Yesterday I wrote about the resignation of Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats. I titled the post Tim Farron has resigned, proving it is now impossible to be a Christian in public life. Ah, you inevitably cry, how can I now say that Christians should be involved in public life? Am I backtracking? Well, no.
You will, no doubt, recognise the headline is a reference to Tim Farron’s own words. He stated he felt it impossible to be faithful to Christ whilst continuing in his role as Liberal Democrat leader. As you read my original post, you will note the increasing hostility with which Christians, Evangelicals in particular, are treated and those who come to prominence are typically questioned about their views in such a way as to dominate all else.
The Archbishop Cranmer blog doesn’t see the issue as Christians in politics, just Christians leading the Liberal Democrats. He states:
Tim Farron is indeed honourable and decent, and he has honourably and decently concluded that it is not possible to be a Christian and lead a political party in the modern era (not, as the Archbishop of Canterbury states, that “he can’t be in politics”). Yet a Christian leads the Conservatives. A Christian leads the DUP. A Christian led Ukip, and Labour, and the SDLP and the UUP. But these Christians tend to hold a view of their faith which coheres with the majority of their party: some are more secular-liberal; others more orthodox and robust.
But these examples rather undermine his point. The kind of Christianity that most of these practice is not only indistinguishable from the secular zeitgeist, it should also be noted that of the two parties that are distinguishable the DUP have been getting it in the neck for precisely this reason and the UUP are dead as a dodo with no Westminster seats. On top of this, Northern Ireland represent a thoroughly different political animal to Great Britain and a place in which religiosity is still considered credible. It is for this very reason the DUP have come under fire entering into a deal with a mainland UK party.
The erstwhile Christian leader of UKIP has just resigned because they had died even before he took post, the general election proving the final nail in the coffin. Thus we had no time to assess his Christian leadership. More to the point, Paul Nuttall’s Catholicism was rather closer to the ‘Chiltern FM’ type Christianity espoused by David Cameron than anything a professing Evangelical might practice. Theresa May has a faith, for sure, and perhaps a faith that is more important to her than her predecessor.
Nonetheless, it seems clear that there is no space in high public office for Evangelicals of conviction. If you read my original post, you will note Evangelicals are specifically in view and (though I should, perhaps, have made this clearer) my point was that it is impossible for them to be successful, certainly in high office, and this may well act as an effective bar on them entering politics altogether.
Nonetheless, Evangelicals are needed in politics even if public office is all but impossible for them. First, as Dave Williams helpfully states at faithroots:
if the only reason you are considering a political career is because you want to be successful and hold high office then think again.
However, if you are considering standing for election in order to stand up for what is right and to speak for the vulnerable and those who cannot speak for themselves (including unborn babies) then do not be put off by the current media storm.
We need Evangelicals to enter politics and stand up for what is right. Politics, though you’d be forgiven for thinking this by looking at many politicians, is not simply about rising through the ranks of your party and clinging onto power. Politics is about change. It is about defending what is right and changing what is wrong. It may be virtually impossible for Evangelicals to lead mainline political parties in Great Britain but it doesn’t stop them being an effective voice in less prominent roles, in their constituencies and on the backbenches.
Second, we need more Evangelicals to enter politics to bring attention to the illiberal treatment they receive. It is easy to pass off the DUP as a minor party of fruit cakes and loonies. Pointing and laughing at Tim Farron is easy enough on the grounds that every party has its nutters and he’s the one that slipped through the net. But the more Evangelicals standing in mainline UK parties, being pilloried for views that are often shared well beyond their church circles, the more the public will begin to see the illiberal and unequal treatment meted out to Evangelicals. If tolerant and liberal are words that mean anything, they must extend to the views of Evangelicalism. It will take lots of Evangelicals being treated illiberally in the political sphere for the fact to be realised.
In truth, when there is no room for dissent that is when dissent is most needed. When certain views are being blocked from public view, dissent is needed to stop all but the blandest statements of orthodoxy being the only voices tolerated. You may think they are coming for the Evangelicals, but I am not an Evangelical, so I will do nothing. But if you think that’s where it will stop, you are sadly deluded. It may be anti-SSM views today, and pro-life views tomorrow, but an ever-increasing range of words and sentiments are being taken off the table. It may not be your views yet, but unless you stand for liberalism today you may find your own views facing illiberal intolerance. Evangelicals need to face the music on this too and rediscover their radical, dissenting roots.