British Christians wonder if there is room for them in politics

Tim Farron, leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat Party, arrives at a polling station in Kendal, Britain, on June 8, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Andrew Yates

LONDON (RNS) Concern is growing among British Christians about their place in the country’s public life after Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, resigned over his religious beliefs.

Farron, who led his party for two years, cited the difficulties he faced squaring his Christianity with his political leadership. In a statement Wednesday (June 14), Farron said: “I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.”

“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe in and whom my faith is in,” he added. “In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we are living in a tolerant liberal society.”

Farron’s religious beliefs emerged as an issue early on in the recent British general election when he was challenged on his attitude toward same-sex marriage in a TV interview and was asked whether he thought homosexuality was a sin.

His first reply was to say that “to understand sexuality is to understand we are all sinners,” but it only spurred more criticism, despite Farron’s eventually saying he accepted same-sex marriage.

Farron led the Liberal Democrats in June 9’s election from nine seats to 12, although the party failed to capitalize on the anti-Brexit vote, despite being strongly in favor of the European Union.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats Party, Tim Farron, speaks at the launch of the party’s general election campaign in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Britain, on May 1, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Peter Nicholls

But his leadership was called into question after Lord Brian Paddick – the party’s home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords and a well-known gay activist – said he was quitting because of the leadership’s views during the election.

Party members are said to have then acted against Farron, indicating he had to go.

The Liberal Democrat Party is Britain’s third largest, formed in 1988. It is a centrist party, usually closer to the Conservatives on economics and veering more toward Labour on social policy.

Lord David Alton at a summit on how freedom of religion or belief can help prevent violent extremism. The event was held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Oct. 19, 2016. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Foreign and Commonwealth Office

One of the notable Christian politicians in Britain, Lord David Alton, was among those who expressed dismay at Farron’s quitting.

“The old Liberal Party was a party of conscience and proud of its Christian foundations,” he said. “That Christian tradition was subsequently ridiculed by many Liberal Democrats, implacable in their hostility to faith schools and insistent on imposing policies, such as abortion, on their members. Inevitably, this has made it a hostile place for people of faith.”

The old Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, managed to accommodate people of differing views on personal moral matters for many years.

Others in politics were dismayed by what happened to Farron.

“His resignation reflects the fact that we live in a society that is still illiberal in many ways and is intolerant of political leaders having a faith,” said Sarah Latham, director of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. “This urgently needs to change. It will change only if Christians step up and get involved in all areas of life and change the rhetoric.”

On Twitter, Richard Chapman, adviser to the Church of England on Parliament and politics, said what had happened to Farron was “awful.”

“Mature liberal democracy shouldn’t be pushing religion from the public square,” he wrote. Paul Woolley, the deputy chief executive of the Bible Society, expressed fear that Britain’s liberal political culture isn’t liberal enough to include decent people such as Farron.

However, journalist Mary Kenny, who is a columnist for the Catholic Herald, argued that Farron’s problem was that he was not politically adept enough and that he should have made his point better by saying “what I believe is a matter of conscience but I respect the law.”

In recent years, gay issues have become the most neuralgic matter in the crossover between faith and politics in the U.K.

In 2007 a dispute arose between the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the government over whether Catholic adoption agencies should be exempt from the provisions of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt children.

The Catholic Church argued that the legislation contradicted the church’s moral values. The church was unsuccessful in fighting the matter through the courts, and the Catholic charities either closed or stopped working on adoptions.

More recently, politicians and commentators criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed coalition partner, the Democratic Unionist Party, because of the DUP’s track record on opposing same-sex marriage.

The Conservative leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, who is gay and planning to marry her partner, demanded assurances from May that there would be no watering down of LGBT rights if the DUP deal went through.

(Catherine Pepinster is a London-based correspondent)

About the author

Catherine Pepinster


Click here to post a comment

  • Of course the wonder that. They are so used to being in a place of dominance and dominion that it must feel like rejection when they are treated the same as anyone else.

    But here’s the thing. You are not being oppressed when another group of people is granted the same rights your group has always enjoyed. And certainly, you are not being oppressed when the people over whom you could claim an easy dominion no longer have to listen to your BS, and other people people support them.

    Losing privilege ALWAYS seems like oppression to those on the top.

