Daniel Blackman is a freelance writer, photographer, and media consultant based in London, UK. He writes news, features, and interviews for print and online Catholic (and some non-Catholic) news outlets. He has a BA in theology and an MA specializing in systematic theology and ethics.
It’s been just over a month since the resignation of Tim Farron, Member of Parliament and leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third main political group in the U.K.
He told the world of his decision to step down as party leader on June 14, in a heartfelt speech delivered to the British press and members of his party gathered on the steps of the Lid Dem headquarters in London.
Mr. Farron says he is practising Christian, and claimed this was the reason he felt unable to continue leading his party. In his speech 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 month Mr. Farron revealed that he actually made the decision a few weeks into his General Election campaigning, due to the persistent grilling he received from journalists over his reported views on homosexual intercourse and abortion.
Catholic headlines, Facebook posts, and blog reactions were telling: ‘Dark day for Christians in politics,’ ‘Farron given a hard time for his faith,’ ‘outrage at Tim Farron could have serious consequences for Christians in politics,’ ‘Farron found guilty of being a Christian’ – you get the idea.
You’d think this was the end of Christians in politics, forever, as if England’s anti-Catholic papist and penal laws had been reintroduced. The days of Nero were upon us.
In fact, Lib Dem politicians have a bit of a tradition in this area. In 1992 Lib Dem David Alton resigned from the party over its stance on abortion. In 2013, another member, Sarah Teather, voted against the same-sex marriage bill, then went on a monthlong silent retreat, then left the party and politics to work for the Jesuits.
So, there’s a whole bunch of reasons why such reactions by British Catholics are just plain wrong.
Three reasons why such reactions are wrong
First, Mr. Farron was no St. Thomas More. He either voted in favor or abstained when it came to same-sex marriage. He publicly supports a variety of homosexual causes in the U.K. and overseas that Christians would find objectionable. He doesn’t think homosexual intercourse is a sin. He’s also pro-abortion.
His party’s 2017 manifesto promised to “develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting the decriminalisation of homosexuality around the world and advancing the cause of LGBT+ rights,” and to “decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex,” introduce “mixed-sex civil partnerships and extending rights to cohabiting couples,” and “extend protection of gender reassignment in equality law.”
Said Farron in his speech:
I'm a liberal to my fingertips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.
There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it; it's not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.
Throughout history it’s been heretical Christians, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, who have done some of the worst damage, from corrupt kings, worldly popes, firebrand ‘reformers’ like Luther, or in the modern-day theologians and Christian politicians who think the faith has no place in civil society, like Mr. Farron. His resignation should not be mourned by Catholics.
Second, there are still Christians in parliament, perhaps not many, not making the impact one would hope, but they are there, and their faith and their voting record are a closer match than Mr. Farron’s. Evangelical Fiona Bruce, Catholic Sir Edward Leigh who quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Parliament during same-sex marriage debates, pro-lifer David Amess, and the ever-popular Jacob Rees-Mogg, an outspoken conservative Catholic, are all still in Parliament, keeping the flag flying.
And Christian NGOs and charities are regular guests at Parliament with talks, prayer events, receptions and lobbying all year-round. That’s not to say we have a Christian political system or laws aligned with Catholic morality, quite the opposite.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Northern Ireland’s staunchly Protestant, anti-gay and anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party, has not stopped them playing an important role supporting the government so it has a voting majority in Parliament.
If you want to talk about ‘dark days in politics’ there’s always the martyrdom of St. Thomas à Becket, or the same fate endured by St. Thomas More, or what about the penal and papist laws, the passing of the Abortion Act, and laws permitting experimentation on human embryos – these were truly ‘dark.’
Third, Mr. Farron doesn’t agree with the reactionary, alarmist doom mongering. It an article penned by him a few weeks ago, he wrote: being harangued by journalists or slagged off by political opponents for my faith, hardly compares with the struggles of being a Christian in North Korea, where you have a one in four chance of being imprisoned for your faith. As a Christian in politics, do I feel marginalised? Not really.
A Christian in politics, sure, but a Christian politician, unfortunately not.