‘This is the ultimate act of real love – Jesus was punished for our sins and he did it willingly, not grudgingly.’ Is this a minister or evangelist speaking? ‘To be a Christian is to humbly kneel before God and confess your failures in the certain knowledge that God will forgive you because he promised to.’
There’s a clue to the writer’s identity in the next sentence: ‘Unlike politicians, God always keeps his promise.’
These are the words of Tim Farron (MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, recently appointed leader of the Liberal Democrats) in a book entitled Liberal Democrats do God.
Farron, born in 1970, was raised by his mother after his dad left home. He had a political awakening in his mid-teens, shocked by the extent of homelessness, and by what he saw as the ‘wicked’ and ‘immoral’ policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government.
At 18 he found God when he discovered the Bible, read it from cover-to-cover, and embraced Christian faith. It was, he says ‘the most massive choice’ he has ever made. In 1970 he married his wife Rosie – they have 4 children.
He rightly points out that every MP brings into the Parliament their own set of values and worldview – his happens to be Christian. ‘My faith is in Jesus Christ. I put my trust in him. I count him as my Lord and saviour and I’m not ashamed of that.’
He is equally unashamed of the values this faith gives him. ‘To be a Christian is to seek to be radical, to be anti-establishment, anti-materialistic, anti-greed, other-centred, not self-centred, humble not proud, self-controlled not controlled by selfish desires.’
Reading Tim Farron’s views prompted three thoughts. The first concerns prayer, about which Farron was questioned closely by John Humphreys on the Today programme.
There’s a general concern about politicians admitting to asking God for guidance. High profile news stories have made us wary of anyone claiming to do something because they were prompted by God.
Tim Farron describes his praying in this way. He brings to any situation his own set of liberal value judgements. He doesn’t ask God ‘to present the answer to me because that doesn’t happen.’ Instead, he says, ‘you seek wisdom, and wisdom is the ability to make the best choices on the basis of the evidence in front of you.’
But I wonder if the relationship between God and the process of decision making is closer than this? Belief in God has shaped those initial value judgements; God is with us as we sift the evidence and truly seek wisdom. Do we sense God awakening us to the wisest decision?
And I wonder if every politician who truly seeks wisdom is granted the same divine prompting whether or not they acknowledge God’s existence?
And there’s the role of Christians in politics. ‘We are wrong if we think our responsibility is to legislate to make this a more Christian place,’ says Farron. He sees our role as Christians being to preach the gospel – where people see its attractiveness, and embrace it, they and society will change.
This suggests that in his voting he will support an agenda which seeks the flourishing of a tolerant, multi-faith society. This, I suspect causes tensions for him between aspects of that agenda and his personal beliefs.
But my issue is with his distinction between ‘preaching’ and ‘doing’. For we share our faith not just with words, but with actions. We show the attractiveness of Jesus by living the Jesus way in all aspects of life – including our work, whether in Parliament or elsewhere.
Thirdly, Tim Farron has great enthusiasm, but he tends to see issues in stark ‘black and white’ terms. While admitting that others see things differently, he can be critical of other Christians who don’t share his evangelical certainties.
He has little patience with notions of a ‘half-baked, low-wattage, part-time God’, and I agree with him. But those whose faith is more tentative, who see more grey than black and white, who agonise over God’s silences, who struggle with doubt and unknowing may wrongly appear to Tim Farron to be deficient in their faith.
Our view of God can be shaped by our own personalities. Spiky extroverts like Tim may encounter God as a spiky extrovert.
As Christians we are delighted to see a prominent Christian prepared to articulate his personal faith, and the intellectual credibility of faith. I love his honesty: ‘I am a sinner and have regrets every day. I beat myself up most mornings for the scumbaggery of the day before.’
In one speech he quoted ancient wisdom. ‘Those who know how to acquire power are far greater in number than those who know how to use it wisely.’ May Tim be among the few!
(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 29th July 2015)