News has broken that Tim Farron has resigned as Liberal Democrat leader. No prizes for guessing what issue did it for him. The catalyst for his departure was the earlier resignation of Brian Paddick – erstwhile Lib Dem leadership hopeful and formerly Britain’s most senior gay police officer – from his role as Lib Dem home affairs spokesman. Paddick stated:
I’ve resigned as @LibDems Shadow Home Secretary over concerns about the leader’s views on various issues that were highlighted during GE17.
— Brian Paddick (@brianpaddick) June 14, 2017
The ‘concerns’ to which Paddick alludes almost certainly refer to Farron’s views on homosexuality and abortion. Having repeatedly refused to give a direct answer, Farron eventually ‘clarified’ his view by stating that he neither believed homosexuality nor gay sex were sinful and made clear he held to a pro-choice position on abortion. As I noted here, and subsequently proved to the case (see here and here), few were convinced by his newfound openness and nobody was placated.
I was initially very supportive of Farron (see here and here) until he caved to the pressure. I appreciate the bind he was in. He clearly sought to steer a course between that which is electorally helpful and telling the truth about his specific views. Early on, he was seeking to maintain particular views whilst insisting that he wanted to defend the rights of other groups to which he does not belong. This is a classically liberal line. It is a view that says you may defend common rights without abandoning your divergent and, sometimes, diametrically opposed personal views.
The fact that Farron had to backtrack and affirm views that few people were convinced he held shows the extent to which the new orthodoxy demands not only affirmative action on their particular rights agenda but verbal assent and conformity of thought as well. When Farron refused to recant his Christian views on the sinfulness of gay sex – views that remain the 2000 year old teaching of just about all mainline Christian denominations – he was hounded until he uttered revoco. When he backtracked, nobody believed he really thought what he was now saying (reasonably so, given they had basically made him do it). Now Brian Paddick has forced his hand and Farron has resigned.
Farron’s resignation statement is worth listening to in full:
Echoing what I have previously said here, Farron noted that some Christians wish to impose Biblical law onto civil society and that he rejects such an approach as illiberal and counter productive to the gospel. He noted his love for the Liberal Democrat party and made clear that he is forced to stand down as leader because, quoting Isaac Watts, Christ ‘demands my soul, my life, my all’. It was a very moving and heartfelt resignation.
It is clear there is now no room for dissent in Britain. At least, not religious dissent and most certainly not from Evangelicals. We no longer judge people according to their actions and behaviour but according to their so-called right words and thoughts as determined by the liberal keepers of orthodoxy. It is worth mentioning, at the same time as Tim Farron was resigning, the DUP continue to be pilloried for not affirming the moral greatness of killing children in the womb and daring to stand against Same-Sex Marriage. It matters not that abortion issues have always been a free vote in parliament and SSM was only introduced in the last few years, anyone who demurs from the new moral orthodoxy is evil and cannot remain in public life.
That is, of course, apart from the total lack of questions being asked of our Muslim MPs and councillors. Never mind that they share the views of Evangelicals on SSM and often take a much harder stance on gay rights altogether. It’s not that the keepers of orthodoxy are overly happy about the views of our Muslim friends, but faith subscribers tend to follow the example of their founders. Evangelicals hounded about homosexuality copy Jesus and turn the other cheek, pray for those who do the hounding and even continue to work for the good of those gunning for them. Muslims like to follow the example set by Mohammad and… well, he wasn’t massively into the whole cheek turning thing, let’s put it that way. Hoist by their own petard, liberals won’t allow themselves to question illiberal elements in Islam because they have illiberally determined such questions to be illiberal. Islamic illiberalism cannot be challenged for fear of being called illiberally islamphobic. Apparently that fear doesn’t apply to Evangelicals. Interesting that.
But let us note the causalities. Whilst Farron was mocked when he first became Lib Dem leader, it was Andrea Leadsom who was first forced out of her Conservative leadership race. During the election, Andrew Turner was forced out of the Isle of Wight race for daring to voice a non-mainstream view on homosexuality. Now Farron has been pushed out too. As he noted in his resignation speech, if it is now unacceptable for somebody to demur from mainstream orthodoxy despite defending the rights of others, ‘we are kidding ourselves if we think we live in a tolerant and liberal society’.
There is simply nothing liberal or illiberal about viewing things as sinful or otherwise. As the Bible makes clear, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). If sin is a means of removing rights, or a basis for legislation, all of us stand guilty before the law (even the lawmakers). But Paul is also clear in Rom 5 and 7 that the law does not exist to give us a standard to attain, it gives us the standard of God’s glory which we are incapable of meeting. This means that sin cannot be the grounds for legislation.
Instead, our inherent rights are grounded in the imago dei with which all human beings, regardless of sin, are imbued. Sin cannot be a grounds of removing these rights because this would mean none of us have any rights at all. Legislation, then, must be the means of upholding the rights inherent to each individual. The imago dei grounds our rights, making them equal for all people with no special groups. These rights are inherent to each human being regardless of sin and legislation is the means of upholding those human rights.
As human beings imbued with the image of God, homosexual people have inherent rights. The Christian view that homosexual sex is sinful is not a ground for removing those rights from them. When Tim Farron said he would fight to uphold gay rights whilst (probably) holding that gay sex is sinful, there is every reason to have believed him. He has grounds for upholding their rights whilst maintaining all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful. I, like Tim Farron, believe in fundamental rights. I, like Tim Farron, believe all of us – myself included – are sinners who fall short of God’s glory. I, like Tim Farron, maintain it is possible to call something sinful whilst defending somebody’s right to choose to do it.
The real irony here is that the progressivist keepers of liberalism are finding they are less tolerant and liberal than Evangelicals. For the Evangelical can maintain something is sinful, such as gay sex, whilst defending homosexual rights and loving their gay neighbour. Evangelicals know, better than most, that we all fall short of God’s standards. We are no less sinners than anyone else. If we are called by Christ to love our enemies, how much more readily can we love people who are not so much our enemies but just disagree with us? Just as we expect non-Christians to defend our right to believe, so we can defend their right to demur. It seems, however, the keepers of progressive liberalism cannot reciprocate. Not only will they not defend to the death your right to say what they dislike, they will insist you stop thinking it and will hound you until you recant at which point they will drive you from public life for not fulsomely affirming their predetermined views at the first time of asking.
Not only are we kidding ourselves if we think we live in a tolerant liberal society, the spirit of Voltaire is dead. Those who claim to be liberal are no longer any such thing. It is those regressive, backward and nasty Evangelicals who dare to permit a range of views. Bunch of bigots!
Tim Farron presents us with our very own Pastor Niemoller moment. It may be the Evangelicals today – with their desire to defend life in the womb and willingness to defend the rights of others despite believing they choose to indulge sin – tomorrow it may be something a bit closer to home. Even if we are pushed out of public life, and increasingly it seems to be so, it is still surely worth it. Tim Farron quoted Isaac Watts and it seems apt to do so again:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Farron counts the loss of the Lib Dem leadership – something he had longed to gain – as but loss compared to the worth of knowing Christ and sin forgiven. Even being effectively locked out of public life, all Evangelicals would add their hearty amen. We still, nevertheless, defend your right to disagree – even as others may not afford us the same right.