Bigotry parading with a halo
Tim Farron claims it is ‘impossible’ to be both a Christian and the leader of a modern political party. But, says Eddie Ford, he is a fake martyr
Last week Tim Farron announced his intention to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats, though he will remain in post until a successor is elected in the summer recess. At the moment Vince Cable, now that he is back in parliament as the MP for Twickenham once again, is the hot favourite to replace him - though Ed Davey, who served with Cable in the last coalition government, is also considered a strong contender.
According to Farron, who is on the evangelical wing of the Church of England, he cannot be both a Christian and the leader of a modern political party: “From the very first day of my leadership I have faced questions about my Christian faith,” he said. The “consequences” of this unwanted “focus” was that Farron found himself “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader”, concluding 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”. With an air of martyrdom, Farron said he felt that he had become “the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in” - meaning that “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society”.
Frankly, this is total humbug. Not for nothing did Jennie Rigg, acting chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, describe Farron’s speech as “awful”, “pious”, “self-pitying” and “upsetting to all three of the overlapping circles in the Venn diagram of liberals, Christians, and LGBT+ people - and semantically dubious to boot”.1 Funnily enough, Theresa May, who just so happens to be prime minister - though watch this space - seems to have no problems reconciling her faith with her political position. The daughter of a Church of England vicar from the Anglo-Catholic tradition, she regularly attends services on Sundays (which is one definition of “committed”) saying that her Christian faith is “part of who I am and therefore how I approach things”.2
Gordon Brown too made no secret about the strong influence exerted upon him by his father, a Church of Scotland minister, and let us not forget the saintly Tony Blair. According to Alastair Campbell’s diary, Blair often read The bible before taking any important decisions - and after leaving office he quickly converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism.3 There is no particular reason to doubt the sincerity of such beliefs. Indeed, it is also worth noting that if Ed Miliband had succeeded in his bid to become prime minister - go on, just imagine it - then he would have been the first self-declared atheist ever to have done so.
Of course, by pretending to be suffering persecution at the hands of intolerant atheists, Farron has attracted supporters - fellow victims of the supposedly unstoppable forces of secularism. “His tormentors should be ashamed of themselves,” declared John Sentamu, archbishop of York - whilst the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted: “If he can’t be in politics, media and politicians have questions.” Expressing similar concerns, Theos - the think-tank supported by church leaders - regarded Farron’s resignation as “highlighting what a growing number of people in Britain now recognise”: that it is “becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to hold public office”.4
Also not wanting to miss out on the secular-bashing was Christian Concern, which runs the Christian Legal Centre - responsible for a succession of court cases defending nurses wearing crucifixes, anti-gay cake-bakers, B&B owners, etc. Needless to say, they see Christians being thrown to the lions everywhere - all victims of an increasingly rampant “Christianophobia”.5 Tim Farron’s forced resignation, we read, shows the “totalitolerance” of the “illiberal elite” - now “we have seen at first hand the pressure Christians have been under to conform to the new morality of sexual liberation and radical secularism”. A grim vision. Poor Farron “had to choose whether to surrender his conscience and forfeit his soul to the intolerant, marauding elite” - but opted for the righteous path in the end. Farron’s departure, alongside the “vilification” of the Democratic Unionist Party, demonstrates that “Christians are simply not tolerated by the illiberal elite in positions of influence”. Indeed, if this “crusade” continues, “we will enter a harsh and conformist world where Christianity will be ‘no platformed’ and eventually squeezed out of every sphere of public life” - pariahs in their own land.
On the other hand, Christian Concern has absolutely no problems with Islamophobia - which seems to be a bit of a speciality. Turning to an article almost at random, it seems that “we are at war with an evil ideology” - ie, Islamism, and that “jihad has continued by Muslims for the last 1,400 years”.6 Unlike Christianity, presumably, “Islam has expanded violently throughout its history” - Muhammad being a “warrior who fought in many battles and personally ordered or supported the killing of multiple people”. Ibn Ishaq’s biography is cited, where it is claimed Muhammad dug a trench and beheaded over 600 men from the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe. Therefore “those who commit violence in the name of Islam can legitimately claim that that they are following the example and teaching of Muhammad”. But “by contrast”, Jesus “never killed anyone” - in fact, “he did the opposite, by healing and raising people to life”. Confronted by such an enemy, CC argues that “we need bold and courageous Christians who are unashamed and unafraid to confront Islam”.
