On Friday morning, Tim Farron was – once again – asked his views on homosexuality. You can watch the segment here:
It seems the questioner – despite Farron’s statement that he ‘dealt with that weeks ago’ – was not particularly convinced by the Lib Dem leader’s earlier pronouncements. Having spent weeks dodging the question, implying he did believe homosexual sexual activity to be a sin but recognising this was not politically helpful, Farron was eventually asked in parliament whether he believed homosexuality was a sin. He gave a clear answer of ‘no’ to that question. Then came the follow up questions specifically about gay sex and whether that was sinful. After dodging these for a little while, he eventutally succumbed to the pressure and gave an interview in which he decided to clarify his position, giving a great big thumbs up to both homosexuals and whatever kind of sex they wanted to do.
Understandably, some folk were a little sceptical. If he thought this all along, it makes absolutely no sense that he wouldn’t just say so, being as that would be both true and politically expedient. If he didn’t think this all along, his sudden frank admission is either a remarkably quick volte-face on a view held consistently over many years or a lie intended to obscure his real view on the issue. Given that absolutely nothing happened between the interviews in which he fudged the questions and the interview in which he denied homosexual sex was sinful, other than perhaps advisers imploring him to kill off the story this way, the last of these options seems most likely.
You can read my comments on the unfolding story here, here and here. My early comments are supportive of a man in a difficult, but honourable, position. My final comment was written in the aftermath of his admission. As I noted in my earlier comment, and drove home when my predication came to pass here, Farron’s about turn was unlikely to ever placate anybody. This latest round of discussion on the topic once again makes that clear. Several weeks after the question was first put to him, and with his full and frank position on record, Farron continues to get asked about this question over and over again. It was quite predictably going to happen.
We may bemoan the fact that Theresa May, who also speaks about her faith, has only been asked this question once (and that, obviously, only so media outlets could go ‘see, we are being balanced, see’). But everybody knows there is a world of difference between a middle-of-the-road, liberal-ish Anglican and a Dissenting Evangelical. The former might be able to say whatever so long as they witter on about the prayer book and liturgy; the latter are much less liturgically driven and more theologically defined. Ask a middle-of-the-road Anglican a question and, unsurprisingly, you get a middle-of-the-road kind of answer. Ask an Evangelical a theological question and the answers are much more clearly defined. But even if we jettison this difference on which the current feeding frenzy is thriving (and they know it), politically it was always going to happen.
That is because Farron made the mistake of believing grace exists in the world of the new orthodoxy. Unless you are prepared to endorse right thinking at the first time of asking, all subsequent expressions will be voided by the sound of people shouting ‘bigot’. It matters not whether you repent – as Farron appears to have done (whether in reality or not) – because he was branded a bigot before he repented and once a bigot, always a bigot. You may say you now accede to right thought, but the keepers of orthodoxy apparently know your recalcitrant heart for the fruit of right thought is that you always thought it. The irony of this progressive position is that it allows for absolutely no progression of thought at all (leaving aside the thorny issue of whether the progressivist truly is working on a higher plane of thought).
Perhaps Farron should never have been asked a theological question in a political interview. Whilst that may be true enough, he was nevertheless asked the question. As soon as he determined to avoid it – a perfectly legitimate response to a question many would consider irrelevant – to do anything other than continue avoiding it (or affirming what everybody already presumes) was always going to lead to this sort of thing. He is being repeatedly asked the question because his volte-face was so unconvincing. He might well have fared better by simply telling the truth. Had he said that being homosexual is not sinful, but sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, but that in no way affects whether he believes it should be legal nor how he will vote, as his record on LGBT+ rights bears out (for that, I suspect, is his actual position), I wonder if many people would still be talking about it.
Sure, there would be the initial outrage suggesting how dare he hold a view that isn’t the same as mine. There would be those fuelling the view that unless you endorse everything someone else believes you must, of necessity, hate them and everything about them. But once the initial noise had died down, his current go-to lines of ‘look at my voting record’ and ‘judge me by my actions’ might have held more water. As it is, people simply see someone hiding their true feelings from the public which, to many, looks politically expedient. People don’t like political expediency because it gives them little confidence in the other things a politician might say, like a lot of manifesto pledges in the run-up to a general election.
All of this was entirely predictable. I said here nobody would be placated and so it seems. As a good Evangelical, Mr Farron would do well to reflect both theologically and politically on Jesus’ words: ‘the truth will set you free’.