Tim Farron: Christian Canary In The Coalmine
Tim Farron resigned his post as leader of the UK’s Liberal Democratic party. You might say that he quit because the party took a walloping in the recent election, which it did. But Farron quit because the UK’s secular establishment hounded him constantly about his Evangelical Christian faith. Here is his resignation speech in full:
This last two years have seen the Liberal Democrats recover since the devastation of the 2015 election.
That recovery was never inevitable but we have seen the doubling of our party membership, growth in council elections, our first parliamentary by-election win for more than a decade, and most recently our growth at the 2017 general election.
Most importantly the Liberal Democrats have established ourselves with a significant and distinctive role – passionate about Europe, free trade, strong well-funded public services underpinned by a growing market economy.
No one else occupies that space. Against all the odds, the Liberal Democrats matter again.
We can be proud of the progress we have made together, although there is much more we need to do.
From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.
At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.
Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.
A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.
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.
I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.
There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it – it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.
Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.
In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.
That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
I intend to serve until the parliamentary recess begins next month, at which point there will be a leadership election according to the party’s rules.
This is a historic time in British politics. What happens in the next months and years will shape our country for generations.
My successor will inherit a party that is needed now more than ever before. Our future as an open, tolerant and united country is at stake.
The cause of British liberalism has never been needed more. People who will fight for a Britain that is confident, generous and compassionate are needed more than ever before.
That is the challenge our party and my successor faces and the opportunity I am certain that they will rise to.
I want to say one more thing: I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.
Imagine how proud I am to lead this party. And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.
In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.”
Farron supports same-sex marriage and supports abortion rights, but that was not enough for his media inquisitors. They wanted to know if he thought those things were sinful. It wasn’t enough for him to pledge to defend gay rights and abortion rights. It wasn’t even enough for him to clarify that no, he doesn’t think that gay sex is a sin (a heterodox position for a Christian to take, but he took it.) No, Farron had to think correct thoughts, and to have thought them at all times, clearly, or be shamed and hounded out of public life. As he has been.
At least in the end, he learned that it profits a man nothing to gain the world if he loses his soul.
We live in an age in which our liberal media elite and most people who call themselves Christian in social surveys treat liberalism and Christianity as strangers to themselves and each other. Farron sought relief from his public trial by recalling the proud history of his faith in the reformation of British politics. No one wanted to hear it. He called upon the decency and forbearance that are supposed to mark British society. There is none left.
Unlike Tim Farron, I think the creative tension between political liberalism and Christian orthodoxy has ceased to be creative and is now just tension. But it is hard not to respect his witness. Today is the day Tim Farron landed on a truth in his statement: “We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.” The truth has set him free.
You saw last week Sen. Bernie Sanders declaring that an Evangelical Christian nominee for a budget office position in the Trump Administration was unfit for public service because of a private theological opinion he holds about the fate of Muslims in the afterlife. You saw a Christian colleague of Sanders’s, a Democrat who is a theological universalist, agree with him; the Evangelical nominee is the wrong kind of Christian, apparently, at least for these two Democratic senators.
We are not yet in the same place as Britain regarding Christianity and liberal, Democratic party politics. But we’re getting there very quickly. Ask yourself: what stands in the way of the US devolving into British-style bigotry? No laws were broken in the hounding of Tim Farron from political life. It was just the relentless pressure from secular bigots in the media, and, one presumes, at least some liberal voters.
A couple of years ago, columnist Damon Linker — himself a liberal — denounced liberal intolerance of Christianity. He wrote:
Contemporary liberals increasingly think and talk like a class of self-satisfied commissars enforcing a comprehensive, uniformly secular vision of the human good. The idea that someone, somewhere might devote her life to an alternative vision of the good — one that clashes in some respects with liberalism’s moral creed — is increasingly intolerable.
That is a betrayal of what’s best in the liberal tradition.
Liberals should be pleased and express gratitude when people do good deeds, whether or not those deeds are motivated by faith. They should also be content to give voluntary associations (like religious colleges) wide latitude to orient themselves to visions of the human good rooted in traditions and experiences that transcend liberal modernity — provided they don’t clash in a fundamental way with liberal ideals and institutions.
In the end, what we’re seeing is an effort to greatly expand the list of beliefs, traditions, and ways of life that fundamentally clash with liberalism. That is an effort that no genuine liberal should want to succeed.
What happened to a liberalism of skepticism, modesty, humility, and openness to conflicting notions of the highest good? What happened to a liberalism of pluralism that recognizes that when people are allowed to search for truth in freedom, they are liable to seek and find it in a multitude of values, beliefs, and traditions? What happened to a liberalism that sees this diversity as one of the finest flowers of a free society rather than a threat to the liberal democratic order?
It’s going away, fast. Today the Democratic Party will tolerate Christians like Tim Kaine, a Catholic who supports abortion rights though he is personally opposed to abortion. For how much longer will they? And is it possible for any Democrat to succeed in national party politics without being 100 percent on board with every gay rights claim, even those made at the expense of religious liberty?
If it is, it won’t be much longer. There are no restraining forces in liberal politics, or in the institutions of liberalism (media, academia, etc). As I’ve said again and again: there are conservative Christians who may not like Donald Trump or approve of him, but who voted for him because they are confident that the Democrats hate them and would seek to do them harm. I believe they are correct in their judgment of the Democrats, though not necessarily of Donald Trump. The point is that these Christians are not afraid of a phantom here. This liberal intolerance is real. Britain is farther along the road than we in the US are, but we’re getting there.
It’s not only going to be in politics. What does gay rights have to do with soccer? A Christian female soccer player quit the national team last week rather than wear the gay pride jersey the team decreed its players must wear. Believers who work for companies are going to be required to declare themselves “allies” of the LGBT community, either formally or informally, or fall under suspicion. If you think you can declare yourself an ally and retain your faith-based dissent quietly, think again. One day, you will be asked why you attend a bigot church if you aren’t a bigot yourself. And so on.
Liberals will say it won’t happen here. Don’t believe them. There is no reason to believe them at all. None. True, there are some liberals who oppose this intolerant, illiberal trend within their tribe, but they are not the determinative factor.
Hear me clearly: Christians have to fight this politically and legally with all we have. But we also have to prepare for serious and painful trials ahead. The grounds for political and legal victories in the future are fast eroding. From The Benedict Option:
The practical challenges facing us are unlike any that most believers in this country have ever dealt with. Schools and colleges—morally, spiritually, and vocationally—will have to prepare young believers for some increasingly harsh realities.
Because of florists, bakers, and photographers having been dragged through the courts by gay plaintiffs, we now know that some orthodox Christians will lose their businesses and their livelihoods if they refuse to recognize the new secular orthodoxies. We can expect that many more Christians will either be denied employment opportunities by licensing or other professional requirements, because they have been driven out of certain workplaces by outright bigotry or by dint of the fact that they cannot in good conscience work in certain fields. What will they do?
If we aren’t thinking about these questions and talking about them seriously within our churches and Christian communities, we are fools. We don’t have a lot of time here. Tim Farron is a Christian canary in the coal mine. We had better have a Plan B.