For the benefit of Sky News, standard Christian doctrine says gay sex is a sin. It’s the sin that gives sinning a good name. There ought to be a stewards’ inquiry into why it didn’t make it into the Ten Commandments. But, yes, it’s one of those trespasses we ask to be forgiven.
Sky’s Darren McCaffrey demanded to know Tim Farron’s view on the matter at a Lib Dem event on Monday. In case you’re wondering, Farron hasn’t proposed banning the love that once dared not speak its name and now won’t shut up about it. Nor does he want to roll back any of the gains the gay rights movement has made in the last 20 years. In fact, he has criticised equal marriage legislation for failing to accommodate the rights of trans people and wants to see the ‘spousal veto’ scrapped.
But Farron is a Christian and, worse, one of those ones who actually believes it all. This is baffling to journalists whose only exposure to religion is Giles Fraser, the Archbishop of Kings Place, and who regard Richard Coles as a bit too Jesus-y. Cathy Newman, who launched the inquisition back in 2015 when Farron replaced Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader, returned to the pressing matter last week. Newman inquired:
‘A while back I asked you if you thought that homosexuality was a sin and you struggled to answer. Now you’ve had a while to consider that question, what is the answer?’
The Prime Minister had just called a snap general election, the Labour Party was imploding, and finally someone was asking the question on the lips of Middle Britain.
Farron refused to engage and social media hit the start button on the outrage machine. David Walliams accused the Lib Dem leader of ‘intolerance and prejudice’ while Owen Jones deemed Farron’s failure to renounce the Old Testament ‘an absolute disgrace’. Farron was then asked in the Commons if he considered homosexuality a sin and told MPs he didn’t. That should have been the end of a matter that shouldn’t have started in the first place. But, aha! Could he be more specific? What were his views on gay sex? Was that a sin? This week’s might be the first Any Questions? to open with the topic, ‘Rimming, yes or no?’
This is not journalism, it’s bloodsport for secularists. Farron is not proposing a single policy that would adversely impact LGBT people. He is not being asked to clarify his political principles so much as repudiate his faith. It is an ugly business and one that will be causing Farron acute anguish, something which his pursuers must know. The sight of talented broadcasters reduced to tormenting a politician for his religious affiliation makes for unpleasant viewing.
Orthodox Christian teaching holds that homosexual relations are sinful. Farron might agree but lament those brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to think Leviticus has only 18 chapters and 22 verses. He might disagree but acknowledge that a Christian can regard behaviour as sinful while deeply loving those who practise it. Whatever the case is, these are private views and none of our business.
The hounding of Tim Farron reflects the metropolitan prejudices of so many journalists and the social and professional circles they move in. Few are the Sunday brunches in Shoreditch that must be arranged around church services. That helps explain why some questions of faith and ethics are posed and others are not. Reporters are not asking abortion-supporting MPs whether they think a foetus is a baby while inside the womb. No news channel reckons the election turns on a gay MP’s musings on promiscuity and unsafe sex. No Muslim MP has been invited on Andrew Marr to explain how Mohammed flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse given to him by the Archangel Gabriel.
We appreciate that such queries would be distasteful, especially in the context of an election; they could hold MPs up to ridicule or opprobrium. Journalists feel no misgivings about doing just that to Tim Farron because they suspect him of holding a view they deem bigoted and because although he is a Lib Dem he is not a member of a favoured minority. Their transgression is not political correctness but hypocrisy and the impotent obsessions of identity politics. If we are to bring a theological critique to the campaign trail, a man who seldom talks publicly about his faith seems an odd target when the Prime Minister speaks so openly about hers. How does Tory policy on refugees square with Isaiah 1:17? Or their welfare reforms with Proverbs 22:16 and 22:22?
Except that would look priggish and doesn’t have social media ‘shareability’. Forgive them, Tim Farron, they know exactly what they do.