A couple of days ago, Tim Farron stepped down as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, saying that he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.” His resignation statement brought the ever-present tension between politics and faith right out into the open.
The BBC’s article on the day covered his statement pretty well, but I want to pull out a few bits that I found particularly interesting:
– He felt that he could have dealt “more wisely” with questions about his views on homosexuality during the 2017 election campaign.
– He said that leading a progressive, liberal party in 2017, whilst holding faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has proved impossible.
– “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.”
The responses to his statement have been varied. Many people in his party and in the church supported him, respecting his honesty and integrity. Others have argued that his speech implies that you cannot be a Christian and support a progressive party, with some critics pointing out that the timing of his speech was bad, as the story of the horrific Greenfell tower fire was emerging throughout the day.
Before going any further, let me tell you where I stand. While he led the party, I found Farron a likeable politician, though I didn’t agree with a lot of what he and the Lib Dems were saying, so I didn’t vote for them in the election. I also thought that the questions about homosexuality during the campaign, while the journalists had a right to ask them, put him in a lose-lose situation where he was never going to come out well.
With regards to his resignation, I appreciate Farron’s honesty and while I’m sad to see him say he can’t reconcile his faith with his party leadership, I admire the integrity that he showed in acting on that conviction. I think it’s harsh to take his statement as a blanket negative for all politically liberal Christians and I can’t believe that there was any intentional selfishness of malice in the unfortunate timing of the statement (despite one senior Lib Dem suggesting otherwise – see the BBC article).
While parts of Farron’s statement – taken alone – could suggest that he was saying Christians couldn’t support and be active in liberal politics, I don’t think the statement as a whole justifies that view. He was specific in saying that he personally couldn’t reconcile his faith with leadership of his party, also saying that someone wiser than him might have been able to.
He never said that there was any larger discrepancy between Christianity and liberal politics, making it clear, instead, that he remained a liberal to his finger tips, rooting that liberalism in the value of humanity, which is a clear overlap with Biblical Christianity.
However, I can understand the concerns that people have about the statement. My first thought when I saw it was that this didn’t look good for Christians who share various liberal views. Though I changed my position having read more of the story, I see where people who had that same reaction are coming from.
I also hope that the public don’t take this statement to mean that faithful Christians have to support more conservative political views. In reality, Farron’s statement, I think, highlights the need for Christians – just like anyone else – to follow their convictions and vote for whoever they think reflects their political views left.
Farron was clear that, for him, liberalism still does that. As a Christian myself, I don’t feel that his statement pushes me one way or another. Instead, it challenges me to make sure that I have that same level of integrity when acting on my political beliefs, which incorporates more than just who I vote for; it covers everything in how the various beliefs I hold that make up my worldview translate into action.
So kudos to you, Tim. I don’t have to support all his politics to say that I respect what he did and I admire the way that he allowed his convictions and his faith to guide him to whatever end he felt was right. My life looks nothing like his, but I hope that I will be able to look at myself and say that I’m also acting with integrity and consistently with my beliefs.