  • Memo to Her Majesty’s politically active British Christians:

    Goliath hate you. Goliath hate yo’ guts. Goliath hate yo’ mama’s guts. Goliath don’t want you in no stinking politics, influencing people behind Goliath’s back with low-key godly words and deeds.

    Goliath want your skinny Christian tail outta there, even if you bow, kowtow, and meekly squeak at the last second that you somehow support gay marriage.

    Goliath smirks at you, “Yes, my pretty, you’ll support a lot more that THAT by the time I’m done with your mangy hide!!”

    (Oh, you think I’m joking? Ask Mr.Farron.)

    You sincerely felt called to make a difference in ALL people’s lives (gay or straight, rich or poor, black or white) through public service & politics. But Goliath says, no ya won’t; ya better GIT yo’ Christian tail outta here.

    So you can run & hide like a little church mouse. Or else set yourself like David, trust in your alleged God already, walk right up to Mr. Goliath, and Fight Back already!!

  • Being Christian doesn’t seem to have stopped Theresa May from being Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn is also religious, although he won’t get specific about it.

    This guy seems like a whiner.

  • The UK has spent the last 500 years trying to get them out of entanglement with the government. Good riddance.

    Therein lies the problem with failing to separate church from state. You end up destroying the credibility and moral authority of both.

  • Not knowing anything about a subject would make some people question whether they are able to make a sensible contribution to a discussion.

    As I understand it there are only two countries* which reserve seats in their legislature for non-elected clerics. We have 2 archbishops and 24 bishops who can introduce and influence laws simply because we have the historical anachronism of an established church. You might not think that they are proper Christians; I suspect that, based on your comments, some of them would question your right to be considered as such.

    Currently the Church of England is seeking to extend its already considerable, and effectively cost-free, influence over our schools. “We can use the opportunities that church schools provide more effectively for the mission of the Church, and in particular the contribution that our church schools can make to spiritual and numerical growth”.
    (Bishop of St Albans, at Church of England Synod)

    Any elected politician has a right to their personal belief but the expression of that has to be tempered by the responsibility they owe to their constituency. Just because someone is sincerely deluded does not mean that they should be permitted to invoke those delusions when making laws that are binding on others. If an elected lawmaker feels that they cannot properly serve their constituents the honourable course is resignation. If there by right, whether or not as a consequence of achieving (however achieved) a senior position in an organisation which prefers myth to evidence and magic over reality, what do they owe those whose lives they affect?

    *the other, equally enlightened, beacon of democracy is Iran.

  • What mawkish self-pity. Farron lost because he was an incompetent leader on the periphery of issues and tarred by being a Conservative poodle, not because he is a Christian. The Christian self-pity and persecution complex is getting very, very tiresome. Christian snowflakes, grow up!

  • From the article, I was not able to see any evidence the fellow’S religious beliefs played any part in this intra-party power struggle.

  • My sense is that first political parties when small as to seats held have a hard time picking up widespread electoral support – especially when preceded by a big loss in popularity. Secondly, as even a party member noted,based on the 8 seats held in 2015, the party now looked like see what one party member escribed as a cross between Freemason’s meeting and lunch at the Garrick -obviously they were not likely to generate a lot of buzz. Thirdly, Farron gambled on anti-Brexit sentiment, proposing to re-open the leave decision, but unfortunately in the eyes of the public, only about 20% thought that was still a good idea. On top of that, the most likely voters who might be swayed by Mr. Farron’s evangelical faith orientation would be the same folks who offered the greatest support for leaving the EU.,

  • Right on schedule.

    Poor persecuted widdle kwistians. Such delicate snowflakes they are. Big, mean gay, by their own estimates, comprises 1% of the population. And yet able to bully 65% of the people, god’s very own church.

    Fecal bleating at its best.

    Or worst.

  • Your opinion is duly noted. But it doesn’t change the situation for the Christian members of the “Liberal Democrats.”

    Because their top leader Mr. Farron chose to cut & run, instead of breaking bones and taking names, the LD-party’s no-good Philistines now totally own the LD-party’s Christians.

    They’re nothing but LD slave-girls now. Sheesh.

    American Christians: you see the same thing happening with these Democrats here in America. So rewrite the script already, and do NOT be polite about it!!

