The way that some progressives treat their fellow liberal politicians of faith has disturbing long-term implications for meaningful public participation by religious citizens.
Liberalism in the West, it seems, is becoming illiberal toward faith.
Take, for example, the U.K.’s progressive politician Tim Farron. Hailed as the country’s first overtly “evangelical” party leader in nearly a century, Farron was chosen in 2015 to head the Liberal Democrats, a party championing both social and economic progressivism.
This week, however, Farron resigned from his leadership post in part because of incessant questions regarding his personal religious beliefs. In recent months he’s faced repeated queries about his views on abortion, and whether he believes homosexuality is a sin (“I do not,” he replied before parliament):
“To be a political leader — especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 — and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me,” he said during his resignation.
To be clear, Farron was both public and profuse about his support for gay rights and abortion. However, it became increasingly evident that his country’s commentariat — and vocal members within his party — were more interested in litigating Farron’s theological views than his political ones.
It may be time for the U.K.’s progressives to consider the principles in the post-divorce document crafted by the U.S. founders after parting ways with the British in the 18th century — it reads: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Of course, many might take issue with the characterization that merely asking about one’s private religious or moral views is a “religious test.” But, the practical implications of publicly prosecuting theology in a political forum are disconcerting, to say the least.
It’s worth pondering whether the likes of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose personal faith drove his politics, would survive the kind of ideological purity tests deployed by some modern Western liberalists.
“The measure of a liberal,” Farron responded after a pressing television inquisition regarding his private moral views on abortion, “is someone who protects other people’s rights no matter what your personal position is. And I think that is fundamental. And this kind of focus on my faith over these last few weeks is one that I think millions of people would just think is very peculiar.”
His job, he continued, “is to fight for the rights of all.”
Cynics will say the real reason Farron stepped down was his party’s poor showing in the U.K.’s recent general election. Yet, most commentators have suggested that this is due, at least in part, to his unwillingness to discuss his private Christian views in a political context.
Given the progressive movement’s laudatory push for greater social tolerance, the growing obsession with shaming specific Christian theological tenets is ironic (if not outright hypocritical).
The trend, however, shows no signs of slowing, and it’s by no means confined to the British side of the pond.
Last week, America’s progressive politician du jour, Sen. Bernie Sanders, applied something that came dangerously close to a religious test while questioning Russell Vought, the White House’s nominee for deputy director of its budget office.
Sanders took issue with an article Vought had written about a controversy at Vought’s alma mater, the Christian-based Wheaton College. In Vought’s editorial, he wrote that Muslims were “condemned” for not accepting Jesus Christ as their savior.
Sanders, armed with quotations, became agitated during his line of inquiry: “I understand you are a Christian!” he said. “But there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
Vought evaded a direct answer.
Finally, an exhausted Sanders concluded: “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”
Would Sanders have treated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the same for having critiqued Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam?
House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, was recently criticized by fellow progressives for suggesting that Democratic candidates needn’t be “pro-choice” on abortion to remain in the fold.
An increasing number of liberals in the West, it appears, still want providence to bless America, but only if they can vet God’s theology first.
Hal Boyd is the opinion editor of the Deseret News.