Mainstream Christianity often does battle with mainstream liberal values, be that over women in the church, LGBT rights or contraception and abortion. So when I learned that there was a Liberal Democrat Christian Forum and they’d embarked on a new publication entitled “Liberal Democrats do God” my interest was piqued.
At £6.67 on Amazon, I was somewhat surprised when it arrived at its rather lightweight look and feel. At just 70-80 pages, this is no War and Peace.
My first impression of the book upon opening was the number of high profile writers from Tim Farron, Duncan Hames, to Baroness Brinton and Sir Alan Beith … an undoubted breadth and range of Lib Dem opinion and experience.
The books is split into two sections, the first “Why should we do God?” covers essays by John Pugh MP, Tm Farron MP, Greg Mulholland MP and Sir Andrew Stunnell MP. All seek to explain why they hold their respective faiths and how they interlink with liberalism.
The boldest of the lot is Tim Farron’s, for he sets out the claim that the evidence for Christianity is ‘staggeringly compelling;’ This is a bold claim from Farron that will undoubtedly make headlines. It seems writing about Christianity, Farron excels with his heart on sleeve technique that is the centrepiece for most party conferences.
Greg Mulholland then takes on what he calls an “increasing moral conformity” in the party; he hypothesises that many want to eliminate Christianity from internal debates. His style is what you’d expect from a Yorkshire MP – plain speaking. Greg could also win the award for the most uses of the world ‘illiberal’ in the shortest period, making his piece often feel like buzzword bingo than any serious attempt at confronting the failures of debate.
This leads to the second section ‘How should we ‘do God?”, with each author writing on a Christian value and how it can be applied to a certain policy or outlook. What’s noticeable is that most essays average 3-4 sides (which includes headline space, and quote boxes) which never feel long enough to develop any coherent argument or interesting thesis, thus most of the writing flies by without a lasting impression. Worthy to mention is Duncan Hames’ Green piece which uses the principle of stewardship to justify environmentalism, which feels like most of the green agenda, dull but worthy.
One thing that rankles me through the book is the style and presentation. Often there are completely blank pages, the spacing between paragraphs is horrible and the biggest crime of all is that fonts seem to change from paragraph to paragraph. This detracts from what otherwise is and could be a serious and professional publication.
It’s hard to believe that this book won’t cause controversy – and it will stick in the craw of many of our more strident secular members, but it is a publication with merit. Whilst the book should be applauded for adding to the market place of ideas within the party, ultimately it falls short of other collections of essays, hamstrung by its short length and often unoriginal ideas. It’s destined to make a big bang but it won’t revolutionise the party.
* Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist from the North of England