Shared values do matter: a response to Tim Farron

By Paul Lusk
December 8, 2017

On 28 November 2017, former Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron gave a much commented upon lecture for the think-tank Theos, entitled ‘What Kind of Liberal Society Do We Want?’ It is available to read here.

I applaud the bravery of Farron as he challenges us – Christians and others – to learn lessons from his fall from party leadership.

In particular, I agree with him when he says: “To believe in the Bible’s teaching and to also believe in people’s right to reject it and to live as they choose, is about as close to a pure application of liberalism as you could get.  And yet so many people who count themselves as liberals can’t or won’t grasp this…” 

So Christians must now advance the case for true liberalism – a liberalism that stands for the right of all to share, and live out, the values of their faith. His case is the same as the one I make in my book The Jesus Candidate.  Liberalism arose from the church’s struggle for what the Puritan Roger Williams called “soul liberty.” A liberalism that forgets this debt to Christianity is indeed about to “eat itself.”

But then Tim goes on to claim that: “We don’t really have shared values. There is no unifying set of British values.  It’s a myth.”  

Here he is, I think, dangerously wrong. Ours is now a post-Christian society. But there is still wide support for a state that upholds certain values that come from our Christian heritage. Each individual is made in the image of God. Each has the right to pursue the good life in peace and freedom.

The state enables that pursuit not by telling citizens what is good, but by protecting the rights of all – individually and in community – to find goodness and live it out. That is the liberalism discovered by Roger Williams and handed down through the generations since the English civil war.

True, the Christian roots of these liberal values are misunderstood. True, there are those who threaten them. Such threats come from both within and without our borders, in many shapes and forms. True, professing Christians are now a minority.

But these facts make it even more vital for Christians now to work with others to defend the values that let the church be the church – because all can live out their own faith in equality.

Tim Farron says that there are no British values – only values “common to all human kind.” We can all see what he means. But there is a dangerous proposition implied here – that our state exists not so much to protect its own citizens as to promote the interests of humanity worldwide.

This in turn feeds the suspicion that liberalism is just the ideology of an international elite – one that puts its own interests ahead of the people whose consent sustains the democratic state. This suspicion has fed the forces of Trump and Brexit, forces that now threaten the legitimacy of the liberal project.

So now, I would argue, is the time for Christians to work with others to find and define those shared values that underpin our shared, post-Christian political system.

This debate matters. It goes to the heart of the relationship of politics and faith now.

------------

© James Paul Lusk is author of The Jesus Candidate: Political religion in a secular age, published in 2017 by Ekklesia and available directly from thejesuscandidate.uk.  The book has been described as “welcome and timely” by the National Secular Society and “thoughtful and challenging” by Evangelicals Now. 

Ekklesia will be inviting other contributors and readers to respond to this article, to Tim Farron’s lecture and to comments on religion and politics in former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s autobiography from a variety of viewpoints. 

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.