How to be liberal, Christian and gay

 

 

Recently, for better or for worse, Tim Farron has decided to make his theological opinions (not his faith) front and centre of his public persona as an MP. His decision recently to speak out on gay sex being a sin, yet again, this time to correct what he said on national television during the election campaign last year, has prompted me to want to tell the other side of the story.

I’m a Christian. I have been for over 13 years. It’s part of who I am and it’s what makes me a liberal. I read the bible and I read of a God who stands up for the oppressed; who loves all equally. He calls us to do the same – to love justice and hate inequality. As Christians it is our job on this earth to act out that love for all, to stand up for the oppressed and to do so justly, no matter who they are or where they are from. To treat others the way God treats us – in full acceptance. That’s why I’m a liberal: I believe in the value of each individual.

I am also gay. Which means I know that all too often, Christians don’t stand up for me or accept me as I am, in the way God does.

Let me be blunt: God is not two-faced. God does not judge me on the one hand and fight for me on the other. He doesn’t love me unconditionally, but tell me I’m not accepted as I am. That wouldn’t be the God defined by the perfect love described in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s not my God. Anyone who feels that they can truly stand up for my rights while believing that there is something fundamentally morally wrong with my being is kidding themselves if they believe they are acting coherently.

The traditional theology on homosexuals espoused by some Christians is unjust. It is not typified by the love of God, and there is something deeply wrong about it. Perhaps Tim is blind to this, but I feel as though his actions show his clear discomfort. He feels his Christianity compels him to be a liberal – just like me. Everything about him says that. But that liberalism is at odds with his theology on homosexuals.

Surprisingly it’s a conflict I know only too well. When I first came out I was confronted with the feeling that two core identities were in conflict: my faith and my sexuality. As I quickly realised, it was actually my theology which was incompatible with my faith. Why? Because the belief that homosexuality, or even ‘just’ gay sex is sinful, is inherently unjust. It does not fit with the pattern of the bible and it does not stand the test of God’s character. There is no other group of people condemned purely for an identity with which they are born. Condemned just for being a certain way.

The truth is, there is a perfectly acceptable alternative way of interpreting the bible, even for those how believe it is the unerring word of God, which does not lead to the belief that homosexuality or acting on homosexual desire are inherently sinful. It involves looking into the original text, understanding the historical context, and being willing to accept in humility that perhaps traditional interpretations of what the Greek means may not be entirely objective. Basically, it means actually looking into it properly instead of lazily assuming that the traditional views on this topic must be right. For those who do, you come to realise that there is greater legitimacy in believing women should be forced to wear head coverings in church, than there is in believing that gay sex is a sin. Much as I love hats, I think forcing women to wear them is going a little far.

There is no conflict between faith, even a devout Christian faith, and modern liberalism. There is however, a conflict between an outdated and frankly inaccurate theology on homosexuality, and modern liberalism. At some point something is going to have to give. So, my question to all Christians facing this conundrum is the following: in the knowledge you can retain both, are you going to alter your theology in the face of the evidence, or give up on your liberalism? I didn’t have much of a choice and I’m glad I didn’t. It meant I actually looked into it properly and changed my mind. That has made me a better person, a better liberal, and a better Christian. You could be too.

* Chris Adams joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013. In 2017 Chris stood in the General Election as the Parliamentary Candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich.

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28 Comments

  • “To treat others the way God treats us – in full acceptance. That’s why I’m a liberal: I believe in the value of each individual.”

    I think it is important that part of being a liberal is to value each individual equally. This is why we believe each individual should be equally free. We go further and see people as inherently “good”. I well remember talking to a Christian within the party who was a lay preacher and he saying that this is not the way Christianity sees people, he stated that Christianity saw people as inherently evil (original sin and all that).

    So, Chris you are right to point out that the message of Jesus is to act towards others as he said God acts towards us – with unconditional love or as you wrote – acceptance. However, this ignores the idea that some people sin and so need to rededicate themselves to not sinning (repentance).

    As a Christian you need to come to terms with the idea that God sets out certain things which he considers sins. It is possible to state that the message of Jesus was that there are only two commandments which really need keeping (Mk 12:28-31) and then use this rather than Paul to reject the Jewish Law. As a liberal Christian this is very possible, but it is not possible for Tim and many others.

