A few months ago I mused on this page whether the UK had shifted to the point where a faithful Christian could no longer hold high office in contemporary politics. The resignation of Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats this week points to a disturbing and resounding ‘no!’.
I’m not an apologist for the Liberal Democrats, or for Mr Farron with regards to any of his policies, and I have never voted for the Liberal Democrats in my life, but any student of history will be acutely concerned about this situation.
Farron wrote in The Spectator of June 14:
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. 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.
Farron’s resignation came only a couple of days after Parliament was opened following the election. At the opening all members are called to the House of Lords where the Queen ―‘Defender of the Faith’― instructs in the name of God her parliament to convene. This is done in deference to the Lord’s Spiritual― the bishops of the Church of England who sit in the House. Though this is seen as largely ceremonial it nevertheless remains a legal requirement as part of the living constitution of the United Kingdom. In other words, the entire basis of the Westminster system is founded upon and protected by an appeal to God understood through the lens of Christianity.
Now I realise that there are many people who would acknowledge what I have just said but oppose the status quo in favour of some more secular approach, perhaps a written constitution that doesn’t include that bothersome ‘God’. But before you reach to set fire to your bibles think about this: How can fundamental rights of citizens be best protected? For centuries, rights have found a basis in the appeal to God as ‘Lord of Lords’ and ‘King of kings’. For many this may seem a quaint memory of a distant and more ignorant past, for others a dangerous sign of crazy religious zealots, but in fact rather than being an unsophisticated principle it is supreme in enshrining individual freedoms.
Let’s suppose that (as many who hounded Farron would wish) not only Christianity but any divine appeal is removed from a nation’s legal and moral foundation. Imagine a ‘Bill of Rights’ being written in a purely secular manner; to whom would the final appeal be made? To a president? To a parliament? To a human rights commission? Any such body would be subject to the sorts of social and political pressures brought to bear on Farron, and history tells us that whole nations can be gripped by dangerous philosophies to a point that laws become weapons of persecution for voices opposed to tyranny. Communist USSR, NAZI Germany, Maoist China, Cambodia, all provide examples (and there are others) of what happens when God is removed as the source of, and final appeal to, basic principles of human freedom.
Whether one believes in God or not there is a functionality of placing rights under the protection of God, and out of the reach of dangerous do-gooders; it is the basis of making rights ‘inalienable’, beyond the manipulation of the powerful in any particular given time and culture.
I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”
Though I admire his dignity and honesty in standing aside and giving his reasons (to the glory of God), I wonder if Mr Farron might consider whether ‘progressive liberalism’ could ever produce tolerance; or whether it is going through an identity crisis at best or at worst is mortally flawed.
Fr Chris Yates is the Vicar of St Saviour and St Peter’s, Eastbourne, UK and was formerly Rector of Raymond Terrace, NSW. He was a Police Officer in the UK for 10 years prior to training for the priesthood in Oxford.
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