Recently, Tim Farron resigned his position as leader of the Liberal Democrat party in the U.K. His reasoning had to do with how hard it became for him to live in the spotlight as both the leader of a liberal political party and be a committed Evangelical Christian. In his resignation speech he says in part, “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.” The whole statement is worth reading.
His resignation and reasoning has led to some reflection on what it is becoming like for Christians to be involved in the public square, especially in political circles where Christian convictions are becoming more obviously at odds with the politics. A similar event of note in the U.S. has to do with Senator Bernie Sanders, a very popular political figure, making one man’s theological conviction the test for his fitness for a Federal appointment.
What is it that makes a theological conviction a test, or in this case, a kind of exclusion, for a public or political position?
To dispense with the obvious cases, Christian conviction should exclude someone from holding a position of influence in a group that is openly atheist, anti-theist, a non-Christian religion, or a promoter of deviant moral behavior. The ideologies are simply in contradiction.
But, traditionally speaking, mainstream political parties have not been of this sort. (The question presents itself, however, are some of them turning into these kinds of institutions?) Until they become openly, and in their charters, anti-Christian, I will assume that mainstream political parties in the West are roughly liberal (in the traditional sense of the term) and open to religious believers. So, what of my first question?
The answer is: Fundamentalism. The kind of mentality that prohibits Christians from having influence in these kinds of public institutions or political parties is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is primarily a way of holding to beliefs and not primarily a set of beliefs. It is an epistemology not an ideology (I am actually crafting a more defined argument for this case).
This distinction is important, because our culture has made a leap in logic and assumed that “fundamentalism” describes Christian belief in particular and religious belief in general. The line of thought goes a little like this:
-Some Christians are fundamentalists.
-All Christians are religious.
-All religious people are fundamentalists.
It is true that some Christians are fundamentalists, but it is also true that most are not. It is also true that some scientists are fundamentalists, some politicians are fundamentalists, some atheists are fundamentalists, and so forth. Fundamentalism is a way of holding to beliefs that does not allow for other beliefs or believers to be taken seriously, and thus, any set of beliefs can be held by a fundamentalist.
Tim Farron ran into fundamentalism. His beliefs were outside of what that group of people could countenance, so he felt enough friction to see the need to leave. The CT article linked above quotes the director of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, Sarah Latham, as saying,
Sadly his resignation reflects the fact we live in a society that is still illiberal in many ways and is intolerant of political leaders having a faith. This urgently needs to change. It will only change if Christians step up and get involved in all areas of life and change the rhetoric, whether in politics, media, business, or the arts. We need to bring about a society that is truly liberal—where everyone of all faiths and none are valued and considered equal.
She is right.