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Tim Farron: ‘I was foolish to say gay sex is not a sin’

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The former leader of the Liberal Democrats has said he regrets saying that gay sex was not sinful when pressured to clarify his position during the election campaign last year.

In an interview with Premier Christian Radio this week, Tim Farron explained that he regrets telling people that he did not believe gay sex was a sin. He said he “foolishly and wrongly” gave “an answer that was not right.” Tim Dieppe comments on what Farron said and suggests some lessons that can be learnt from the episode.

In an interview with Premier Christian Radio this week, Tim Farron was asked why he changed his answer about gay sex to say that it was not a sin, and whether he felt under pressure. Farron replied:

“Yes. I’m going to write about this more in the coming weeks, but the bottom line is yes of course I did.

“There are things that I said, including that, that I regret and there was a sense in which I felt: look I’ve got to get this off my table. The issue is here’s a general election – a great opportunity for the Liberal Democrats. The Labour party at that point were nose-diving, the Tory party looked very much like it was arrogantly assuming it was going to get 100 seat majority– what an opportunity for us and all they wanted to do was talk about my Christian beliefs and what it meant. I foolishly and wrongly attempted to push it away by giving an answer that was not right.”

This is a welcome and significant statement for Tim Farron to make, acknowledging that he was foolish and wrong to say that gay sex is not sinful.

What is sin?

Farron said that there were things he could have handled more wisely, but that it is naïve to think that journalists are interested in the theology:

“In the end, the difficulty is, if you are a Christian you have a very clear idea about what sin is and it is us falling short of the glory of God and that is something we equally, all of us, share. So in one sense, to be asked that question, is in one sense to persecute one group of human beings because sin is something that we all, Jesus excepted, guilty of.”

“But if you are not a Christian, what does sin mean? It is to be accused of something, to be condemnatory. So we are talking different languages. So maybe you could have explained that. Maybe I could have explained the biblical teaching on sex and sexuality. Maybe I could have done that but let’s be really brutality honest – with the exception of programmes like this you don’t get more than 20 seconds to get your message across and the idea that anybody asking me those questions was interested in the theology is naïve in the extreme.”

Freedom to talk about the gospel

Farron reflected that he now has “a freedom that I could never have had as a party leader – to accept the role that I’ve got now – a Christian with profile. … I’ve got profile – so let’s use it.” Later he agreed that he is now freer to talk about his faith: “Certainly it’s an opportunity for me to talk about the gospel now because I can.”

 

Lessons learned

It is very encouraging that Tim Farron has now publicly admitted that he was wrong to deny that homosexual sex is sinful. It is also encouraging that he now feels more freedom to proclaim the gospel and indeed he has already started speaking out boldly for Christianity.

Farron wasn’t asked what lessons he has learnt from the whole experience. He has promised to write more about it and I look forward to reading those reflections in due course. Here are some lessons I think we can learn from what happened.

It doesn’t pay to compromise

One lesson is that it doesn’t pay to compromise. We can entirely sympathise with the immense pressure that he came under, the responsibility he felt for the Liberal Democrats, and the ‘sense of isolation’ that he mentions. Nevertheless, his decision to compromise and to lie to the public about his convictions and the sinfulness of homosexual practice did not help him or his party. Approval of homosexual practice is sinful (Romans 1:32). I think that Farron won’t make this mistake again.

Linked to the first lesson, is another one about our freedom to preach the gospel. Although it is great that Farron now feels a freedom to talk about the gospel that he didn’t have before, the question arises – why he was restricted before? Should Christians ever allow themselves to be restricted in talking about the gospel? No doubt he felt a loyalty to his party and didn’t want to upset them, but surely he has a greater loyalty to God and the gospel? Allowing oneself to be restricted in talking about the gospel is a more subtle form of compromise that we can easily slip into.

Voting for same sex ‘marriage’ is also sinful. Such a vote registers approval of sinful homosexual practice and lies about the nature of marriage. Farron voted for same sex ‘marriage’ in parliament. He has not yet said he was wrong to do so. Instead he argued against legislating good behaviour in his Theos lecture last year. As I pointed out then, his logic is flawed. Laws that follow God’s righteous moral law allow for the best flourishing of society.

Call sin ‘sin’

I think it is entirely fair if asked whether something is a sin to reply with a question: “What is sin?” After all, when Jesus was asked questions, his most common response was to counter with another question. Jesus even refused to answer a question unless his counter question was answered first (Matthew 21:23-27). If journalists are really not interested in talking about theology, then why are they asking a theological question? Unless we are clear on what sin means then we cannot discuss whether something is a sin. I do not define what sin is, nor does society, God does. Sin is something we all need forgiveness for.

Whilst I think that can be a helpful way to respond to such questions, depending on the context, I don’t think society’s understanding of sin is all that flawed. Farron complains that non-Christians understand sin as “to be accused of something, to be condemnatory.” These are not wrong ideas. Sin implies guilt which implies condemnation. The good news is that there is forgiveness and redemption from all types of sin.

So, the upshot of all this is that Christians should not shy away from calling sin ‘sin’. Understanding that we are all sinful is an essential part of the gospel.

We can’t avoid talking about sex

Another lesson is that we need to recognise that talking about sexual morality is unavoidable for Christians in contemporary culture. This is where Christian morality clashes most with our culture. Whilst we may prefer to only talk about Jesus, Jesus also criticised sexual immorality.

Peter Jensen, General Secretary of GAFCON, has helpfully commented: “How important is sex?” this week. He asks:

“Well, should we stop talking about it and get on with talking about Jesus?

The trouble is, that if we take that line, it will not be the real gospel of Jesus we will be preaching.”

Jensen is right. Our sexual drives are powerful and have tremendous potential to damage our relationship to God. If we are preaching the true gospel, then we must preach a gospel of repentance from sin, including sexual sin. Without a call to repentance, there is no gospel.

Uncompromising Christians needed

I look forward to hearing more from Tim Farron with his new-found boldness to speak about his Christian faith. I hope that we can all learn some lessons from the way he handled the media pressure in the election campaign. Now, more than ever, we need Christians to be unashamedly uncompromising in proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

 

Links:

Full transcript and video of the interview with Tim Farron on Premier Christian Radio. https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Tim-Farron-Q-A-Why-I-resigned-why-it-matters-and-what-I-should-have-said-about-gay-sex/

Christian Concern comment on Tim Farron’s Theos lecture last year. http://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/church-and-state/tim-farron-on-faith-in-politics

Peter Jensen comment ‘How Important is Sex?’ https://www.gafcon.org/blog/how-important-is-sex

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