If you’re not from the UK, you may or may not have heard of Tim Farron. He’s an evangelical Christian who also happens to be the leader of England’s third biggest political party, the Liberal Democrats, who were, up until the last general election, the minority partner in the UK Government.
This is Tim here:
You definitely haven’t heard of Felix Ngole. Felix was, until recently, a social work student at Sheffield University in South Yorkshire. This is Felix here:
On the surface they don’t have much in common. Tim is well-heeled, well educated and well placed in society. Felix is pretty much like most students; a fairly normal bloke trying to get through a degree, pay his bills and find work within a vocation he feels called to.
They have this great thing in common: both of them are Christian. So they’re brothers in Christ whatever their backgrounds, experiences and challenges.
And they have this one challenge in common in particular at the moment: They are being completely hounded in the public square for their view of biblical sexuality, Tim in the media and, more ominously, Felix in the courts.
In what is almost an absurd witch hunt Tim Farron was asked last week, out of the blue to explain in a Channel 4 TV interview, what his viewpoint on gay sex was, and whether or not he viewed homosexuality as as a sin. His refusal to rise to the bait was not well received. The only possible headline for a man who espouses his party’s marriage equality line was “Tim Farron refuses to say whether he thinks gay sex is a sin.” And that’s exactly what the headline was. Couldn’t make this stuff up.
Take note, the initial furore was last week. But here’s The Independent newspaper yesterday.
This has got staying power. Note that the problem is not “Tim Farron keeps banging on about how gay sex is a sin”. No, the problem is that the progressive agenda won’t even allow private views on this matter to be held by those in public positions.
Farron was initially silent on the issue, then spent the next week dodging and weaving like a punch drunk fighter as the twitterati got stuck in to him, despite the fact that as leader of the Liberal Democrats he carries the party line on marriage equality. He understands in the public square, that’s his role. But the progressives smell blood.
Comedian David Walliams pulled out the usual “this is 2017 for God’s sake” line, which would carry some merit were it not also 2017 in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria, in North Korea, in…well the list goes on.
It took that libertine atheist Brendan O’Neill from Spiked to bravely speak up for Tim and his Christian convictions, and as usual he nailed/spiked it in this response .
This is especially worth reading:
…what’s appalling is the idea that it’s acceptable to haul a man over the coals, to slam and humiliate him publicly, over his private convictions. Whatever Farron thinks of homosexuality, it appears to have had no impact whatsoever on his public life or political decisions. He supports gay equality. The Lib Dems are big backers of gay marriage. Farron is being demonised for his private thoughts, for the contents of his soul; not even for something he did in private but for something he thinks in private. The bigotry is not his; it’s his critics’, who believe, with magnificence arrogance, and genuine intolerance, that they can build a window into our hearts and minds and make a spectacle of a man for believing something they don’t believe.
It’s admirable for O’Neill to do so, but where are the erudite Christian voices in the public square on this? You can be sure that this issue will hound Farron to the point that the Liberal Democrats will be forced to remove him from the role. That’s the way this thing works.
So much for Tim. What about the lesser known Felix? Well Felix doesn’t have the advantage of money, status, position that Tim has, so he’s getting the Full Monty treatment. And Felix is finding out that he’s not even the right kind of minority in England these days, because some minorities are more equal than others.
Felix made a comment on a FB discussion supporting the biblical view of sexuality, and for that he wasn’t interviewed by Channel 4. No, he was dismissed from his course at Sheffield University. No ifs, no buts. Today in the UK he will be appealing to the High court to overturn that decision.
After his comment, an anonymous complaint was made to the university. It’s Ministry of Truth, er, it’s Fitness to Practice committee, made a statement saying that Felix had:
“transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the Social Work profession” (and that his actions would have an effect on his) “ability to carry out a role as a Social Worker”.
Despite an appeal in January of this year to the university’s independent adjudicator, the university’s actions were upheld. Felix has had this to say:
My beliefs about marriage and sexual ethics reflect mainstream, biblical understanding, shared by millions around the world. Simply expressing that understanding, in a personal capacity, on my Facebook page, cannot be allowed to become a bar to serving and helping others in a professional capacity as a social worker,”
Well, that’s where you are probably wrong Felix; they can and they will be allowed to become a bar to serving, and increasingly so in the future. Many well considered, well meaning Christians will tell you Felix that if you just shut up about sex then everyone would get along fine with you and you can get back onto your course. Farron’s case in particular proves this is not true, and will be increasingly not true in the coming decades.
As post-evangelical pro-SSM advocate David Gushee stated in this article last year, in which he almost gleefully cut the middle ground from underneath dissenting evangelicals:
Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.
And rest assured that when the issue comes looking, post-evangelicals such as David will be there, waving and pointing out your hidey-hole, going “Yoohoo. he’s over here!”
Now this is not an occasion for hand-wringing or saying “look how much we are persecuted”. So what even if we are? And it’s a fairly mild sort of persecution. But it is taking its toll on those who are trying to work in the public square. It’s been easy for bloggers/Christians academics/pastors etc to say it’s no real problem, but then again they/we live in a bit of an ecclesiastical bubble which will be the last one to pop, so our pensions are safe.
The fact is that the gospel has always been counter to the world, and friendship with the world is enmity with God. Don’t like getting slapped down for being a Christian? Then don’t become one, it’s supposed to come with the territory. It’s part and parcel of the suffer now/glory later paradigm, in which we have, in the late twentieth century West, managed to avoid most of the suffering bit, in the off chance we’ll get a good crack at glory now as well as later.
But if the Farron debacle in particular has anything to say it is this: the notion that somehow it’s all going to be okay if we just keep our heads down and talk about Jesus, is completely naive. Tim Farron did, and look at the headlines and fury generated from saying nothing. Imagine if he’d said anything, anything at all.
People are generally not interested in Jesus, or hearing about Jesus; they’re interested in sex and hearing/watching/having it. That’s why they use sex and not Jesus to sell cars and ice cream.
The late modern culture is not so interested in what we think about Jesus. No, it is interested in what we think about sex. Sad, but true. Sex, as Rod Dreher reminds us, is not the gospel, but it is close to the centre of the gospel because of the reality of creation and the Incarnation. You can’t be an incarnational Christian and not have a considered perspective on this issue, or one you’re prepared to defend before a hostile culture. And sadly, for a bunch of evangelicals, this is the issue in which they’re going to jump ship, for the sake of not being put out of the cultural synagogue (beautiful mix of metaphors right there).
Now I for one would a million times prefer to talk about Jesus to you than about sex, but since the modern world is more inclined to think that sex saves you and not Jesus, then increasingly the dodge and weave thing won’t work. It will hunt you down, even the silent dissenters as Gushee so ominously warns, and Farron so ominously reveals.
So what of Tim and Felix? In a sense I feel sorrier for Tim as he has a lot further to fall and his fall will be in the public arena. Felix? He hasn’t stood a chance from day one, so he’s got less to lose. All he’s wanted to do was to get a foot up the first rung of the ladder, but he’s had his other leg kicked out from under him right at the start.
Mind you, Farron will have a pension to retire on, and a good job in the city in a firm that is open to his beliefs, private though they be.
Felix? The best he can hope for is that somehow, today, in the High Court in London, the religious rights of a minority man will be upheld, and that someone in the judicial system who lives and moves and has their being in that progressive city, will cast their eyes beyond the UK to see that their world is not the world. But I’m not holding my breath.