    I well remember the time when I considered sex outside of marriage a sin. However once you accept that marriage between one man and one women was not ordained by God and that marriage is a creation of humanity marriage or non-marriage have no relevance to sin.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Feb '18 - 5:13pm

    Chris

    The sort of individual sensibility combined with common sense, we so need !

    As with Paul, this is the detail, with no devil in it though !

    I as someone brought up in and very active in the Catholic church, who has become openly what I always was , a spiritually holistic person, a similar word to catholic, believe you are correct on the theology.

    I had the great pleasure of a year at Heythrop college, before my degree at QMC, both at London university. Heythrop was and is run by Jesuits, alas, lack of applicants means after over a hundred years or more, it is closing this year.

    All well and good to tolerate, people want acceptance.

  • Peter Rothery 2nd Feb '18 - 5:47pm

    Thank you Chris for this beautiful piece. You made me shed a tear. Tim is my MP and I have campaigned for him in the election. I believed what he said in the election and felt betrayed when he recanted. I wondered whether my feelings about him showed I was intolerant of faith. Your article has helped shape my thoughts on this. Thank you.

  • Thanks for this, Chris.
    This atheist found it very educational.
    I think you might be missing an “ar” on the end of “going a little f” tho 😉

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Feb '18 - 10:08pm

    This was good to read, thank you Chris, and the comments likewise. I would like to make two brief points. The first is that I believe that Tim, in admitting that gay sex was wrong, will have felt that if he himself had been gay he would have felt that, but that he accepted that for other people without that belief it was not wrong, and as a liberal he completely accepted their right to decide for themselves, and loved them no less. We Christians surely try not to go about our lives judging and condemning others, because we know we all err and do things wrong sometimes, often in not loving others enough and ourselves too much.

    Secondly the ‘unerring word of God’, Chris, was written down by human beings, so how could it be perfect? And there are plenty of contradictions in it anyway. Usually, I agree with Michael BG, have more faith in the words of Jesus himself than in those of St Paul.

  • Richard Simpson 3rd Feb '18 - 7:57am

    Thanks for posting this Chris. I too am a Christian, coming from the Evangelical tradition of the faith, although finding that this often makes me at odds with others in this fold. I used to take the traditional view of homosexuality that most evangelical Christians still hold to, which it appears Tim Farron still does, that homosexuality is a sin. Like you I found that this theology was incompatible with the God embodied in the person of Jesus and all he taught and stood for. This became even more relevant to me when someone very close to me, who I had long loved and respected, who is also a Christian, came out as homosexual. The more I looked into it the more I came to believe this theology was flawed and have changed to a theology that sounds just like yours Chris. I can’t say I have studied the issue in as much depth as you, but have found the same reasoning when studying the bible passages within their context.
    I find that my Christian beliefs compel me to a more liberal, compassionate and caring approach to others and cannot understand how so many of my fellow Christians end up with conservative views on issues. I don’t accuse Tim Farron of this, as I feel he only takes a different stance on the issue of homosexuality, whereas he would take a liberal view on other issues just like you and me.
    I hope that the party does not become illiberal towards Christians as a result of things Tim Farron has said and done. As with other issues, I am sure that there are a range of views within the members of the party and we need to learn to accommodate those differences without being disrespectful or divisive.
    Your contribution has been very helpful Chris.

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Feb '18 - 10:27am

    An important set of sentiments Chris. Of course Christianity can be compatible with liberalism (Exhibits A and B Mr Paul Walter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – now you can say you have been mentioned in the same sentence Paul :-), Just as atheism can be incompatible with liberalism. (And sometimes a bit of both.)

  • While I am an agnostic, (although believing that there is much to be learnt from the teachings of Christ) I think we should be careful about potentially banning evangelical Christians, other Christians, Muslims (as I understand it) and orthodox Jews (as I understand it) from being councillors, MPs or leaders (and our potential PM candidate) on the basis of their religion. That is illiberal not liberal. Banning them if they do not believe in liberal secular laws – yes. And some questions have free votes in Parliament and we should leave as questions of conscience.

