The Christian Case for Liberalism

Tim Farron MP 02 Nov 20

We are committed to applying our faith to our political engagement and this does not stop when it comes to our political and party allegiances. As we have reflected on elsewhere, all political ideologies correctly hold to some Biblical truths and all political ideologies fail to recognise other Gospel realities. We cannot therefore add to the Gospel and demand allegiance to one party or cause, for we cannot bind what the Bible does not bind. Our interaction with parties, policies, and voting is more often than not a wisdom call. One which should be influenced and shaped by our faith but not one we can attribute salvation status to. As Christians then we are free to choose our party and free to choose who to vote for. 

We asked some Christian politicians and party members to help us think through the UK political parties and how their faith influenced/influences their party involvement. The following blog by Tim Farron MP explores why as a Christian he is a liberal. The views expressed in the blog belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of UCCF. 

It is our prayer at the Politics Network that this series is an encouragement and model for you as you think through how your faith informs your political engagement.

"When I was a young Christian at University, there was a challenge we used to hear at Christian Union meetings. It went like this. If it was against the law to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  

It’s a good challenge. We are told not to be ashamed of Christ, not to do a Peter and disown him, or do a Judas and discard him. We are told not to hide our light, to live and speak in ways that will draw people to ask us about our faith.  

It’s a good challenge, but of course in reality it’s not against the law to be a Christian. On Sunday I go to church with my family, I do so freely. My pastor preaches faithfully from the Bible without compromising or watering it down, and he does so freely. 

I am open about being a Christian and I serve in the British Parliament as such with no threat to my liberty.

If anyone tries to threaten my life or liberty for seeking to live as a Christian, I can count on the state to protect me.

If you want to live freely as a Christian, you would struggle to find a country as committed to your liberty as this one. Christians who complain about a loss of liberty need to start by acknowledging that reality. And being grateful for it. So let me make it clear now that I do acknowledge this and I am grateful.

But genuine Christianity has always has been countercultural. It will always go against the norms of the day.  

To be a Christian is to deny yourself and follow Christ, so Christianity rubs against every earthly culture. It is meant to. You should be a decent, good mannered citizen, but you should never feel at home. You are to be a resident alien.

Five minutes on social media will show you a society hooked on self–esteem, self–worth, living to be true to ourselves… Christianity says that you are worth a vast amount to the God of the universe, but that you must humble yourself before him and live for him and others, not for yourself.

Christianity is deeply counter cultural. It tells us that we are not our own, that we belong to God. It tells us that we are not good, that our biggest need is not food, water, money, relationships, success or acceptance by society… our greatest need is forgiveness from the God who made us. Christianity is ego-shattering and utterly humbling.   

So, what earthly help can this countercultural belief system call upon as it battles against inevitable disdain? The answer is simple. The answer is Liberalism.

I am a liberal to my fingertips. I’m not pretending to be a liberal. You may be surprised to hear that I didn’t become a liberal as a cunning career move, or to impress a girl or to boost my social standing. I joined the liberals because I am a liberal, funnily enough. I believe in the equal worth and value of every person, I believe that every person should be free to live as they see fit, to hold their beliefs, their conscience, their world view and to express them as they wish. I reject forced conformity whether that comes from the law or from social pressure.

I joined the Liberal Party at 16 and became a Christian at 18. Although it happened in that order becoming a Christian was entirely different. You see, I didn’t choose Christianity because I liked the ‘manifesto’. It’s not that I looked through the Bible’s teaching in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and thought, ‘I agree with that – how do I join?’ No. I became a Christian because it struck me with an almost physical force that Christianity is true. But at no point in the years that have follow has this created any doubt in my mind that I am a liberal. 

British Liberalism is founded in the battle for religious liberty. The non–conformist, evangelical Christian groups that were persecuted by a society which favoured adherence only to the established church, built a liberal movement that championed much wider liberty, for women, for other religious minorities, non–religious minorities, for cultural and regional minorities, for the poor and vulnerable. 

If you believe that you have been saved by grace, by a God who commands that you then show that same selfless love to others, if you believe that God created every person of equal value and dignity and in his own image, and if you believe that you are answerable to that God, then that belief will not leave you unmoved. That belief will define your values and it will define your actions. Christianity, then, is the essential underpinning of liberalism and, indeed, of democracy.  

If our values are relativistic, if they are shifting, if they depend upon the temporary norms of this age, then the freedoms you bank upon today, cannot be guaranteed tomorrow. Our liberties are in the hands of unstable forces, we cannot have confidence that our rights will still be our rights from one generation to the next because we cannot call upon any authority in support of those rights.  

Christianity provides the values that permit liberalism to flourish.

As Christians there are a couple of Biblical truths that we would do well to remind ourselves of more often. First, we are all equal under God and we must not judge others or else we bring judgement on ourselves. Second, God will judge. He is not indifferent to our choices. It is not unloving or judgemental for Christians then to point that out.

But making people live as Christians when they aren’t, is unwise, ungodly, counterproductive and illiberal. As a Liberal I say it is wrong, and as a Christian I say it is wrong and it doesn’t even work!

To believe in the Bible’s teaching and to also believe in people’s right to reject it and to live as they choose, is about as close to a pure application of liberalism as you could get."

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