  • So far from being persecuted, Christians in the UK have 26 automatic seats in Parliament (only Iran has anything comparable!), have ‘mainly… broadly Christian’ worship in all schools every day by law, run about 1 in 3 of all state-funded schools at no expense to themselves, have a Christian service broadcast daily on the BBC, have legal protection against discrimination and widespread exemptions from equality laws on grounds not just of religion but also of sexuality. But some of them – only a noisy few – try to make out this false narrative of persecution in a campaign to extend their legal privileges yet further. Farron seems to be one of them: he had a clear choice: run the Lib Dems according to their policies and principles, subordinating as a private matter (but not disowning) his own religious beliefs or prioritising his beliefs and getting out. He chose the latter – and should not be complaining.

  • I know you think it is all about those poor widdle snowflake Christians being persecuted for their sincere religious beliefs, because that is your go-to narrative. The answer is probably a lot simpler, but gives a nod to your sense of persecution. Perhaps the real problem is that Mr. Farron Is indeed a Christian, of the type that has to tell everyone what a good Christian he is.
    Sort of like you.

    But his colleagues, being both Europeans and grown ups, get really tried of hearing about how special he is because of his faith, get tired of being insulted because of his faith, and in fact, get tired of HIM because not only is he a True Christian (TM) who has to tell everyone about how special it makes him, and is in fact a real duck about it, all the time.

    So he sees it as christian persecution, they see him as a major duck.

    It reminds me of a few years ago, when parliament finally passed gay marriage. The church could see the writing on the wall– mene mene tekel upharsin, so to speak ironically– and whined and whined that they did not and would not be forced to officiate those sinful marriages. So ironic coming from a church founded on adultery and divorce. Suddenly so delicate.

    Rather than deal with the church, which threatened a major wrench in the proceedings, PM Cameron gave them their most fervent wish, and simply removed them from the process entirely. Since they got what they asked for, the COE could hardly complain about it, though the only-semi-private weeping and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth over being hoisted on their own petard was truly worth the popcorn to watch it. Parliament passed the marriage act, because now even the Christians could not by any stretch of the imagination be indicted themselves for voting for it. Surprise!!! Their actual religious beliefs were unaffected; only their ability to use their faith as a weapon against others was affected.

    But they could hardly complain loudly about that!

    Churches that wish to see their congregants united in HOLY MATRIMONY now must opt in. Congratulations, church of England. Ask and it shall be given. But be careful of what you wish for, because you received it.

  • Farron’s resignation was silly and unnecessary. No one was trying to interfere with his faith, no one is trying to force any woman to have an abortion, and no one should be compelled to pay taxes for the support of faith-based schools. The latter point has long been a serious British mistake, one, sadly, that too many US conservatives have been making. — Edd Doerr

  • I wouldn’t say “snowflake Christians being persecuted.” Instead, I would say “snowflake Christians refusing to kick Goliath’s tail and take names.”

    By the way, I’ve said nothing about Mr. Fallon being “persecuted.” That’s your word.
    Mr. Fallon had no business resigning at all. Quitting didn’t help anything.

    And Fallon didn’t have ANY business trying to appease Goliath by publicly ditching his own Bible, endorsing Gay Marriage in a futile effort that didn’t lessen the pressure one iota.

    As you and I both know from our younger years, you don’t appease bullies, you fight them. Hard.

    You don’t gratuitously cut & run like Fallon did, and then complain about how the Philistines won’t let you do your job because of your faith.That doesn’t work for either you or me.

    I never wasted time trying to tell bullies “what a good Christian I am.” (And I don’t even try to tell YOUR heathen self such a thing.)

    Bullies don’t need pious talk, they need people who will stand up to bullies.

  • The old Liberal Party v. The Liberal Democrats. That says it all. Suggestion: How about if you “old liberals” start your own party.

    Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world…” Perhaps Mr. Farrons leadership talents would be better put to use advancing Christs kingdom.

  • In other words, you’re going to sit there and utterly pretend that you didn’t see Lord Brian Paddick’s and Lord David Alton’s statements in the article. Right?

  • Sounds like what the Democratic Party pulled here in the United States recently with the statement by the party chairman. It’s prevalent everywhere now in the West. The Christian with a well-formed conscience might as well stay away from politics, or drive to form our own effective political organization. Deacon Vince

  • It’s quite simple Ben. Both you and I, in younger days, have fought off bullies. So do the rule: You don’t appease bullies, you fight them.

