The outrage at Tim Farron could have serious consequences for Christians in politics
There is a certain kind of anti-Christian bigotry and ignorance that is only too common in British public life. For example, look at the outrage directed at Tim Farron this week after his refusal to explicate his moral beliefs on Channel 4.
Farron was excoriated for neglecting, in an interview with Cathy Newman on Tuesday, to say whether as a practising Christian he thought “homosexuality is a sin”. If Farron were a revisionist Christian, with sexual ethical beliefs indistinguishable from the metropolitan secular consensus, then he would have simply said “No”, enjoyed the predictable applause, and that would have been an end to it. His reluctance to give an answer means – presumably – that his views are rather more traditional.
This politically expedient diffidence prompted an unwelcome assumption: that he wanted to hide an actual belief that homosexuality is a sin, and that therefore all gay and lesbian people are inherently sinful. His previous qualification that he believes that “we are all sinners” scarcely helped, because the implication still remained that homosexual people are immoral simply and uniquely by virtue of their sexuality. Such a viewpoint might be compared to thinking all black people are bad simply because of their skin colour.
Of course, this all led to him having to clarify in the House of Commons the next day that he doesn’t believe “being gay is a sin”. This should have been obvious even without this statement, and to show this only requires us to make a conceptual distinction absent from the question he was asked: sexuality and sex. Or more simply: desire and action.
“Homosexuality” simply means sexual attraction to the same sex. This, it can surprise many secular people to learn, is never condemned in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, or anywhere in classical Christian teaching. Indeed, it could not be, as desire is an involuntary (un-chosen) inclination. Sin however, is voluntary (chosen) action. Farron could have simply pointed out then, that classic Christian theology does not hold that individuals are sinful because of their desires. So no, of course homosexuality is not a sin.
What he clearly did not want to be drawn into exploring was the orthodox Christian belief that “homogenital acts” (sexual acts between men and between women) are morally wrong. Whilst desiring to have gay sex is not a sin, indulging that desire in sexual action is sinful.
Assuming that this is his conscientious position, does it constitute what celebs such as David Baddiel and David Walliams accused him of: “homophobia”, “intolerance”, and “prejudice”? Of course not.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “homophobia” as an “extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people”. Having a moral disagreement with certain sexual acts does not in-itself constitute any dislike of the people who might want to engage in them, or the sexuality that causes them to desire to do so. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church mandates “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” towards same-sex attracted people, and the avoidance of “every sign of unjust discrimination” against them.
Clarifying this matters, because such false outrages about this issue cement in the public imagination the idea that if you are a traditional, orthodox Christian believer, then this means you must be a religiose authoritarian homophobe. Such people, it is often implied, should not be aspiring to important political positions where their (imagined) antipathy against sexual minorities might become manifest in policy or legislative decisions.
This false impression threatens to disadvantage orthodox Christians in public life, and even lead to our practical exclusion from political office. To make submission to the post-sexual revolution consensus on sex and sexuality a new kind of ideological litmus test, so as to make traditional views on sexual ethics as unacceptable as racism, would be to institutionalise an anti-religious form of discrimination. It would also, of course, compromise the witness of Christian faith to our fellow Britons.
It is important then, that we all stand up and defend Tim Farron from the charges laid against him, and the tweet-mob traducing of his beliefs. If we do not, then we may find that the irrational and ignorant anger that is being directed against him will lead to the consistent disadvantage of any faithful Christian who refuses to accept the shibboleths of our supposedly “liberal” élite.