (Incidentally, there were plenty of reasons for not voting for Farron but his particular version of Christian beliefs were not one of them. But I do agree with you that it would have been preferable for him to have stuck to his guns, rather than try and backtrack to be “acceptable”) It is very hard for a Christian politician to be very overt about their beliefs in this country – and that’s a great pity, and also points to the fact that we are not a very liberal society whatever people like to think.
    And perhaps even more importantly, do you really think Cathy Newman (she was the worst culprit) or anyone other interviewer would ever dream of asking a practising male Muslim if he thought that gay sex was a sin? Of course they wouldn’t, yet as far as I know all main strands of Islam regard homosexuality as a sin.
    That’s where the persecution arises. Christianity – and by extension Farron is this instance – is fair game for the media, whose double standards over Christianity and Islam are breathtaking (and I speak as a former member of the media of some 40 years experience). When both religions are treated the same your comments would have more validity.

  3. Peter Woodifield says:

    I would add to the above, on rereading your post, that in my opinion Farron has been one of the most open MPs in recent years in terms of what he believes regarding his Christian faith as opposed to the platitudinous generalities of most Christian MPs. Perhaps that was his problem!!

    • frpip says:

      Hi Peter and thanks for your comments. I think Farron was very open about his Christianity, but when he is open about it on the one hand, but refuses to talk about it on the other, then that leaves a great number of questions. I think the real issue was that he simply handled it really badly – as I say there were many options open to him to dispose of hte issue very quickly. but instead he said – only on this one issue – “my faith is a private matter”. I don’t think I want any aspect of my faith to be a private matter. Chfristianity is essentially a proclamatory faith where we share everything we believe and hope to be true. To hide any aspect of it makes no sense to me.
      He was indeed hounded by the press, but mainly beccause he refused to answer the question honestly or well. If a politican, in answer to the question “do you think it is wrong for black and white people to marry” said “look at my voting record” that would raise massive alarm bells.
      You certainly raise an important point about people of other religions and why they have not been asked about their views on various issues. But I suspect a better communicator would have been able to handle it better.
      What I would say about them I would say about Farron – be proud of what you believe, or re-examine it. Whatever you do, if you dissemble, you will be hammered for you lack of honesty.
      Were I to be against same sex marriage, I’d say “I believe it would be wrong for me. That’s my conscience. Whether it is wrong for others is a matter for their concience. I’m not going to immpose my conscience on others, and I’m going to vote for their conscience to be respected” It would have been over if he’d said that.
      But I’d come back to the point about persecution. He wasn’t persecuted because he was a Christian. He was persecuted because the reporters found a question he fudged and stuttered over, and it is in their nature to go in for the kill. I don’t think that’s a very healthy thing, but it’s certainly not an anti-Christian thing.

  4. Peter Woodifield says:

    I agree that he handled it badly and should have stuck to his guns. Indeed, what he included in his resignation statement was what he should have said in the first place. But why was he being asked about it at all? His views were already publicly known. His views on Brexit were far more important in the context of the general election than his personal views on sin.
    I think you rather gloss over the point that the secular media think that attacking Christianity/Christians is fair game in a way that they would not dream of applying to other religions, where very similar views to Farron’s are the standard not the exception. It’s the double standards I can’t stand (and I speak as a member of the media for 40-odd years). When interviewers are as critical of people of other faiths then I shall have more respect for them. To say that a number of the terrorism attacks we have seen recently have nothing to do with Islam is about as inaccurate as saying the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition had nothing to do with Christianity. In both instances, the perpetrators’ views may have had a very perverted view of their own religion, but to say they were unconnected is ludicrous.
    On the other hand, if the sort of persecution Farron faced – and I do believe he was being persecuted for holding views that the media elite deem unacceptable – is the worst we have to face then we should count ourselves lucky compared with Christians in other countries.

    • frpip says:

      hmm. I’ certainly agree that the level of scrutiny that Christians face is greater than that of Muslims. IN a way it’s almost racist, because Muslims are treated as “other” in a way which Christians are not. It’s almost assumed that Muslims are anti-gay, for example.
      Not sure I agree with the rest of your post. I don’t think the Crusades are comparable to terrorism, but even if they were I think the crusades were only tangentially connected with what we would describe as modern Christianity. IN the crusades Christendom was part monarchy part theocracy. It was Empire building as much as religious zeal. Similarly, most of the terrorists who have made “suicide videos” have all mentioned the roll of America and almost all mention George Bush. Not all of them mention Islam. Because Isalm is bound up in the culture of those who become terrorists it’s part of it, but I think the media are right to refuse to make a causal link between terrorism and Islam, because I don’t think there is one.

  5. Peter Woodifield says:

    I wasn’t in any way trying to suggest that the Crusades were comparable to terrorism, more that there is/was a connection between the religions and the actions. IS is also about Empire building. The inference I draw from your comment about ‘modern’ Christianity is that Christianity has moved on in a way that Islam hasn’t.
    And it’s not just terrorism that my complaints about the media apply to. The grooming of vulnerable young girls in Rotherham, Oxford, Derby, Rochdale is another instance of behaviour where Muslim attitudes to women led to appalling suffering. Now obviously most Muslims find that sort of behaviour as offensive you and I do, but nevertheless Muslim males generally regard women as inferior. A lot of the media refused to acknowledge the pattern even when it became apparent.
    I think we should agree to disagree about your last sentence!

  6. kertsen says:

    We must not forget about the human but rather objectionable characteristic of compromise. When to speak out is costly we may well avoid it , for example when livelihood is at stake. At a deeper level who would put his or her life on the line. At a lighter level do we all avoid suspect goods or dedicate as much time and money as we should to help the needy? I feel a great sympathy with Tim Farron he strikes me as very human and he is struggling with a religion that is very often inhumane in its practices and teachings.

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