Last week on Lib DemVoice I remarked that when great social reforms had been enacted liberals had the support of many Christians. I was thinking of Roy Jenkin's Homosexual Law reform,when Michael Ramsay was in the front line of supporters and David Steel's Abortion Act passed at a time when he was regularly introducing Songs of Praise. This was not just a phenomenon of the 1960's you could go back to Josephine Butler's work on the Contagious Diseases Act. My point was that such Christians who are today working to celebrate same sex marriages in churches and for women to play a full part in the church are a natural constituency for Lib Dems but we do not seem able to attract them in decent numbers .
Step forward the Provost of Glasgow Cathedral to shed some light on this matter- with thanks to Andrew Page for drawing my attention to his posting via twitter.
I have been mildly disconcerted by the debate that has arisen around Tim Farron's faith and how it impacts on his suitability to be Leader. In particular I wonder what is the motivation of those who have focussed on this issue. In past generations Liberals have had no difficulty in reconciling Liberalism with faith. Mr Gladstone, T H Green and Zoroastrian Liberal MP Dadabhai Naroji (Finsbury Central 1892-95) all made a pretty good fist of it in their time. Equally those without faith like Bradlaugh and Mill found no difficulty.
I cannot say that some Christian supporters of Tim have always dealt with the challenge at all well seeking to present themselves as a persecuted minority. I suspect they would be better served 'turning the other cheek' and considering the advice of Rowan Williams. At the other end of the spectrum politeness may stop people robustly analysing Tim's views on these issues.
In recent days a new voice has entered the debate and I thought it ought to be more widely heard as it addresses the central criticism that is be implied by Tim's distractors (although not often openly stated) as one elector put it: "Can you reassure us that if elected you will conduct yourself as a Liberal rather than according to a Christian agenda?”
This new voice is Kelvin Holdsworth who fought Stirling as a Lib Dem at the 2005 election. His day job is as Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow. You may be surprised by his conclusions. I recognise that such religious reflections may be unfamiliar to some readers so I have transported him to the pulpit of St Asquith's in the hope that in such familiar setting readers may feel more comfortable and will not be distracted by the incense or the uncomfortable pews. I need to start, in the time honoured way, with a confession. I have not asked his lordships permission to occupy his church . I hope he will forgive me. Now pick up your cushion and your back rest and follow me to a pew under the north widow and let us consider these matters from a different perspective.
St Asquith's congregation quietly leave the church and head to the Parish Hall for morning coffee. They are deep in thought. The parish's Patron announced to them recently that there are going to be changes. It has all come about because of the departure of Rev Hughes, as his lordship confided to diary :
Change as we know can be disconcerting and conditions have been laid down about the locum's behaviour. He is due to arrive on the 16th July and in the meantime they have a visiting preacher, no lesser personage than the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow the Rt Rev Kelvin Holdsworth who has kindly shared his sermon online entitled Providence and Vocations for Liberals in Public Life.
The Right Reverend gentleman has struggled with the issues that now confront the young Mr Farron as he stood in a recent General Election the Liberal interest at Stirling.
The most difficult question that I had when I was a candidate came from a couple who were obviously thinking very deeply about how they would cast their vote. Their question was along these lines: “We are disposed to vote for a liberal candidate but we hesitate to vote for you because we know from your profession that you are a Christian. To be honest we are worried about the values that you hold and we presume that your values are not our values. We don’t think Christian values are particularly nice values. Can you reassure us that if elected you will conduct yourself as a Liberal rather than according to a Christian agenda?”
It was a great question and made me think a lot. I did engage with the couple and in the end they told me that they did indeed intend to vote for me.
I was lucky in being able to talk to them about the issues they were concerned about and put my own position over which in the end was not that different from their own. There was no alternative but to go through things issue by issue. As it happened, being able to talk at first hand about being a gay member of the clergy did give them some reassurance.
But the point is, they had come to the view that Christians have a considerably more unpleasant ethical position than decent people in society.
And I fear that this is increasingly the case and that most Christians neither believe that others hold this view nor care about it either. .......
The full posting is on Kelvin Holdsworth's blog and it is well worth reading. I should say before you leave that I have (eventually) decided to vote for Tim Farron. It is a compromise but my perfect candidate is not on the ballot paper and in an imperfect world that is often the case.