Tim Farron has a serious problem. For some while now, interviewers have been gunning for him as an Evangelical. As we know, Evangelicals believe what the Bible says and therefore believe homosexual sex to be sinful. As we also know, the media – the self-appointed conscience of our times – will make every effort to hound anybody who dares not affirm every jot and tittle of self-determined right thought and orthodox thinking by an aggressive homosexual lobby. It also won’t have escaped your notice that we have an election coming up. This is not America and, though Farron no doubt has some support among Evangelicals as an Evangelical, we swing very little electorally on our own (though Dr Evan Harris – former Oxford West & Abingdon Lib Dem MP – may beg to differ).
I had commented on this attempt to get Farron here, here and – in a short addendum to my second post – here. I pointed out that Channel 4’s Cathy Newman first asked him about his views on gay sex. Farron never gave a direct answer but noted the theological fact that ‘we are all sinners’. In a follow up interview, Newman asked the question for a fourth time and Farron, once again, prevaricated. This was followed up by Nigel Evans MP – himself a homosexual – asking Farron whether he believed ‘being gay’ was sinful. Here we received a direct answer of ‘no’ to the slightly different question. At this point, as you will note in my comment here, Farron had steered an understandable and clear course between his Evangelical beliefs and what would be electorally helpful. Farron was clear that ‘being gay’ is not sinful whilst never having answered whether he believed homosexual sex was sinful. This is in line with standard, orthodox Evangelical thought whilst (just about) not committing electoral suicide.
Yesterday, however, Farron went a step further. In an interview with the BBC, he said the following:
The key phrase is this: ‘I do not believe gay sex is a sin’.
When asked by Eleanor Garnier why he evaded a direct answer, yet now sees fit to state his supposed view directly, she followed up with this: ‘you were either misleading people before or you’re misleading people now. Which is it?’
In my view, Farron’s answer to this entirely legitimate question, given his new found openness, was pretty rubbish to say the least. He argued that he didn’t want to pontificate about the theology of the Bible and that he is ‘quite careful about how I talk about my faith. I do not bang on about it, I do not make a secret out of it’. This would be great if he was asked a general question about faith or he was profferring his views apropos of nothing. However, given he was asked a direct question on a specific point of theological belief, answering it would hardly be to ‘bang on’ about it and there would be little to no electoral reason not to say, if he truly believed it, that gay sex is not sinful. It is, after all, the majority view of the country, the only view of the media and the seeming consensus among every other party leader in British politics.
The problem for Tim Farron is that this sudden, direct and unequivocal admission means that he is now utterly unelectable. I say this not because of his views on being gay or homosexual sex. Almost every politician thinks being gay and homosexual sex is absolutely fine. For most Christians, the idea that their prospective MP is not anti-gay is not really a voting issue. Not least, for those who were ever against it, the gay marriage boat has sailed. Apart from that single issue, the majority of Christians do not favour some sort of Russian-style homosexual clampdown. Nor do any Christians, who consent to the concept of liberalism in any meaningful way, believe that homosexuality itself should be made illegal or that basic human rights do not extend to gay people as though they were somehow less than human. Just to be crystal clear, Tim Farron’s stated view is not what makes him unelectable per se. But that he has now stated gay sex is not sinful represents a big problem.
Up until now, Farron has been equivocal. Even when he (quite rightly) made clear ‘being gay’ was not of itself sinful, he nonetheless continued to uphold standard Evangelical theology. That he now insists gay sex is not sinful means that he has departed from standard Evangelical orthodoxy. This makes the question Eleanor Garnier posed quite legitimate: ‘either you were misleading people then or you’re misleading them now’.
Let’s be clear, nothing has happened in the last 48 hours to change Tim Farron’s long-standing Evangelical beliefs. Therefore, he either never believed homosexual sex was sinful and, despite the obvious electoral impact of not simply saying so, perversely refused to admit it or he does believe it is sinful but will not admit it in public, even to the point of lying about it. Given that it would be electorally obtuse to refuse to admit homosexual sex is not sinful when this is electorally expedient, balance of probability suggests Tim Farron believes it to be sinful but has lied for electoral gain.
This makes Farron utterly unelectable. It means the man cannot be trusted because he will change his view when it is politically expedient. Now, I hear you cry, there is nothing new about this in politics. Indeed, there is not. But a man who believes in real places called Heaven and Hell, who believes that faith in Jesus Christ affects to which of them you go and that Evangelical theology is the closest outworking of faithfulness to him changes that decision somewhat. Here is a man prepared to stake the eternity of his soul, willing to act in a way that he believes is deeply offensive to the God he worships (that is, lying for electoral gain), yet still believes electoral success to be more important. This is not a man who simply believes a little white lie, of no real consequence, will return electoral gains. This is a man offending his God, denying the teachings of his saviour, for the sake of a few votes. Knowing this, how can anyone vote for him?
Whilst Farron was equivocating, he was doing his utmost to maintain his Evangelical beliefs without torpedoing his electoral chances. Presuming his genuine Evangelical belief, there was nothing in his previous answers that were mendacious. They could be readily described as in line with Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16. In being wise, he maintained his Evangelical and liberal credentials by making clear both his voting record and intentions in respect to the rights of others. Now, however, Farron has moved beyond wisdom with words and become openly deceitful. What promise that he utters can we ever believe? What claim to truth can we ever take seriously?
If he was trying to keep Evangelicals onside, his recent comments will undermine those efforts. If he was trying to win over secularist, progessivist liberals, they will not be impressed with his prior equivocation. As ever, whilst admitting a belief against standard progressive thinking will never be forgiven, Farron forgets that a failure to unequivocally endorse and affirm all views of the guardians of orthodoxy at the first time of asking will not readily be forgiven either. Had Farron maintained his equivocal stance – affirming ‘being gay’ as not sinful whilst quietly sidestepping the ‘gay sex’ question – he could have maintained his integrity, even if never winning over our bien pensants. Now, however, he finds himself in an unenviable position. He has abandoned Evangelical orthodoxy, lost his integrity and yet, inevitably, will fail to win over those who were initially unhappy at his willingness to endorse all things homosexual.
The most charitable spin one can put on it is that Farron has sold his soul for electoral gain. The (potentially) sadder reality is that he has sold his soul out of cowardice. For fear of what the media will say during an election, for fear that people may not like him, he has denied the Evangelical orthodoxy he seemed so keen to maintain in prior interviews. In either case, who is going to vote for a deceiver with no integrity and, worse, one who is so because he is a coward.
Nobody mentions that Tim Farron – the man who resigned a frontbench position and defied his party whip to secure an EU referendum – is the most vociferous party leader standing against the referendum result and seeking further referenda to reject it. His promise to his constituents of a referendum looks different in light of his current position. How can we now trust his claims that there will be no Lib Dem coalition with either Labour or Tories? If he is prepared to jeopardise his soul for a few potential votes, what of his party or five years of power? His recent admission makes him entirely unelectable and was – given his situation – about the worst thing he could have done both personally and politically. He has lost his integrity and it has been sold in the hopes of an easier ride and a few extra votes that he will almost certainly not get having failed to state his now clear view to begin with. It is nothing less than shameful cowardice.