Tim Farron shocked the political world, or the handful of people who follow Lib Dem politics, yesterday, with the announcement that he could not “live as a committed Christian” whilst being Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
For the many of us that see politicians are petty, venal liars, this outbreak of putting principles before power might seem laudable. Indeed by teatime, the usual suspects were already gathering to proclaim Farron as a free-speech martyr pushed out by the liberal lynch mob.
Yet I can only presume that those who came to this conclusion either didn’t bother to read Farron’s statement or were not interested in reading it. For Farron makes clear in his statement that “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.”
Sure, you can point to a tweet by Brian Paddick talking about his misgivings, but if politicians could be fired as the result of a tweet, Theresa May would be long gone by now
More importantly, though, eh? Christianity incompatible with progressive politics, nonsense.
Jesus wasn’t so much a progressive: he makes Jeremy Corbyn look like Margaret Thatcher. The unemployed son of two asylum seekers, he was a soak-the-rich, banker-bashing, fair-wage campaigning anti-war champion of the people. His policy on social inequality wasn’t a slight increase in the 12.5% rate of corporation tax, but that a rich person couldn’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all.
Sure, there are a few verses in the Bible where God could be interpreted being anti-gay, but the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is more of an injunction against gang rape (which hopefully is something we can all agree is a bad thing), rather than any definitive statement on LGBT rights.
And yes, God created Adam and Eve. But he also created Danny Alexander, Nick Clegg and the Tweenies, so it’s not like he’s perfect or anything.
In fact, the Bible is so anti-gay that the word “homosexuality” didn’t even show up in English translations of the Bible until 1946.
The Bible doesn’t ‘teach’ homosexuality any more than it teaches that you shouldn’t sell your daughter into slavery, that trimming the hair around your temples is offensive, or that eating shellfish is an abomination (okay, maybe that one is true).
Instead, the Bible is an anthology of books that reflects the many and varied preoccupations of its creators as they try to understand the world around them. Kind of like a first century version of Black Mirror.
Reading the Bible literally, as a series of historical facts, requires us to ignore everything we know about language, and the many different modes of speech from
irony to satire, exaggeration, puns, sarcasm, riddles through to outright throwing down shade.
The Bible was also written in a highly patriarchal culture that assumed men were in control and women were subject to them. Marriage between a man and a woman was primarily seen as a property transaction. Today, we know differently – that marriage is a voluntary commitment based on love, respect and mutual commitment. Understood in that way, gender becomes irrelevant.
Instead, we need to look at the Bible through the challenges of today, replacing locusts, floods and nasty Pharisees with PPI calls, reality TV and Katie Hopkins. And our saviour coming not in the form of Jesus Christ, but the unfollow button on Twitter.
If Farron believes this his beliefs make it impossible for him to lead his 11 disciples to the Promised Land, or he’s upset to have been betrayed by Brian “Judas” Paddick, then he’s entitled to those feelings.
For the rest of us though, Farron’s statement does a lot of harm. Not just to Farron’s party (although some of the Lib Dem big beasts are rumoured to have sworn three times they didn’t know who Farron was), but to a generation of LGBT people who have already grown up thinking God hates them.
The Bible contains a transcendent message of love – that LGBT people are part of God’s creation, created with the freedom to be themselves, and that God does not intend for anyone be alone. Like a prototypical Born This Way, if you like.
Farron’s naive view of religion, that shares more in common with the bloke on the street with the megaphone than actual Christian thought, does a great disservice to that.