Among Christian circles and rightwing newspapers, it has become an article of faith - or common sense - that Christianity is being marginalised, whether in official politics, the BBC or the courts. But this nonsense flies in the face of reality. Parliament itself has a disproportionate number of committed or militant Christians compared to society as a whole, and the House of Lords is a part-theocracy - after all 26 seats are reserved for Anglican bishops as law-makers. Besides them there are other faith leaders, who consistently take a reactionary stance on gay rights, abortion, right-to-die issues and so on. According to the constitution, the Church of England is the established church (state religion) and the monarch is the “defender of the faith” - ie, the Anglican faith. So much for the godless atheism engulfing the nation.
What Tim Farron fails to understand is that it is perfectly possible to be a Christian and a politician, but what is problematic is being a bigot - whether against gays or women. He clearly felt extremely uncomfortable when asked repeated questions about gay sex, first replying evasively that “we’re all sinners” and then later saying that he did not believe it was a sin. Well, not much of a sin - as what he was apparently saying now was in conflict with past statements on the issue. After all, in 2007 he voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations Bill, which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services - six years later Farron abstained from the third and final reading of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, despite having voted for same-sex marriage earlier that year. Similarly, he voted in favour of a 2006 bill which would have brought the abortion limit down to 21 weeks and would have introduced compulsory counselling and a “cooling off” period before the procedure took place. The following year he told the Salvation Army’s War Cry magazine that “abortion is wrong” and that “society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing objectionable about abortion before a certain time” - the “reality is that abortion is too widely available” and “there needs to be tighter restrictions”. The “challenge” for Christians was to “come up with realistic alternative strategies”.7
The fact that the Lib Dem leader squirmed so much about gay sex was good - at least as far as communists are concerned. It is healthy and progressive that bigoted views are vigorously challenged. We would say the same about a political leader influenced by Islam who started to look awkward or shifty when trying to answer direct questions about that section of the Koran which states that the evidence of a woman counts less than that of a man - you should feel embarrassed by such stuff. And if you do not like being asked about it - then don’t stand for public office.
In the case of Tim Farron, he thoroughly deserved the trouble he found himself in. He may be a “committed” and “faithful” Christian, but it all depends on what sort of Christian values you have. If you go to The bible, especially the Old Testament, you immediately come across all manner of absurd and ridiculous stipulations, whether about not coveting your neighbour’s ass or how if you go to war with the Canaanites or Philistines you have to smite them all down - and not leave one donkey alive. The straightforward truth is that Farron, to one degree or another, is prejudiced against gay people - if he wants to call that Christianity, that is up to him. But other people will have different and contending interpretations of that religion.
It had been widely reported that several senior figures in the party had visited Farron in recent days and weeks to persuade him to step down. They had become exasperated by his reactionary social attitudes and also the Lib Dems’ mediocre election performance - even though they picked up an extra four seats, their share of the popular vote actually fell by 0.5%.
The ‘coup’ began, if we are to believe sources within the party, with the resignation on June 14 of the home affairs spokesman, Lord Brian Paddick, formerly one of the country’s most open senior gay policemen. Paddick, made a life peer in September 2013, said he felt unable to continue in his role because of Farron’s views on “various issues” - no prizes for guessing what they were. In the same vein, David Laws, who served as education minister in the coalition government, told the i newspaper online that “you cannot be a leader of a liberal party while holding fundamentally illiberal and prejudiced views which fail to respect our party’s great traditions of promoting equality for all our citizens”.8
Given Tim Farron’s prejudiced and unprincipled views, communists say good riddance to a fake martyr.