    But Tim voted for equal marriage and has been clear on the separation between theology and secular laws.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Feb '18 - 2:38pm

    Chris, I smiled at your reference to women’s heads being covered because I can remember wearing a lace veil thing to church when I became a Catholic. I’ve moved on in my beliefs and in my headgear since then but find irony in the discussions about Moslem women covering up.
    Now I have a Bible which translates the Greek word Paul uses as brothers and takes the trouble to make a footnote ‘or brothers and sisters’ every time. I often wonder why. This can make women feel they have no place in humanity’s relationship with God.
    This is a wonderful post, Chris. Like you I find Liberalism is the political expression of the teachings of the Bible which tells us to value every individual. Everyone’s sexuality is at the centre of their being and so is faith. I find it’s just there even if people tell me it’s wrong, illogical and historically to blame for more violent deaths than anything else. I can’t stop it even when I sometimes wish it wasn’t there.
    Thank you for explaining our position so clearly.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 3rd Feb '18 - 5:07pm

    thank you for such a well written article

  • I am an atheist and generally stay out if religious discussions, but I do have an issue with this. If, like Tim, you believe that gay sex is a sin, then surely it must mean that either:

    a) God isn’t a liberal
    Or
    b) God is wrong

    Presumably for a Christian, option b) isn’t possible, which only leaves option a).

    The various comments above show that it is perfectly possible to be a liberal and a Christian, and choose not to subscribe to a view or interpretation that condemns a segment of society as sinners for no other reason than the gender of the person they physically express their love for.

  • Nick Baird 3rd Feb ’18 – 5:14pm………………I am an atheist and generally stay out if religious discussions, but I do have an issue with this. If, like Tim, you believe that gay sex is a sin, then surely it must mean that either:a) God isn’t a liberal Or b) God is wrong….

    It has nothing to do with God…Sadly, many ‘practicing Christians’ are stuck in the Old Testament; I include Tim in this..
    The compassion and understanding shown in the New Testament seems to be forgotten…..

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Feb '18 - 7:09pm

    God is love, Nick. Christians try and be loving. So do many Liberals, be they Christians or not. As I wrote to a Liberal Democrat who says s/he is an atheist only yesterday, ‘Well, you live a Christian life.’

  • As a liberal I believe that murder is wrong. I don’t but I might also believe that life begins at conception. Those two beliefs would though lead me to the conclusion that all abortion (unless saving the mother’s life) was wrong and a “sin”. But I might also conclude that abortion laws are OK because they also prevent back street abortions and also not everyone in my society shares the opinion that life begins at conception.

    There seems a similar position if you think that gay sex is a sin) But even holding that opinion you can also equally believe that actually equal marriage and laws against LGBT discrimination are correct because it a) that is society’s opinion and b) it promotes a greater good and c) it is line with Christ’s teachings on love and tolerance and d) for Liberals it is liberal in the fullest sense (and Liberals do not believe in imposing their religious beliefs on others).

    People will also say that thinking that believing gay sex is a sin means you are anti-gay and anti-gay love because you think that its expression sexually is a sin . There are many situations where Christians and others may think that love should not be expressed sexually and is wrong and a sin (but accept that society as a whole doesn’t and certainly not to such a degree that it is illegal or the cause of discrimination).
    But no-one is saying that Tim is against two unmarried people, people who are married to other people or divorcees – or believes that they should be discriminated against – although I would guess that Tim also believes that the expression of their love sexually is a sin.

    I do though understand the hurt that LGBT people feel being told that someone thinks that gay sex is a sin and I think that Tim does as well. For Tim though and for others the Bible and Christian doctrine on this is not something they can change at will – it is handed down. And I appreciate that other Christians interpret the Bible in other ways but it is not for Tim to impose his interpretation on them or them on him. And Tim may not like that (and I suspect that he doesn’t given the difficulty and angst it has caused him) but as he sees it is not within his power to change it. Others may not like a doctrine that murder is wrong and life begins at conception. But they cannot as they see it change that. Tim has not going around proclaiming his personal religious beliefs – the complete OPPOSITE. He was ASKED about it (because he was an evangelical Christian).