    Mr. Fallon had no business resigning his LD-party leadership AT ALL under pressure from Goliath. Mr. Fallon had no business trying to appease Goliath, by publicly ditching his Bible and giving his support for Gay Marriage.

    Mr. Fallon’s quoted remarks weren’t so bad, but they should have been uttered by a principled man about to whip tails and take names within his own party.
    (Nobody said anything about “persecution” or “being a good Christian”, Ben. It’s just that the LD-party’s tail needs a good whipping.)

    Here’s why: “Lord Brian Paddick – the party’s home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords and a well-known gay activist – said he was quitting because of the leadership’s views during the election. Party members are said to have then acted against Farron, indicating he had to go.”

    THAT’s all messed up, sir. THAT’s when Mr. Farron needed to stand up to Goliath. Smash the entire LD mess; let the voters decide the rest.

  • Or not.

    I think I’ll go with a total duck. And it could just be that what you are obsessed with as bullying, normal people not either Bible addled, over identified with god, or obsessed with homosexuality would just call the court of public opinion having moved on to something worth its time.

    And for someone who was truly bullied as a child, it amazes me what you call power and bullying, the rest of us would call ending bullying By the majority. My getting bullied as a child, and I was most definitely bullied as the obvious gay kid, taught me empathy and compassion.

    Apparently, It taught you absolutely nothing.

  • By your own previous posts, your experiences taught you NOT to let bullies do stuff on you, as well as teaching you empathy and compassion. Me too.

    (So please leave off the extra jive about “empathy and compassion”, because ANY kid who has to deal with bullies, quickly learns the difference between “E-&-C” versus “No-E-&-C.” I’ll gladly put up my heartfelt empathetic compassionate good-deeds resume against yours any day and twice on Sunday, regardless of our usual differences.)

    But meanwhile, Lord Paddick & Co. (aka Goliath Du-Jour), decided to bully Mr. Farron, and Mr. Farron decided to cut and run. That was a huge mistake, for other Christians were counting on Farron to at least remain in his post rather than bailing out. Now they’re worried about bullying too.

  • NBC News reports:

    The Columbus Police Department and Homeland Security are looking into a Facebook post that called for the killing of LGBTQ people, ahead of this weekend’s Pride Festival. The post was made to a page dedicated to the event; the poster wrote, “I hope this event turns out like the Boston Marathon a few year’s (sic) back.” The post continues with, “All [LGBTQ people] should be killed or at least relocated.”

    Thursday it was confirmed the poster was an employee of the Columbus City School district.

  • Depends upon your definitions of well-formed, conscience and Christian doesn’t it.

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
    ~ Barry Goldwater, November 1994, as quoted in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience (2006)

  • “The Christian with a well-formed conscience might as well stay away from politics, or drive to form our own effective political organization.”

    Please! By all means, depart from mainstream politics. Form your own theocratic parties and leave the rest of us alone.

    For far too long the majority of sane people have had to deal with a vocal but politically useful group of extremists fouling up discussions of education with garbage mythology, healthcare with arbitrary religious dictates and now civil liberties with malicious intentions.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • Meanwhile in the U.S., Christians decided they don’t need Jesus anymore because they would rather have Donald Trump be their Lord and Savior.

  • I always thought that that particular brand of Christian (and we have few here as well) have little use for Jesus; much too wimpish.

    They seem to like their deity raw, rough, rude and ridiculous.

    The sermon on the mount – what’s that, does it mention AK45s? Doesn’t count if the apostles weren’t open-carrying does it?

  • The ethos today is that to disapprove of any of the mainstream gay agenda is to be ousted from public service. For example, the article mentions that Catholic adoption agencies that do not accept gay adoptions have been closed. Their choice? Bow the knee to Caesar, or to Christ. And for the country, a loss of services. I would presume that some women in a challenging pregnancy can abort, birth and raise the child, or release that child into adoption. Perhaps some of those women would like the “choice” to place their birthed baby into a family that has traditional Christian values? And not with a single adoptive parent or gay couple. Well, these women would not have that choice under the law. So abort, keep, or play the roulette wheel in adoption services.

