Recently Tim Farron, who was leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time of the election earlier this year, gave a speech at the Christian think tank Theos. I find myself in agreement with so much that he says. Even in an edited form it is very long, but has much to say about our need to engage with the world around us.
A full copy of the speech can be found here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/tim-farron-liberalism-is-eating-itself-but-christianity-can-save-it/119921.htm
These are a few more highlights, following on from last week.
What is at the heart of a liberal society? It is to uphold that we have a right to offend and a duty to tolerate offence. George Orwell said ‘if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’
But as Christians, we also have a duty and a desire to be kind and gentle. Now where have we heard that before?
So be bold in saying things that may cause offence, but do not be offensive.
Jesus is your example. How calmly he speaks and with such grace. With such respect for the people he speaks to. What patience he shows to people who reject him. How meekly he subjects himself to their violence… and how clearly he speaks in ways that wither. That exposes hypocrisy, that exposes lies, that exposes truth. He launches ferocious verbal assaults on the Pharisees, he calls them hypocrites, a brood of vipers, ‘white washed tombs’ in other words, clean and attractive on the outside but full of rotting corpses on the inside. And he spends his time with outcasts, loves the unlovable, heals the hopeless, opens up the Kingdom of God to those who don’t deserve it, but who nevertheless seek it.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Crucified truth oppresses nobody, but it weighs heavily upon us when we consider it – and amongst other things it is the raw fuel for liberalism. Because if Jesus died for me, then he also died for you. Which means that you must matter. It means you must really really matter.
So, if we relegate Christianity then we hollow out liberalism.
We are fooling ourselves.
The phrase ‘the liberal elite’ is usually bandied about by people who aren’t liberal but who are the elite.
Whereas I am a liberal but am not the elite.
But the cultural leaders of our day have made the arrogant and fatal assumption that we have these shared liberal values, and have sought to enforce them via Mill’s hated tyranny of opinion and the consequences are… well, Trump and Brexit to name two!
I am sometimes asked, what should a Christian be doing in politics? Should a Christian even be involved in politics at all? The 5th century monk Simeon Styletes, was so determined to keep away from being corrupted by the world that he lived his life for 37 years on the top of a pole in Aleppo! I was told about this at primary school and our teacher Mrs Deakin was keen to explain that this was an example of a hermit seeking to separate himself from society…whereas we were just keen to know exactly the guy went to the toilet.
And I still don’t know the answer to that question… Either way, Styletes was wrong. As Christians we are told not to be of the world, but to be in it. So I shall not be following Styletes example.
You see, I am a liberal, reasonably intelligent bloke, brought up in a secular society, in a family that mostly didn’t embrace an active religious faith. I knew people who were Christians but I prided myself on being far too strong minded to fall for all that religious nonsense.
So how does a reasonably intelligent, modern, liberal bloke end up believing in Jesus Christ?
In short, it occurred to me that Christianity is true. The claims that Christ makes are so direct and so clear that we can’t pretend that Christianity is just a nice philosophy – its either horribly wrong or life-changingly right. Its claims to ultimate truth are insistent and deliberate. Those New Testament documents are written so soon after the events, by so many eye witnesses, and with astonishingly early copies of those original eye witness accounts that testify to their validity and reliability, that drawing the conclusion that it’s all a myth seemed to me to fly in the face of all the evidence. So I concluded that it’s certainly not a myth, it might be a hoax but it’s probably true. And if its true, I had to make a choice. Accept or reject. By the grace of God, I accepted.
If people aren’t able to choose to deny themselves, to instead live as they see fit, then we aren’t a liberal society.
If people who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is exactly who he said he is, are excluded, then we aren’t a liberal society.
If people with differing world views cannot serve together with mutual respect, then we are not a liberal society.
Any self-interested person can fight for their own liberty or for the advancement of their own world view. That doesn’t make you a liberal one bit. Fighting for the rights and liberties of others, and for the space for a world view that you do not accept, that is what makes you a liberal. I continue to seek to be a consistent liberal.
In other words, you must surely accept the possibility that your world view might, just might, be wrong!
So hold it with humility and tolerate those whom you find intolerable. Stand full square behind those whom you find offensive. Accept with grace, the offence you may feel in the knowledge that you are earning the right to respectfully cause offence to those who look at the world quite differently to you.
If you are a Christian, crave pure, pluralistic liberalism. If you are a liberal, don’t be one whose liberalism eats itself, leaving nothing more than a respectable tyranny.
Written by Tony Thompson