  • To Katherine – I understand that. We have never met but from your postings here I don’t doubt your liberal beliefs. I would like to be able to say to every Christian “well, you live a liberal life”. Sadly, that would not always be true.

    To Michael – I suggest that absolutely every liberal believes that murder is wrong, without exception. There seems to be an exceeding small minority of liberals who believe that gay sex is wrong. I’m using the word “wrong” instead of “sin” because as an atheist I don’t accept the concept of sin, but I assume that Christians see sin as wrong.

    I have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing Tim speak in person, and I don’t doubt his passion and commitment to liberal values. I just don’t get the concept of effectively saying “if it was up to me, but it’s God, innit”.

  • @Nick Beard

    “I suggest that absolutely every liberal believes that murder is wrong, without exception.”

    Well, OK most people do! it was more about abortion and your concept of when life begins which is a belief. Even with a strong belief that life begins at conception and therefore that abortion is murder and therefore wrong and a sin, you can also believe in having pro-abortion laws. I am would hope that we would allow such (privately) “pro-life” people to be our leader and indeed in general stand for elected offices as Lib Dems.

    ” I just don’t get the concept of effectively saying “if it was up to me, but it’s God, innit”.”

    I would agree as an agnostic but (many) people believe in the divine word of God, handed down directly and written down in scriptures. They shouldn’t impose their religious views on us and Tim doesn’t seek to do so. We shouldn’t impose our (anti-) religious views on them.

    Among other things the preamble to our Constitution says: “We acknowledge and respect [an individual’s] right to freedom of conscience… we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon… religion,..” as well as “sexual orientation”.

    But there is no doubt that in this case balancing ” the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” is a challenge!!!!!!

    But as a Liberal I believe in standing up for and supporting people – that means standing up for and supporting LGBT people but it also believes standing up for and supporting religious people (with whom I might personally disagree) like Tim even when it is quite difficult to do so within the party.

    I think that some are close to saying that someone with a particular religious faith should not be a leader of the party purely on grounds of their religion. This would as wrong as saying an LGBT person, a woman etc. etc. should not be leader purely based on these characteristics.

    Actually there are exceptions when I think murder would be justified – (just) wars, when killing might save (considerably) more lives – would it have been right to murder Hitler???

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 4th Feb '18 - 8:51am

    Chris, thank you for this article.
    There is no record of Jesus ever suggesting that he considered gay sex to be a sin. Indeed, according to the gospels, he hardly mentioned sexual morality at all.
    The essence of Jesus’ ethical teaching is love and kindness.
    One of the saddest aspects of the controversy over Tim’s views on gay sex, is that it gives the impression that Christians are preoccupied with sexual morality, rather than the moral issues that Jesus considered to be important.
    Katharine, you say that if the teaching of Saint Paul seems to contradict that of Jesus, then we should listen to Jesus rather than Saint Paul, and you rightly point out that the Bible contains many contradictions. This is the view that most “liberal” Christians would take (using “liberal” in the theological sense rather than the political sense). But it seems that the church that Tim attends is an evangelical church, not affiliated to any of the “mainstream” denominations, which believes every word of the bible to be literally true, and is very socially conservative.
    Nick Baird, you say that “absolutely every liberal believes that murder is wrong”. If this is true, then why is it that many within the party seem to believe that the use of nuclear weapons could be justified? One would have thought that Tim, as a Christian, would have seen a conflict between his faith, and his Party’s policy of keeping nuclear weapons. Why didn’t television interviewers ask Tim how he could reconcile his faith with his Party’s nuclear weapons policy? Sadly, Tim did not seem to see a conflict. It was, instead, the issue of gay sex that seemed to cause a conflict for him. Very sadly, this will give the impression that Christians are are preoccupied with sexual morality more than any other moral issue.

  • Michael 3rd Feb ’18 – 7:16pm………….. Tim has not going around proclaiming his personal religious beliefs – the complete OPPOSITE. He was ASKED about it (because he was an evangelical Christian)…………….

    During the election I agree that Tim was responding to questions….However, his latest revelation was not in response to any questioning; it was given as a personal message on a Christian programme….