  • Or, a deliberate misconstrual of the actual issues on order to make an antigay religious point. The only ethos today is more accurately to stop pretending that antigay bigotry is acceptable as long as it is disguised as sincere religious belief.

    For example. CSS in Boston closed its doors because it wanted to discriminate AND receive state monies. The state said no. I believe the illinoos CSS tried the same thing, and were told no. Funny, though. A Mormon agency in Boston that does not accept state money can do what it wants. So maybe this is all about using taxpayer money to further sectarian maliciousness.

    If you have something besides your “sincere religious belief” that gay people are super double extra god icky, to justify treating gay people any differently than heterosexuals, please list all of them here.

    But the facts are against you.

  • Ben, atheist countries such as China, Russia, etc. have proscriptions against gays, for example, gay marriage is illegal. From an anthropological view, homosexuality has not been favored and generally been disapproved in almost all societies throughout known history. This might stem from biology in which reproduction was a “good” but may also have to do with hygiene in that anal intercourse has a susceptibility to disease.
    Finally, from an anthropological point, marriage in general has not been about “loving someone” but about protecting a society against male violence. In other words, marriage meant that the woman was off-limits to other males, thus the harsh penalties on adultery. Of course, the definition of marriage, including heterosexual, has changed from all that.
    As for receiving state money for adoptions, or state money for college students attending a religious college, the citizens and courts of a state can make those decisions as to what best serves the better interests of the common good, and marginalize those who dissent.
    As for gay sex being icky, I admit that the thought of it makes me queasy. I do not recall being programmed into that mindset, so I must have been born that way. So I must be a pervert to think that gay sex such as anal penetration is not beautiful and normal and to be celebrated?

  • You have more errors and presuppositions than I can count.

    Russia is not an atheist country.

    Has homosexuality been disapproved in most countries most of the time? POssibly, but actually, not too likely. And so what? Women were property in most countries most of the time. We finally grew up.

    And really, why do you people ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go to anal sex? What is it that fascinates you about it so much? And why do you have so many misconceptions about something that you clearly don’t know anything about! According to CDCreports, 37% of heterosexuals have anal sex. That means there are more heterosexuals practicing anal sex than there are gay people in toto. Maybe you should concentrate on that.

    Marriage has been about protecting society from male violence? where do you get THAT? Other people tell me it’s all about reproduction. I guess that means there are no rapes, no spousal abuse, nothing. It’s true, marriage has been about property and bloodlines, long before it was about love. So what again?

    If you don’t understand about a culture permeated by bias– towards women, black people, gay people, Jews, whatever– then maybe you need to start reading some books. Nobody is asking you to “celebrate” anyone’s sex life. WHERE ONEARTH DO YOU GET THOSE IDEAS?

    MAybe if the thought of someone else’s sex life bothers you so much, you would do well to stop thinking about it.

  • Yes, I do read books, including ones out of my comfort zone. For example, marriage protecting society from male violence is anthropological. For example, study the work of Rene Girard.
    I’m certainly NOT fascinated by anal sex, indeed it is repugnant to me. After all, the anus is not designed for sexual intercourse, Biology 101, whether hetero or homo involvement. You are off message, sir, on that, irrespective of your stats. Anal sex is abnormal sex. And feces can readily spread pathogens, and perhaps why it stinks is that it is hardwired into humans to avoid it.
    Look, what I’m saying is to look in the mirror. You believe I am discriminating against homosexuals. Yes, I would prefer that society define marriage between male and female. But you are also discriminating by redefining marriage and pushing back into oblivion those who dissent from your new orthodoxy.
    So if a private college or adoption agency wants to have a policy that does not normalize the gay orthodoxy, you are fine with that as long as no tax dollar goes into any part of it such as accreditation or government student loans? And that is not discrimination, sir?

  • Pushing back into oblivion.” And yet here you are, taking about what a victim you are.

    “Normalize the gay orthodoxy”. Normalize gay people. We are normal.

    “You are discriminating.” Right, other people enjoying the same rights you have always enjoyed is discriminating against you. No one is making you get gay married or attend a same sex marriage. It costs you nothing, except that you really, really disapprove.

    “I’m not fascinated by anal sex.” You’re longest paragraph is all about it. I didn’t bring it up, you did.

    I simply don’t understand why anti gay bigotscannot be proud of their bigotry. Oh, I know why. Because makes you look like bigots.