In my first article on the resignation of Tim Farron, I pointed out that a week before Farron resigned, Bernie Sanders, a member of the US Senate, had said that he would vote against approving Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He felt that because Vought believes that those who reject Jesus Christ do not know God and stand condemned – in other words, that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation – Vought is not a suitable person to be in high public office.
A week later, Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, saying “To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”
One event took place in the USA; the other took place in the UK. But it is unthinkable that either could have taken place in either country 50 years ago. Hence the conclusion of my first article: This indicates that the strange resignation of Tim Farron is not just about Tim Farron, or his party, or the British political climate. It is a sign of something that is happening throughout the western world.
However, while it is not just about Tim Farron – it is about Tim Farron as a person, and not simply about Christians in public life. Farron’s resignation statement made this very clear, because it is a very personal statement.
A very personal statement
Among other things, Farron said:
“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.
At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.
Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.
A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.
To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”
A historic resignation statement
I find that moving, honest, and revealing.
It is slightly odd, in that he didn’t actually say why his Christian commitment was problematical, and he didn’t say what it was about his beliefs that had proved difficult. I would like to know more about this – especially because I cannot think of another example of a politician resigning from a position, and saying that it is because it has felt impossible to be both a political leader and a committed Christian. Perhaps, in terms of historic significance and social importance, this may be one of the most notable political events to take place this year – a milestone that will be looked back on.
The question of wisdom
But leaving aside what Farron didn’t say, there is something that he did say that we should notice – something he actually said twice in a short statement: “Sometimes my answers could have been wiser. . . . A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully . . . .“
It takes humility to admit one has lacked wisdom, and particularly to say it twice.
I’m sorry to say, however, that I think he is quite right. What are these answers that could have been wiser. I suspect that he is referring to the answers he gave to questions about his views on same-sex relationships. And there were plenty. As Ian Dunt writes
“During the campaign he was asked repeatedly – to the point of mania – if he thought gay sex was a sin. He tried valiantly to avoid the question. This was ostensibly because he didn’t want politicians to have to turn into theologians. But it seemed pretty obvious it was because he did think it was a sin. After all, he was happy saying being gay was not a sin, but took longer to confirm the same for gay sex. This is pretty common from Christians, who tend to condemn the action but not the identity.
After a while, he had to give in and say gay sex wasn’t a sin. The sight of him doing so troubled me deeply. It felt like a witchhunt. And it looked like someone having to renounce a tenets of his faith in order to satisfy modern societal norms.”
To say that trying to avoid the question is unwise is putting in mildly. Politically, it is foolish because it gives voters the impression that he is evasive and trying to hide something. Most voters want politicians to be open and forthright.
The witness of Christians in public life
From a Christian point of view, it is even worse. If you are a Christian, you should want to be asked about your belief, and you should want to tell the world about them. To give the impression that you find your beliefs embarrassing is, it seems to me, sending a disastrous message. If Christians in politics are going to act like that, it is far better, from a Christian point of view, that Christians stay out of politics and public life. Christians are called to be witnesses to the truth – and, it seems to me, to do so boldly.
As for Farron’s statement in April that he didn’t thing same-sex relationships were wrong, that too was pretty unimpressive. Ian Dunt’s comment that ” it looked like someone having to renounce a tenet of his faith in order to satisfy modern societal norms” suggests that he thinks that Farron may have changed his mind on the matter in response to the pressure he was under – which, in turn, leads one to wonder if Farron has been haunted by that statement ever since, and that it was one of the main reasons he felt he had to resign.
And the April statement is also foolish because, it seems to me, the Bible is absolutely clear that sexual relationship between people of the same sex are sinful. And Farron believes in being faithful to the Bible. In his resignation statement, did not just say “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, has felt impossible for me”; he said “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”
This is not the resignation of just any political leader, or even any political leader who is a Christian. It is the resignation of a particular individual, with his own qualities.
Tim Farron comes over as someone who is fallible, even someone whose judgement is questionable. But he also comes over as someone who is humble, who realises that he has made mistakes, and who is sincere.
And I get the distinct impression that he did not resign primarily because there was political pressure on him to resign, but because he felt his integrity as a Christian was being compromised by being in the position he was in. I suspect that even if the Liberal Democrats had done very well in the General Election, and he had solid support within the party, he would probably still have stepped down.
(to be continued)