Tim Farron’s resignation as Liberal Democrat leader has dismayed Christians and non-Christians alike. Justin Welby said politicians and the media had questions to answer:
Tim Farron honourable & decent. Regardless of party if he can’t be in politics media & politicians have questions. https://t.co/glmDDsfJ2J
— Justin Welby ن (@JustinWelby) June 14, 2017
More quixotically, the Anglican philosopher John Milbank drew a striking comparison:
This is now a country where a politician can follow without disgrace Ayn Rand who thought that morality was for wimps, but not Jesus Christ.
— john milbank (@johnmilbank3) June 14, 2017
The resignation has brought into focus questions about liberalism and religion. Some left-leaning commentators have downplayed the significance of Farron’s resignation. In the Independent, John Rentoul argued that Farron’s decision reflected only his personal view, rather than a clash between Christianity and secularism: “If Tony Blair could be a secret Roman Catholic and Prime Minister of the UK while legislating for gay equality then it does suggest that the problem is not religion itself, but the way individual politicians interpret it.”
Likewise, Rafael Behr wrote in the Guardian that the issue was not really “about the compatibility of conspicuous Christianity and high office”. This was a question of style rather than substance: Farron had to go because he seemed too “zealous, evangelical and pious” to lead a party trying to stand for “judicious moderation”.
But others argued that the hounding of Farron was profoundly illiberal. As Ian Dunt put it at politics.co.uk, Farron “is not entitled” to put limits on abortion or gay rights, but from a truly liberal perspective, he “can hold whatever spiritual mumbo-jumbo in his head about their actions that he likes.”
At CapX, Andrew Lilico looked back at the history of liberal ideas. It was Reformation thinkers like Melanchthon and Hooker who popularised the idea of “things indifferent” within a national church: subjects which could legitimately be disagreed on, as long as core doctrines claimed general assent. That had been extended to political society: some ideas are considered out of bounds. But “To believe that gay sex is not wrong is to not be a Bible-believing Christian … And if we feel we cannot have either Bible-believing Christian or Muslim political leaders, can we really claim, with a straight face, to be a liberal society at all?”
At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty said that Farron’s attempt to hold together liberalism and Christianity was doomed. “I think the creative tension between political liberalism and Christian orthodoxy has ceased to be creative and is now just tension.” And the “decency and forbearance that are supposed to mark British society” seem to have vanished. Nevertheless, “It is hard not to respect his witness.”
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