We hear a lot about the persecution of Christians and people of other faiths around the world but rarely about persecution in Britain. However, the way Tim Farron, the Christian leader of the Liberal Democrat party, has been treated in the media recently has been little short of persecution.
Compared to what happens to people of faith in North Korea, it was insignificantly mild but unless his treatment is challenged it could lead to a situation whereby Christians could eventually find it hard to hold any public office.
This was not an isolated case of anti-Christian discrimination. Barry Trayhorn, a Christian prison worker was disciplined by Littlehey Prison for explaining during a chapel service in the prison a Bible passage about God’s forgiveness for those who repent. Sarah Kuteh, a nurse with 15 years’ experience, was sacked for offering to pray with her patients before their operations. Nadia Eweida, a check-in operative at Heathrow, was disciplined for wearing a cross around her neck whilst on duty. The European Court of Human Rights subsequently found in her favour and British Airways revised their uniform policy. There are other cases but they all make the point that a person’s faith is a private matter and have no place in the public sphere.
Ironically Tim Farron, a committed Christian, did not seek to make his faith a public matter but a number of journalists went out of their way to make it one. Chanel Four’s Cathy Newman repeatedly asked Farron if being gay is a sin and he refused to answer, saying only that we are all sinners. He subsequently said in the House of Commons he did not think it is a sin to be gay and of course there is nothing in the Bible to say that it is. However, in subsequent interviews Newman and Robert Peston pushed further and asked Farron if gay sex is a sin. Both the Old and New Testaments say that it is but he refused to answer the question, saying that he was on the programme to talk about politics, not his religious beliefs. The priority of leading his party into an election campaign caused him this week to say gay sex is not a sin in order to stop the witch hunt and allow him to concentrate on rebuilding his party’s parliamentary strength after the disaster of the 2015 election.
The unavoidable interpretation is that these journalists thought that the leader of a liberal party could not hold Christian beliefs about homosexuality even if Farron kept them private. His record on LGTB matters has been liberal except for abstaining on same-sex marriage but that did not satisfy their expectations. The inference is that for anyone in public office to think gay sex is wrong is no longer acceptable. It is true that public opinion on this matter has changed over the last thirty years and a British Attitudes Survey in 2013 found that 47% of the UK population thought homosexuality was not wrong at all.
Tim Farron will survive this episode but less resilient believers might not and incidents like this could have a bad influence on youngsters at the formative stage of their moral, spiritual and social development. The UN Declaration, the European Convention and our own Human Rights Act all recognise our right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the freedom to manifest those beliefs. If we do this graciously with respect for other peoples’ beliefs there are no grounds for the treatment Farron has received. Those responsible should themselves reconsider their highly unprofessional conduct.