Tim Farron succumbs to pressure on ‘gay sex’ witchunt and, as predicted, nobody is placated

If you’ve not been following the whole ‘gay sex’ witchunt of Tim Farron, the pertinent details are these. Two years ago, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman repeatedly pressed Farron on his views about gay sex based on the fact that he is a self-identified Evangelical Christian. I first commented on how crass and unreasonable this was, defending Farron and his liberal credentials here two years ago.

Two weeks ago, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman revived her witchunt and began asking Farron about his views on homosexual sex. Once again, Farron prevaricated and refused to give a direct answer. You can read my defence of Tim Farron from just over a week ago here.

A day later, Tim Farron was asked a similar, but slightly different, question in parliament by Nigel Evans MP. Here, he was asked whether he believed ‘being gay’ was a sin. Farron gave a short and unequivocal answer: no he did not think being gay was a sin. You can read my defence of Tim Farron on that comment here.

Two days ago, Tim Farron suddenly decided that he needed to ‘clear up’ his view. Approaching the BBC, he made clear that he apparently now thinks ‘gay sex is not a sin’. If he thought this all along, it is electorally perverse not to have said so when it all began two years ago. Given that it is standard Evangelical theology to believe gay sex (as opposed to being gay) is a sin, he spent two years prevaricating so as not to directly answer the question and gave no credible explanation of what happened in the last 48 hours that led him to the searing clarity he now possesses on the issue, it is not an unreasonable presumption – on the balance of probability – that Farron has lied to save his electoral skin. You can read my overt criticism of Tim Farron and my assessment of some of the likely consequences of his new found clarity here.

One particular comment in my last post bears repeating today:

If he was trying to keep Evangelicals onside, his recent comments will undermine those efforts. If he was trying to win over secularist, progessivist liberals, they will not be impressed with his prior equivocation. As ever, whilst admitting a belief against standard progressive thinking will never be forgiven, Farron forgets that a failure to unequivocally endorse and affirm all views of the guardians of orthodoxy at the first time of asking will not readily be forgiven either. Had Farron maintained his equivocal stance – affirming ‘being gay’ as not sinful whilst quietly sidestepping the ‘gay sex’ question – he could have maintained his integrity, even if never winning over our bien pensants. Now, however, he finds himself in an unenviable position. He has abandoned Evangelical orthodoxy, lost his integrity and yet, inevitably, will fail to win over those who were initially unhappy at his willingness to endorse all things homosexual.

Imagine my surprise, then, when yesterday Channel 4 ran an article attacking Farron’s record on gay rights. The article begins:

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said yesterday that he does not believe gay sex is a sin, following criticism that he repeatedly failed to clarify his views.

“I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” he said. “I take the view that, as a political leader though, my job is not to pontificate on theological matters.”

But Farron suggested he should be judged by his voting record, not his religious beliefs, saying: “What counts is your actions and your beliefs in politics.” And he claimed to have a “track record” of over 30 years of campaigning in favour of LGBT rights.

But that claim is misleading.

Isn’t that interesting? Tim Farron has changed his view to accord with accepted mainstream orthodoxy and, despite Cathy Newman’s earlier claim that she would now ‘drop it’, Channel 4 seem content to continue attacking on this very issue.

In a piece published yesterday in Pink News, it is worth noting some of the choice comments below the article. Liminal writes:

Far to little to late.

If it was that easy why not say it when asked the first time.

He’s just a slimy snake of a man seeking power, remember last chance they had they handed over power to conservatives.

Gerry avers:

What a silly little twerp he is. Too little, far too late.

And no-one will believe him either, it had to be dragged out of him after endless filibustering, so it’s obviously not genuine.

He’s just a chancer. Wonder who the new Lib Dem leader will be?

JD states:

Oh so now there’s an election – suddenly (well eventually) tiny tim and his non existent deity decide gay sex isn’t a sine [sic]…. religion – what a load of old bollox… the feeble minded hiding their bigotry behind another defunct god.

JohnMC views it thus:

Farron states explicitly: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin.” This is precisely what he would not say when interviewed immediately after his election in 2015 on Channel 4 News. Because he has been pushed hard, he now finally says what he could have said then or at any time since. Despite what he says and what he has done on gay rights, which is pretty good, one wonders why he continues to equivocate, and one is 100% entitled to ask what else is actually in his mind. There are other LibDems who have had equivocal and well developed views that lead them to not support equality 100%. The arguments are always religious and always mean accepting that gay people are in some usually undefined way not quite equal beings to straights. Hence the continued distrust and the continued hard questioning. What has not been mentioned in the media is the risk he ran of a mass exodus from some sections of the party if he did not deliver on the equality agenda.

Other websites also have comment sections which you can check out at your leisure.

When Farron was toeing the careful line between his Evangelical beliefs and his liberalism, many respected his liberal credentials and, as true liberals, respected his right to personal faith beliefs. There were some, however, who would not permit his right to religious freedom and refused to let him to demur from their orthodox thinking. Such people were inevitably never going to be happy with a simple statement that Farron suddenly decided ‘gay sex is not a sin’.

Herein lies the problem. Any Evangelicals he was hoping to keep onside are not going to be impressed with this new found clarity. Those progressive secularists he was hoping to placate will, largely, consider it all too little too late. Cathy Newman hasn’t dropped it as promised, Channel 4 are pressing on with the story and you can bet your bottom dollar this will not be the last we hear of it from his political rivals.

Farron’s sudden about turn – which in all probability is deceitful – will please neither those impressed by his Evangelicalism, those impressed by his willingness to stand by his convictions (even if not theirs) nor those who share his new found view because he wasn’t clear enough on them at the first time of asking. In short, he has ditched his convictions for the sake of electoral gain and has, in the process, managed to please nobody. Whether you are inclined to believe he was misleading us then, or prefer to think he’s misleading us now, what is clear is that this move makes no one happy and will lead to a wider pool of people believing he cannot be trusted. As JohnMC opines, ‘one is 100% entitled to ask what else is actually in his mind’ going on to suggest there is ‘continued distrust’.

Could anyone have foreseen this coming? Surely Farron’s new found clarity was electorally the right thing to do, even if not in respect to his personal integrity? I recall someone mentioned it might not work that way and that this might lead to distrust of his wider policy pledges and a refusal by progressives to accept his new position at face value. Who was that I wonder?

 

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