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Equality now no longer seems to apply for people with faith

By Peter Lynas

It's been an interesting week for those concerned with the role of faith in politics. After being subjected to an intolerable media campaign about his faith, Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, found himself "torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader", and resigned.

This followed repeated labelling by the media of the DUP as extremist for the role of faith in some of its policies. The move to brand anyone we disagree with as an extremist risks letting the real extremists off the hook and will have implications on any future counter-extremism strategy.

David Laws, a former colleague of Farron, has now weighed in to the debate saying that tolerance is not enough to be a liberal - you must respect me. It is a subtle but significant shift. It reflects a desire to control what people think or even feel.

Farron tried the "my faith is private" line to no avail. He tried to prove his liberal credentials by voting to redefine marriage and support gay rights, but this was not enough. He was pursued for what he believes. He was relentlessly asked a theological question - is gay sex a sin? - by people who don't believe in God, sin or theology. In the end he gave in and said "no", but that still wasn't enough.

A number of Christians in England lost their seats in the recent election after they appeared to be targeted with unsavoury media criticism and activist protests based on their beliefs. These same beliefs drove justice campaigners such as Hannah More, William Wilberforce, Shaftesbury and Kier Hardie.

The same beliefs around justice and equality drive many Christians today, but the views of the surrounding culture have changed radically and rapidly. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not Christians who are obsessed with the issues of marriage and sexuality, but much of the media and culture.

As talks commenced on a deal between the DUP and the Tories, Ruth Davidson, who leads the Conservatives in Scotland, said she wanted to protect LGBT rights in Britain and campaign for change in Northern Ireland. However, she also wanted to stop the DUP protecting marriage in Northern Ireland or campaigning for change in the rest of the UK. Equality no longer applies equally to everyone.

This is classic bait and switch. The argument is to change law and policy to respect people's personal choices. But once the law is changed, something Farron supported, traditional views are marginalised and alienated, with Laws calling Farron's views prejudiced.

In the end Farron resigned because "to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me". He went on to say that "we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society". Ironically, Farron was too liberal for the Liberal Democrats.

But in the end faith won because freedom of thought and belief is unstoppable. The Resurrection changes everything, the freedom it brings compelled Farron to lay down his political career for the One who had given everything for him. He put faith first and finished his resignation statement with the words of Isaac Watt's great hymn: "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

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