Tim Farron has quit as leader of the Liberal Democrats, claiming that he couldn’t negotiate the conflict between his faith and the liberal principles as regards LGBT rights that the party espouses.
In some ways, I am sympathetic. As Farron presents his case, it seems like a conflict between private beliefs versus the collective position of the party, and that is something very familiar to us Lefties from seeing how Jeremy Corbyn’s personal opposition to renewing Trident is counter to the Labour Party’s official policy. In my favourite political fiction, The West Wing, there’s a scene backstage before a public debate in which Democrat nominee Santos and Republican nominee Vinnick discuss their personal views on abortion rights (IIRC) with Santos being “pro-life” but standing for a pro-choice party and on a pro-choice position, while Vinnick is in the opposite situation: pro-choice but standing for a party whose position and supporters are “pro-life”.
Some of these positions can consistently be held: people have argued (incorrectly, as it turns out) that Farron has voted for LGBT rights and therefore his personal views are irrelevant to his political position.
I can accept that sort of argument when it comes to the legal status of abortion: as long as a person votes for the right to a personal choice regarding abortion, and allowing personal conscience to govern the woman’s choice (I can’t stand by personal conscience on the part of medical personnel whose job may include providing abortion or contraception services).
Similarly, Trident is a passive thing (or at least, we hope sincerely that it should always be so) so feeling personally that we shouldn’t have it is a matter of personal choice, so long as the Party line is allowed. Mr Corbyn spoke against Trident in parliament, but in this he did his duty as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, to put the government’s position to the test.
But a private belief that homosexuality or transness is a sin is not like the other positions. Merely tolerating such differences is to say “I will put up with your wrongness”, and that is a position that will affect interactions in many more ways. People have many reasons for being the way they are, whether choice, “born this way”, some kind of unconscious post-natal influence, or any other, and none of these reasons is any more or less valid than any other.
It is legitimate, therefore, to look at the ways in which tacit, implicit or otherwise subtextual pressure exists in the position that homosexuality is a sin (however “accepting” one may be of the sinner) and to judge someone’s character for taking such a position.
As Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just a Cigar outlines, there are many ways to be a Christian and not all of them include an exclusion of LGBTQ people, so it is a choice for Tim Farron to hold to that article of faith rather than to the principles of LGBTQ equality.
I, too, am a Christian. I found my own way to Christ and along the way picked up one or two variant beliefs that are not found in the orthodoxy, certainly of the Western churches. This meant that I didn’t have the same pressure on me that some did.
I also found my own way to my sexuality and gender identity, as a sadomasochist Dom-who-switches, bisexual, genderfluid nonbinary person. My belief is that this is not a “choice” for me; but that God has called me to this and for His(Her/Its/Their) reasons and purposes, and that I try to be the best I can be and to serve as best I can to help others and love others the way Gospel calls believers to do. I hope that I have done this well.
But to reach this point, I did have to look to Scripture. I was gratified to find in Paul’s epistles text that reflected my own view, painting the old Mosaic Law as raw and blunt, able only to condemn, and that adherence to it was no longer required because the Spirit was a true guide: that the Law has not been erased but rather superseded, a guide for wise men rather than for the obedience of fools. Anyone citing Leviticus or Deuteronomy has not accepted the Spirit, but condemns themselves! But Romans 1 still seems to condemn homosexuality, even after Paul makes this eloquent case for freedom from the Law.
But I noticed something. You can take that verse out of context and portray it as condemning homosexuality, but when read in context with the other admonitions, I find it says more about Paul’s beliefs about homosexuality than it does about LGBTQness. Taken in context, the meaning is much more about sexual acts that do harm to others, or that lacks care or compassion or conscience. That can go equally for selfish straight sexual behaviour (I’m looking at you, PUAs and MRAs!); equally, homosexual love and acts within a caring relationship are never covered.
“All things are permitted, but not all things are beneficial”, says Paul in 1 Corinthians. The Spirit, not the Law, is a guide to what is beneficial, and as I wrote above, this is what I strive for in all my interactions, including sexual ones, whether they are short-term, intended to be longer term, or even “no strings attached”, as is the case with one partner now.
I had always struggled with the orthodoxy that said homosexuality was a sin. How could a form of love no different from any other, be a sin when so much of the Gospel seemed to be about love? But in studying the teachings, I found I could make sense of it: as ever, humans bring their own prejudices.
So Tim Farron claiming his faith as the basis for his anti-LGBT beliefs is putting the cart before the horse: the homophobia comes first.
But the most important commandment is “Love God”, and the second is like it: “Love your neighbour”. In the words of Jemima, “Every Christian has to decide for themselves whether they think queer people are merely something to be tolerated or simply people, to be loved as we are called to love all.”