Recents events nationally have reminded us that we live in a world that is predictably unpredictable. We have had an election in which the winners lost and where the losers feel they won. We seem to have to endure regular acts of terror and we have had the most appalling catastrophe in London which has revealed incompetence and injustice at the heart of the nation. Finally, almost as an incidental, we have a weakened and divided government starting the most important international negotiations since the Second World War. Old certainties are being questioned and in the midst of this there is a danger that some of our most deeply held values in society are under threat, not least the values of free speech and true tolerance.
In that light, the resignation of Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron may be a bell-weather. In his resignation speech, Mr Farron gave his reason: “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.” Mr Farron does not specify the exact issue, though he admits that it is “hold[ing] faithfully to the Bible’s teaching" that has caused the problem - and he has drawn a great deal of fire for this. His home affairs spokesman, Lord Paddick, resigned on account of Mr Farron’s views. It is certainly true that the Lib Dem leader’s Christianity has been regarded by some as a “problem.”
Our supposedly tolerant society, it seems, isn’t as tolerant as all that. It seems that leaders (and perhaps all of us…?) are not just expected to practice liberal tolerance of others with whom they disagree, but to submit to a new absolute morality and dogma that demands they signal their virtue by celebrating the very thing with which they disagree. Leaders must not merely act in accordance with the democratically determined law of the land, but they must also think correctly, otherwise they will be hunted down by the present day equivalents of the Spanish Inquisition on the lookout for heresy, or Big Brother seeking to suppress thought crime. This is a deeply worrying. Are we now living in a culture in which Voltaire’s aphorism is no longer true: “I wholly disapprove of what you say, and I will defend to the death your right to say it.”?
But I suggest this shouldn’t be a surprise for Christians such as Mr Farron, for we follow a Lord who, in the end, people wanted to be rid of. And there is something Mr Farron knows about the crucified Lord which many of his detractors don’t. It is that on that cross, Jesus wasn’t just experiencing humanity’s hatred and opposition to God; but in the plan of God, He was dying for us.
That is real love and acceptance. As Paul put it, Jesus is the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2v20) It is a love which none but those who have experienced it can understand. And those who experience that love know that, when they face a fork in the road on account of their faith, they can only side with the Crucified One.
As Mr Farron himself put it: "Imagine how proud I am to lead this party. And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour. In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something “so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all”. And I can testify that it certainly is.
with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar