When Tim Farron announced his resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats, he stated the main reason as the conflict between his faith and politics. His inability to provide satisfactory responses to questions regarding his views on homosexuality dogged him throughout the election campaign, overshadowing the policies he was actually campaigning for. On the face of it he seemed to be unable to hold his faith and lead his party at the same time. The severe criticism and vilification of the DUP that has happened since their talks with the Conservative party began cover a number of issues, but one of them is also along the same argument that their faith and the policies that stem from it particularly in regards to abortion and gay marriage are incompatible with power in Westminster.
Therefore is it right to assume that there is some change happening where holding a personal faith and holding a position of authority have become incompatible? It would a bit daft to run an election campaign without offering your interpretation to the problems the country faces and usually these solutions are guided by the principles and opinions you hold. As faith can be defined as a set of opinions that are held about what is right and true in the world, then it would be foolish to argue that this will have no impact on the decisions you make if you are in power or to try to distinguish them from less religious sounding principles. Therefore to question whether a personal faith affects your ability to do a job in government seems to depend upon whether you agree with the faith that is held by those in power.
The natural next step then is to conclude that it is Christian values that appear to be the issue in the UK; Christian values that are often characterised as conservative, outdated, regressive and discriminatory. It saddens me to hear my faith portrayed in these terms. The Christianity that I know is one built upon some simple foundations which can be summed up in three words; God is love. The whole purpose of Jesus’ earthly ministry was to bring us back into a knowledge and understanding that God’s love is for every single person on this earth. It is a completely unconditional, unending love that is borne out of the fact that each person is uniquely created as a child of God, in His image and that love is displayed in the ultimate sacrificial act of Easter. It is an infinite love that bears itself out in wanting the best for us, for us to have life and have it to the full, to be free and to know how special we are. When you are teaching a child, meeting survivors of a disaster or planning a new benefit system, you are serving God himself in that person and if that does not affect the decisions you make, then there lies the real problem. This love is also accompanied by a mercy and grace, given as undeserved forgiveness and if you are looking for scandal in Christianity, you will find it in this amazing grace.
Yet the issues that seem particularly toxic for Tim Farron and the DUP come in the area of sexuality and highlight one of the main tensions that exist in the heart of Christianity. The Jewish faith as the foundations of Christianity is built upon a set of laws, handed down from generation to generation, ones that if followed will lead to salvation. This legalistic relationship with God can lead to a tick box view of salvation, one where we can work it out on our own as long as we try hard enough and legislate enough to make sure we never slip up. It is an exhausting way to live and is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, often portrayed as the narrow gate but ultimately tying unbearable burdens on our backs. Jesus’ response to this was to walk right into these difficult areas and test these additional man made laws, not destroying the law itself, but taking us back to the heart of it. The greatest commandment he says, the one that sums up all the law and prophets, is to love God with all your heart, your mind and your strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. From these all others flow. This is the spirit of the law; if you have love in your heart and act out of this, the letter of the law falls away so you see the person, not the rule.
This is the real dilemma that faces Christianity, to hold the tension of laws and grace within ourselves without condemnation or loss of truth. It is the difference between spiritual immaturity and an adult relationship with God. Parents offer rules to their children to keep them safe and to be happy, offer them a view of the world that makes sense so they can grow. When they are older, they realise the world does not make sense, the rules although not wrong, sometimes fail in certain situations; they need to grow up, to learn to empathise, to learn to love again. Some people find this difficult and never get beyond the right and wrong mentality view of the world and are stuck in their spiritual development. Others go too far and throw out all the understanding that is passed on through the laws that have been developed for our well-being and growth. The narrow way goes somewhere between these two. 500 years on from Luther’s challenge to the church, it is a way we need to find again.