I don't write about politics except when it pertains to the world outside UK education policy, but I read this morning on twitter that the new leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron is 'openly' an evangelical Christian, the first major party leader since Gladstone according to Gillan Scott writing on the Premier Christian website.
If being the leader of the Liberal Democrats at the present time isn't thankless enough, the people who will hurt him most will be other evangelical Christians. For the first time ever I actually felt moved to put God and politics into one post.
I admit I had to search the internet to check I'd spelt time Farron's name correctly and to see what what he actually looks like; this itself is a pretty miserable incitement of how disengaged from current politics I have become. I'm not sure if Tim Farron identifies himself as evangelical or that is a label given to him by others and I don't know the ins and outs of his voting record and theology. In fact I've written this blog post in deliberate ignorance of these things to keep my point as clear as possible.
As someone who identifies as an evangelical Christian ( details of what this might or might not mean are far beyond the scope of this article) I thought this post might provide an 'outsider guide' to the sorts of opposition he'll face from evangelical Christians and a warning to 'insiders' to think carefully about what they say. Those outside evangelical 'community' (community is far too strong a word) might not know what I'm taking about, but having been labelled an 'evangelical Christian', Tim Farron will face as many attacks from other evangelical Christians than he will from his political opponents. Emotionally, I suspect these attacks will hurt him a lot more than anything his political foes (or friends) in Parliament might say or do to him.
Here are some of accusations and scrutiny other evangelical Christians will level at him from pulpits, Christian websites, and newspapers: I'm not naming names, but to save time I'll write all this stuff down now. I've put evangelical in square brackets as the goal of many evangelical Christians is to ensure the label applies to as few people as possible. I've put Christian in square brackets as if he doesn't qualify as an evangelical Christian many Christians would say there is no other kind.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he voted for or against this or that bill.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he is a member of the Liberal Democrats who put, X, Y and Z in their manifesto.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he doesn't accept this, that or some other doctrine. Perhaps he's only a four point as opposed to five point Calvinist. Perhaps his theology is Arminien rather than Calvinist. Perhaps he agrees with infant baptism, female clergy, open theism or conditional mortality. Or not.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he didn't say X when asked about Y on Question Time.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he does or doesn't subscribe in full to the Westminster Confession, the Thirty-Nine articles, the doctrinal basis of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches etc.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he says nice things about Catholics, Muslims, gay people he's met.
- He can't be an [evangelical] [Christian] because he accepts evolution, believes the world's is more than 6000 years old etc. If he turns out to be a Young Earth Creationist just go back the top of the list and start again.
No doubt many of those giving him a hard time will say it is their responsibility to hold him to an exceptionally high standard or warn others about a wolf in sheep's clothing. Whether Farron makes his mark on history or lives on only in obscure footnotes, I suspect much ink and bandwidth will be spent in bad grace. Now I've written this post I've must make sure I heed my own warnings.