  • Nigel Jones 4th Feb '18 - 10:07am

    I am not gay, but a Methodist local preacher and came to the same conclusion as Chris about 40 years ago when a Baptist minister introduced me to a group of gay Christians. I have been frustrated with so many in the leadership of our churches since then, but yesterday I gained hope. I and my wife attended a wonderful service at Keele Chapel which in all but technical details, was the marriage of two Christian men; the preacher is a lay canon of Lichfield Cathedral, and other participants were a Methodist preacher and Anglican priests. The chapel was full and the worship was one of the most enthusiastic I have recently attended.

  • expats
    The compassion and understanding shown in the Old Testament seems to be forgotten too. In Psalm 103 David portrays the Lord as one who grants forgiveness, brings healing, and executes justice and righteousness for all.

  • (was Michael – there are a lot of Michael’s posting).

    For those that haven’t it is worth watching Tim’s interview on Premier Christian Radio
    in full (which I have actually done for the first time just now) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gc4T45fDhw

    For those criticising him for going around proclaiming his faith when leader – he didn’t as is accepted he was ASKED. Secondly this is a long-ish thoughtful interview on Premier on the problems of (“bible believing”/evangelical) Christians and being an MP and politics with many mea culpas from Tim. As he says in general “evangelical” Christians are thought of as being on the right in British politics. We should not write off any faith including evangelical Christians as not being liberal voters. There would (correctly) be criticism of an Asian Lib Dem MP who declined to go on an Asian radio station and talk about their Muslim faith and being an MP for refusing an opportunity to engage with Muslim voters.

    @Andrew Page

    “he appeared to dismiss political colleagues who identify as Christian but took a different approach to him as merely “cultural Christians”. That was an outrageously judgemental thing to say, and I fear betrays his attitude towards Christians of a more liberal outlook.”

    I am sorry you and others are offended by this. I don’t think he was saying that necessary one was better than the other – he was trying to explain why he was different in taking his “World view” from the Bible as the complete divine revelation of God. If you like I would class myself as “culturally Christian” – in that I am agnostic but take much from the Bible, a lot from the teachings of Christ, a lot from the “culture” around Christianity but don’t take my world view from the bible. People talk about “cultural” Jews I believe – in that they take much from Jewish culture (and ancestry) but differ in their complete adherence to every letter of the faith.

    I think we have to be careful that as Lib Dems we don’t begin to discriminate against people of (a) certain faith. And some of this and some of the reaction (some of it to reassure LGBT people who have been badly treated in the past – sometimes by Christians and the Christian church) is heading in that direction. It is as wrong to discriminate against Christians as it is Muslims, Hindus, Jews, LGBT people, women, men…

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Feb '18 - 4:46pm

    There are so many liberal and hopeful comments now on this valuable thread that i have been hesitating to say any more. But I do so because there is still a lingering feeling that Tim HAD to cut himself off as our leader, regrettable as it was. It seems to me that he felt he had to resign because his position could not be understood or accepted enough in the party, and that was probably the case. But to me his position WAS understandable, and acceptable in the way I saw it, though clearly many others did not, so that to me he does not appear as in any way an outcast.

    The point to me is one of PERSONAL AGENCY. He believed that for him to have sex with another man would be wrong, had he wished it, because the Bible told him it was wrong. But to expect any other man to refrain would be illiberal, which he could not be. Possibly if another man who wished to do this also believed in the Bible teaching that it was wrong, Tim would expect him to accept that he was doing wrong. (In fact Christians do what they believe is wrong constantly – sex before marriage, sex without procreation and so on – without obsessing about it.) But I think Tim would not believe it was wrong for a man to engage in sex with another man if the man himself did NOT believe it was wrong. And whether he did believe it or not, Tim would not be judging him, because it is wrong for Christians to judge. So to me, it is a pity he felt obliged to cut himself off, having been made to feel that his personal views as a Christian were incompatible with his leadership. I don’t think they were, and I should personally like to see him return as leader after the passage of a few years of mature reflection on all sides.

  • Thanks Chris (and others) for the points raised.

    Chris, do you recall the journey of research that you did to reach your new understanding and would you care to share it here? I currently sit somewhere very close to what I understand to be Tim’s views on this, it is an awkward position to be sure.

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