Last night, Tim Farron gave an interview to Channel 4 news. Cathy Newman, the interviewer, asked the new Lib Dem leader if, as a Christian, he thought that homosexuality was a sin. Tim dodged the question, refusing to say yes or no, in what became a sort of Paxman-esque set up, as Newman asked him again and again for a straight answer. Farron retorted with biblical quotes or bon mots.
Some Lib Dems have taken to social media to partly defend Tim, saying it wasn’t all that bad. Let’s get this straight: it was a memorably poor moment for Farron. Not in the Natalie Bennett league of bad, but that would have required Tim to have gone on ragingly drunk, thrown up and then fallen asleep live on air.
It is always a tough step up, becoming the leader of a political party. The media subjects you to a grilling that there is no way to adequately prepare for. Nick Clegg memorably stumbled when he intimated that perhaps he’d slept with over thirty women in an interview given early in his leadership. Farron can be forgiven for still learning the ropes; like I say, it’s something you can only learn on the job.
However, comparing Clegg’s “30 shags” moment to Farron’s stumble last night is revealing. Nick’s was a one off, silly occasion, that said nothing about his worldview that was going to come back to haunt him. The problem for Tim is that he is going to be asked the same question Cathy Newman put to him last night again and again and again. He needs to come up with an answer which is a lot better than “well, we’re all sinners”. Because by saying that, Tim is essentially saying that yes, homosexuality is a sin and it is morally wrong. In Christain theology, just because we’re all sinners doesn’t mean that sinning is okay. It’s not like you can murder someone and then say, “well, we’re all sinners, aren’t we?” and get off the hook morally. If homosexuality is a sin, then people who engage in the related activity should attempt to refrain from doing so by definition. It is fundamentally immoral, like stealing.
To be the leader of a party in which the majority of people believe that homosexuality isn’t wrong – or even a choice, now that I think about it, a key factor in determining whether something might be considered morally wrong, is problematic for Farron. Someone’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of who they are as a person. So Tim either needs to say yes or no to the “is it a sin?” question, and then if he says yes – which would be the honest thing to do – he needs to explain that within the context of liberalism. Tricky, but I suppose it can theoretically be done – and given that Tim must have his own rationale for all this anyway, probably best to just be completely honest on the subject.
He needs to do this immediately, as in, he needs an answer ahead of his next interview. Tim has to kill this as a story – otherwise it will haunt his whole early leadership of the party. Because, again, he will now be asked a minor variant of the same question, every time from here on in.
Nic Wells says
I agree Tim needs to think more about what’s a politically smart message. But to a Christian, sin has a specific meaning which is not the same as wrong vs. right. As you will know sins range from venial to mortal, they don’t weigh the same. A Christian might view all sex outside marriage as sinful but also support gay marriage.
Liberal Christians certainly know how to square a circle. Full marks for trying the impossible.
Caron Lindsay says
Should politicians be expressing a view at all on what might or might not be a sin? Surely it’s liberal actions that matter more than anything. I think we should give the guy a chance and not conclude that he said things that he didn’t actually say.
“I think we should give the guy a chance and not conclude that he said things that he didn’t actually say.”
Well, if he _doesn’t_ think homosexual sex is a sin, he seems to have gone several miles out of his way to cause maximum grief and embarrassment for both himself and his party, by avoiding the straightforward answer “No”.
But the problem is that Farron’s evasions on these issues are so glaringly obvious. Take abortion. Confronted with his statements about abortion being “morally objectionable” and “wrong”, he waffled incoherently about context and tried to pretend that all he’d said was that the law should remain as it was. When the interviewer tried again to get a straight answer about whether he though abortion was morally wrong, he waffled a bit more about abortion being tragic. It’s odd that Caron is defending him so staunchly, given her usual zero-tolerance policy towards any real or imagined slight on women’s rights.
Luke Goodstadt says
I don’t agree with asking politicians questions due to their religious belief. It then makes that person an ambassador for the entire religion with a high level platform. Belief is personal and whatever he said would then be forced upon the religion as a societal belief. Also, popular opinion would state a separation between religion and state, therefore to ask a politician about religion joins the two together, meaning whatever Farron replied he would get a backlash from voters.
Charles Boney says
Move on. We have a leader who is a Christian who (like all of us Christians) agonise over what is right, guided by a body of theology which is complex and challenging. The modern media want instant easy quotes. You are in essence just shouting ‘answer the question – yes or no’. If only life and was that easy.
Martin S says
“Is homosexuality morally wrong?” is a simple yes or no question.
The answer is no.
That wasn’t the question. Neumann asked if homosexual sex was wrong. Interestingly, the church’s answer to your question would also be ‘no’.
Whoa, things just got a whole lot eaisre.
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kredit in schwierigen fällen says
It’s about time someone wrote about this.
