The Catholic Cardinal of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, above, left, has added his voice to those claiming that Tim Farron was forced to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrat party this week because of prejudice against Christians in the world of UK politics.
According to the Catholic Herald, Nichols said he was:
Sorry to read Mr Farron’s statement and I recognise the hurt it expresses. Undoubtedly he has been given a hard time.
This country has a long and continuing history of very committed Christians making major and sustained contributions to our political life. Our current Prime Minister is just one example.
Canon Pat Brown, the Catholic chaplain to Parliament also expressed his sorrow, saying that he was:
Very saddened by the resignation of Mr Farron and alarmed if it is true that there is no place in Parliament for a committed Christian. It’s a judgement on the way we do politics in this country.
Crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, a former Liberal Democrat MP, also released a statement appearing to lay the blame at the door of the party, noting that millions of British people share Tim Farron’s Christian beliefs.
It is ironic that a Party, which I joined as a teenager, because of its belief in conscience, human rights and free speech, has morphed into something so narrow and intolerant…that its leader has been forced to choose between his Faith and his Party.
While Tim Farron should never have been forced to make this choice, said Lord Alton, he has nonetheless made the right call and should be admired for doing so.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Farron 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.
He said he had found himself “torn” between:
Living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader. I seem to be the subject of what I believe and who my faith in is. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.
Farron, who is on the evangelical wing of the Church of England, was repeatedly dogged by questions over his views on homosexuality during his time as leader, especially during the election campaign.
After winning the party leadership in 2015, he was repeatedly asked whether his Christian faith meant he believed homosexuality was a sin. The questions then arose again in the recent election campaign, with Farron first prevaricating before eventually saying he did not think it was sinful.
The Guardian then dug up a 2007 interview in which Farron said abortion was “wrong”. He recanted that view during the campaign.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lord Paddick, above, who is Britain’s most senior openly gay police officer, resigned as the party’s home affair’s spokesman over “concerns about the leader’s views on various issues that were highlighted” during the election campaign.
Farron narrowly held his Westmoreland and Lonsdale seat in last week’s election, but saw his party’s representation increase from nine seats to 12.
Farron’s departure has further diminished the influence of Christians in British politicsAfter the General Election Dan Hitchens, Deputy Editor of the Catholic Herald lamented the fact that voters had chosen to oust:
Some outstanding examples of Christians in public life. The Conservatives’ David Burrowes, an Evangelical who opposed his party on gay marriage and campaigned for refugees and the homeless, lost his seat. So did Labour’s Rob Flello, a Catholic convert who once said: ‘I could no more leave my faith at the door of the House of Commons than I could my name or my gender or my arms and legs.’
For all I know, the next generation of Flellos and Burrowses will be found among the new crop of MPs.
But it looks as though Parliament’s Christian contingent has been seriously damaged, which is worrying given the issues which could come up in the next five years. Pro-choice MPs are seeking the decriminalisation of abortion; the Tories want to introduce four-year-olds to ‘relationships education’; promoters of assisted suicide never give up; and that is only to mention the more obvious areas.
Christians have other reasons to be disappointed. Within both main parties, the movements which are explicitly inspired by Catholic social teaching – Red Toryism, Blue Labour – now seem on the back foot.
The hounding of Tim Farron suggested that British politics was an increasingly hostile environment for Christians, an impression which these election results have reinforced. Then again, the DUP – whose MPs tend to support the lives of unborn babies and oppose the redefinition of marriage – are now being welcomed into the corridors of power, so who knows? Perhaps we should all swear off predictions for a while. Perhaps Christians should especially.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn