Tim Farron’s view of his religion was the problem, not how other people saw it

The Liberal Democrat leader has resigned, appearing to blame ‘society’ for failing to tolerate his Christianity

John Rentoul
Wednesday 14 June 2017 22:35 BST
Tim Farron at Lib Dem party conference last year. Photo: Getty
Tim Farron at Lib Dem party conference last year. Photo: Getty

Tim Farron’s parting shot was a strange one. “We are kidding ourselves if we think we live in a liberal and tolerant society,” he said, as he resigned from the leadership of the party with the word “liberal” in its name.

It turned out that the Liberal Democrats could not tolerate having a Christian as leader. Or was it that this particular Christian could not tolerate having the Liberal Democrats as his party? It sounded as if he were complaining that British society should have tolerated his unwillingness to tolerate gay sex. But that does not sound right.

Looking back, you could see the moment Farron decided to resign, in the interview he finally gave to end the questions about his views on gay sex. “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” he finally said on 25 April, having previously tried to avoid the question by saying the he didn’t believe that “being gay” was a sin.

Although that interview succeeded in its objective of shutting the subject down, even that answer wasn’t definitive. The formal position of the Church of England is not that gay sex is a sin but that it “falls short of the ideal”.

Never mind that the Church has been dancing such angels on pinheads for centuries, Farron was obviously unhappy. It was rumoured today that he had wanted to resign as soon as the election was over, but was persuaded not to because the Lib Dems unexpectedly gained seats, taking their total to 12.

But you do wonder why, if that is how he sees his Christian faith, he thought the Lib Dems were the right party for him, or the UK the right country to be a politician in. It is one thing for the DUP to hold old-fashioned views about abortion and gay marriage. I don’t agree with them and don’t think they should have any purchase on our national politics, but they do reflect the prevailing attitudes of Northern Irish society – on both sides of the religious divide.

Tim Farron: 'I don't believe gay sex is a sin'

The rest of the UK is, fortunately, putting such intolerance behind it.

And you do wonder whether, if Farron had been a genuine liberal, his party might have done rather better in the general election, as a possible home for Labour Remainers unhappy with Jeremy Corbyn.

It is not for me to tell Farron what he ought to believe, and I’m not a Christian myself, but if Tony Blair could be a secret Roman Catholic and Prime Minister of the UK while legislating for gay equality then it does suggest that the problem is not religion itself, but the way individual politicians interpret it.

Still, at least the Lib Dems, unlike the Conservatives, have two good candidates to replace their leader. Either Vince Cable or Jo Swinson is likely to improve their party’s fortunes.

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