Oct. 11. Anon. 4′s performance of Secret Voices: The Sisters of Las Huelgas at First Church, Simsbury, Ct., all but comprised a time-transportation to the 13th and 14th centuries and to the palpable presence of the Sisters of Las Huelgas. Unavoidable to picture them in their Cistercian white habits while they prayed, mourned and rejoiced and sadly at concert’s end retreated to their cherished places in history. Bravo.
Ali Al-Ahmed, the director of the Gulf Institute, a Washington-based think tank that is critical of the Saudi government. “Terrorism is being used to blackmail the West. You watch, it is only a matter of time before they do this in the U.S.”…or, perhaps, find that they already have.(Actually, I would define the struggle to be against tyranny rather than terror which is, after all, merely a herding tool: generally more effective on governments than the populace)
The Lib Dems within 24 hours have become a theological debating society far removes from the concerns of the majority of the general public.
Everything will be seen through the prism of sins and faiths. There’ll be a new `religious social liberalism` or `religious left` that determines all policy through the measuring stick of `sins` and what is right theologically.
Good luck Lib Dems you chose the wrong man. I’m off out of it after 29 years of membership.
Christine Steel says
You have to look past this and listen to Tim’s speech when he became leader. To leave you have to make choices of other parties or not use your vote. I never joined a political party, I voted. I have known Tim a long time and he has what it takes to be a great leader and for the first time I joined, apparently along with 17,000 others because I want change.
Frugal Mac50 says
I agree with much of what you say. For the sake of the party, and for his own wellbeing, Tim needs to clarify exactly how he keeps his evangelicalism separate from his politics, and how they are related. He’s evidently a bright guy, and a humanitarian, and were he a Christian in the merely technical sense of one who attempts to follow the teachings of Christ, then there would be little or no problem.
The difficulty arises from the fact that he appears to be something of a literalist. Goodness knows why, as it’s a position few Christians take these days, particularly those who engage with the world as effectively and compassionately as he does. He is also dabbling in a kind of Calvanism if his remarks on God’s will are anything to go by. Both these “isms” are massive hostages to future fortune, and media catnip, and he needs to ditch them fast.
As a married man with four kids he will be locked into the support networks of evangelicalism at a cultural and social level, but there should be plenty of room for him to remain in that milieu and fashion a statement of faith that should satisfy most party members, most Christians, his own conscience, and the media. Then he can get on with doing the stuff he does so brilliantly, and for which he got my vote.
Tina C says
As a humanist who voted for Tim Farron in full knowledge that he has religious beliefs I do not share, I have approached the issue with a liberal view of choices – there are choices one might not choose to make for one’s self for whatever reason, moral, religious or otherwise but, as a liberal, be happy for people to make for themselves. That’s what liberals are – people who believe other people should make their own decisions about their own lives. So providing Tim Farron defends the position that people should be allowed to live their lives as they decide providing it causes no harm to others then that’s fine with me. Sin is a concept that has no relevance to me so I don’t care what he thinks about sin providing he is liberal in his approach to policy.
Sin is a social construction. Human beings, through the institution of the church, have always decided what is sinful, by looking to interpret ancient traditions, historical records, inspired teachings and the life of Jesus Christ – and informed by an evolving theological dialogue with the society around it. Thus what was sinful in the first century is not what is sinful now. And not what will be sinful in a century’s time. The edict to love one another can be as happily fulfilled in a same sex context as any other as long as the parties are consenting, and of age. Same sex penetration may currently be construed as a sin by the institution if the church. But it won’t be forever…and it shouldn’t. Because it isn’t.
As a LD member, I did not vote for Tim for exactly these reasons; I have no doubt about his zeal or enthusiasm, and his first speech proved that BUT, the party needs to rebuild, not be seen as some illiberal anachronistic God botherers hangout
Mark Argent says
I agree it is a bad gaffe. The saving grace is that half the problem lies in what people are inferring from what Tim *didn’t* say, which makes it easier for him to clarify the situation In a helpful direction, but I agree he needs to do this one rapidly before he stats being painted as believing things which he almost certainly doesn’t.
I’m also concerned that this stats to sound like an anti-Christian attack, when in reality it is an attack on how one way of being Christian is perceived.
This means Tim should clarify his position rapidly for the sake of credibility with LGBT people (and the LGBT-friendly), and British Christianity in its widest sense, and anyone concerned about that.
Fortunately ther is still time for this…
As an agnostic I may not be aware of the specific position, but I’m sure Farron wouldn’t say that sins equate to crimes. There’s no law against heterosexual sex outside marriage, or adultery, or divorce.
“He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
Yet no one, certainly not Farron, calls for the law to enforce this (though they did in Victorian days).
I don’t expect politicians to approve of me, I expect them to prevent discrimination, bullying etc against LGBT people and that is what we need to watch out for, not what is in a man’s heart.
A good many valueblas you’ve given me.
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