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.