Melanie McDonagh

Tim Farron and the great liberal witch hunt

Tim Farron and the great liberal witch hunt
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Happy now, everyone? David Baddiel? David Walliams? Our friend Owen Jones, the Guardian’s conscience keeper? And, not least Tory MP Nigel Evans.

After being subjected to an inquisition on telly – courtesy of Channel 4’s Cathy Newman – about whether he does or does not regard homosexuality as sin, then a co-ordinated dissing online, and finally a straight, menacing question from Nigel Evans in the Commons – 'does the Hon Gentleman think being gay is a sin?'-- Tim Farron has capitulated, given in, abandoned the attempt to keep his views on a matter of conscience to himself. 'So, I do not,' he said.

He was a bit red in the face as he said it, as you would, when you’ve had to prostitute your conscience, but the thing is done. He has done what his antagonists wanted, and proved at the same time that it is now impossible to hold a view of gay relations or gay marriage which differs in any respect from that approved by the guardians of the new public morals. It’s not enough to conform outwardly; you have to declare that you’re inwardly conforming too. It’s a disgusting, repellent, totalitarian spectacle. I can’t say I respect Tim Farron for having capitulated, but you can no more blame him than you can take issue with a schoolboy who’s been kicked around in the playground and then says exactly what his tormentors wanted as he staggers to his feet. So now, Mr Evans? Will that do?

Let’s rewind a bit. Mr Farron, a committed Christian, voted against gay marriage, which took a good deal of courage given the nature of his own party. He wasn’t just dissed about it but for refusing to say categorically that he does not consider homosexuality to be a sin, as bits of the Bible might suggest. He hasn’t been beastly to homosexuals; he hasn’t said or done anything to hurt anyone’s feelings; but that was not enough - oh no, you have to bare your conscience, and say right out that you absolutely abjure and detest the view of the matter taken by, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On Channel 4 news, Cathy Newman asked him three times if he regarded homosexuality as a sin. Instead he declared that 'as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality, about equal marriage and about equal rights for LGBT people, for fighting for LGBT rights, not just in this country but overseas. Just because I am a Christian it would be a bit boring for everybody to to spend the next weeks asking me to make theological announcements that I’m not going to make.' Not enough for Cathy, who went on to tweet that 'for fourth time, Tim Farron struggled to give me a clear answer on if it’s true he believes homosexuality is sinful.' What a fun game, Cathy. Why not torment him on abortion, too? He may also be unsound on the humanity of the foetus, a matter equally irrelevant to the bloody election.

Look, Tim Farron was not obliged to give Cathy Newman, Nigel Evans or anyone else a 'clear answer' about sin. It may, you know, be a matter which involves squaring scripture, conscience and liberal principles, something which may be unproblematic to Cathy N, who may not have time for all this, but for thoughtful and intelligent people it isn’t clear cut. You may have gay friends, you may value gay relationships, you may want those relationships to be as committed as heterosexual ones, but you may also believe that gay relationships are not morally the same as heterosexual relations – on the basis of the complementarity of the sexes, the procreative nature of heterosexuality, that sort of thing. About a decade or so ago, this would have been a normative view, not a weird one.

But these people don’t really do complexity or the difficulties of conscience. John McDonnell was prompted by Piers Morgan to declare that it would be 'appalling' if Tim Farron thinks homosexuality is a sin. Just stick to squaring access to the single market with control over immigration, why don’t you, John?

And then the celebs piled in. David Baddiel thinks Tim is a 'fundamentalist Christian homophobe'. David Walliams accuses him of 'intolerance and prejudice'. Oh and Sue Perkins, wouldn’t you know, tweeted Tim’s refusal to say whether or not he thought homosexuality sinful with the observation, 'It’s 2017'.

It’s like the circus, isn’t it? You’d think with an election on, the celebs would be getting themselves worked up about Europe, but they’ve always got time to spare to get stuck into a self-declared Christian. I never thought I’d sink to quoting Elizabeth 1 on not making windows into men’s souls, but it may be one for Tim to remember. In fact, trying to think of some analogy for this repellent gang-bang, the nearest I can come is the kind of questioning people had to undergo in the sixteenth century during the times of religious persecution; trying to tell the truth, but not the whole truth, under torture was the name of the game. They’ve won, of course. But maybe they haven’t gone far enough.

Being a Catholic of an old fashioned kind, I’m an expert on equivocation. So, I can quite see that 'being' homosexual is not a sin – that’s the way God makes lots of people – but perhaps homosexual acts might be considered wrong… or equating homosexual and heterosexual marriage might. So why stop at this humiliating recantation…why not dig deeper, Nige? Why not get him to recant, again and again, and to spell out just how he feels about homosexuality. You might not have humiliated the man enough, Sue, Cathy, David, David. Why stop at making him bare his conscience when you can probably take ownership of it.