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Lessons from the UK for American Evangelicals

June 16th, 2017 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

You’ll have to forgive my sounding like something of a broken record by this point, but I couldn’t let this news pass without flagging it for Mere O readers:

Tim Farron has announced his resignation as Liberal Democrat leader after he was repeatedly pressed during the general election over his personal beliefs on issues including homosexuality.

Farron issued a statement on Wednesday night saying he felt “remaining faithful to Christ” was incompatible with leading his party. It is understood several senior figures in the party had visited Farron in recent days to attempt to persuade him to step down, though he was initially reluctant.

There is a certain class of evangelicals in the US, mostly young, middle class, and white, that dismisses things like Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option and other related books as alarmist. While I am sympathetic to concerns about Rod’s tone, I am much less sympathetic to the idea that Rod is over-stating the challenges confronting the western church today.

Consider: Tim Farron actually supports same-sex marriage. On policy issues, he was blameless in the eyes of progressives. But even that concession was not sufficient. He was consistently grilled during the campaign season about his personal beliefs regarding homosexuality. One member of the party resigned over his views and many have speculated that part of the reason the Lib Dems underperformed in this election was a general mistrust of Farron because of his religious beliefs.

Pair this with last week’s Bernie story and, well, you understand why American Christians who are paying attention are a bit anxious. The issue in at least these two cases does not seem to be anything about the actual policies a person supports or how they would do in their specific job within the political system. The issue is personal convictions informed by traditional religious beliefs. There are all sorts of bad ways that Christians might respond to this fact, but denying that this is happening does not help us either.

I did want to take note of one other thing about this story. One line that Farron and some of his supporters have taken is to hit out at their opponents for being illiberal. This is a fair critique and a familiar one to many on the American right. But I do not think it a particularly effective line for two reasons.

In the first place, due to the general belief system of many progressives, the line is basically useless as a persuasive tool. But there’s a second issue: If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).