The Tim Farron Question and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Let us return once again to the Tim Farron Question.

Oh, I know, I really do know that you’d much prefer it if we could just move on. However, the Tim Farron Question is actually rather important. And trust me anyway, this isn’t [mostly] a post about Tim Farron, who might be expected to have other things on his mind at the moment.

For the sake of those watching from furth of these shores who might be confused by all this, Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats – a political party in the UK which bears upon its weary shoulders the hopes and dreams of many who believe that liberalism is the answer the problems of this wonderful world.  Now, a certain journalist, Cathy Newman managed to discern that it might be interesting to ask Mr Farron who is an evangelical Christian whether or not he believed gay sex to be a sin. Over many occasions that the question was put by Ms Newman, Mr Farron refused to answer. The presumption amongst many being that he did indeed believe that gay sex is sinful but couldn’t say so in his position as a liberal leader. His defence seemed to fit with this – he and many others claimed that it was not proper for a politician to determine what was and was not a sin, that whatever he might believe in private he had acted in favour of gay rights (a claim which has been disputed by some looking at his record in parliament), and that yes, it so happens that His Best Friend Is Gay.  His defenders than asked why people were not making a fuss about other politicians’ views on whether gay sex is a sin. This led to the Prime Minister being asked directly whether she did or did not believe such a thing and she came out with a commendably clear answer. She did not.

Subsequently, Tim Farron has done an interview in which he said that he did not (or maybe did no longer, it wasn’t clear) believe that gay sex is a sin. This led many to say that this was the end of the matter, the show was over and that we must all move on.

I now don’t know whether Tim Farron ever did or did not believe gay sex to be a sin, I am agnostic about whether he has ever changed his mind about it and it must be fairly obvious that I don’t think he dealt with this matter very well. However, there are perhaps limits as to how much wisdom there is in pursuing the matter with Mr Farron any more.  Chris Creegan in particular has written eloquently to suggest that it is time to let go of the matter and move along. And I find myself agreeing in part with Chris in that I think that just pursuing Tim Farron is now rather pointless. However, I am of the view that the Tim Farron Question illuminates other matters that I’m not at all ready to move on from. And that takes me away from Tim Farron and on to the church and in particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Before I get to the point that I now want to make about the Tim Farron Question, which is not in fact about Tim Farron, let me just say that I think that those defending him tended to think that they were defending a Christian from the aggressive bullying of secularists when in fact those most concerned with Tim Farron’s position were actually other liberally minded Christians appalled at what he appeared to be saying. After all, it didn’t seem to show Christianity or LibDemery in a particularly good light. And who on earth ever thought that it was good for LGBT people for commentators to defend the right of prominent people to seem to defend (or be seen to defend) gay rights in public but actually to think them sinners in private?

But anyway, the fact of the matter is that having had a while to reflect on the Tim Farron Question, I think I want to say something about the Tim Farron Answer – or at least one of the answers that he gave whilst being relentlessly asked time and again the same question. He said, rather witheringly that it was not his place to answer such a question because, he was not the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now then. Now then.

What are we to say in response to this? It would appear that we have someone saying that the church and indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury might be better placed to rule on the Tim Farron Question than Tim Farron. I know that the poor, beleaguered Christian soul was at the end of his tether when he said this but it is worth asking ourselves whether he was in fact right and that Cathy Newman was directing the Tim Farron Question at altogether the wrong person all along. Whilst I happen to think that Cathy Newman’s questioning was legitimate at the time, I do find that I’m considerably more interested in whether the Archbishop of Canterbury believes gay sex to be a sin than Tim Farron.

Now, into the middle of this, steps the Archbishop of York who rather bizarrely, when interviewed at the weekend seemed to suggest that Tim Farron was never qualified to answer the Tim Farron Question in the first place.

So, there we have it. I’m not that interested any more in Tim Farron’s view. John Sentamu doesn’t think Tim Farron has enough theological training to have a view. To whom shall we turn to find the answer to the Tim Farron Question? John Sentamu batted anyone getting close to asking him the question with a strong denunciation of the criminalization of homosexuality. We must be thankful at times for small mercies and I am indeed glad to hear this from the Archbishop’s lips.

But is gay sex a sin?

It seems to me that the Tim Farron Answer to the Tim Farron Question leads us inevitably to the gateway of Lambeth Palace itself.

“I’m not the Archbishop of Canterbury”, Tim Farron wailed piteously.

But someone is.

And that someone ought to be being asked the Tim Farron Question every time he encounters the press.

The question matters because the truth is, Justin Welby probably does have a view and probably does have enough theological training in the matter to satisfy even the Archbishop of York.

And it matters mostly because it is a life and death matter. There are those who would tell us that if the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed the view that gay sex is not a sin then vulnerable Anglicans would be slaughtered by Muslims in Africa and elsewhere. Personally I don’t believe this and think it has more to do with Islamophobia than anything else. Indeed, I’ve strongly condemned the Archbishop of Canterbury when he has said such things in the past. (See – You Condemn it, Archbishop if you want a catch up).

But it is very much a life or death question if the Archbishop remains silent or, even worse, express the view that gay sex is in fact a sin. Silence equals death, for some of us, as the long-standing slogan used amongst HIV activists suggests. Silence in the face of the homophobia that is prevalent in society leads to suicide for some and damaged lives for others. The cost is high.

So here’s the thing. I do still think that the Tim Farron Question was legitimate. However, I have moved on. I now think that the Tim Farron Answer matters too.

Does the Archbishop of Canterbury think gay sex is a sin?

Oh, Cathy Newman – I do hope you get your chance.

The fact that the question has been put at the forefront of public life in the UK at the moment makes it  inevitable that it will be asked of other people. Cathy Newman deserves the chance to ask the Tim Farron question of the person Tim Farron thought should answer it. And if she doesn’t get the chance to ask it, I suspect others will.

More than that, I think others should.

“Now, Archbishop Justin Welby, you’ve heard all the debate about Tim Farron – but what do you think? Do you think gay sex is a sin?”


10 Thoughts on the Blessing of Asparagus

It seems that Worcester Cathedral recently had a service for the blessing of asparagus.

As this is a matter that might be seen to have consequences for the wider Anglican Communion, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

  1. There can be no justification for blessing asparagus as asparagus is never mentioned positively in the bible. There is simply no biblical case for blessing asparagus. None at all. If God had wanted asparagus to be blessed, then surely Jesus would have blessed asparagus at the last supper. (1 Corinthians 15:3)
  2. In fact, we know that asparagus should not be blessed because Genesis says so. “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, [asparagus] and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”  (Genesis 4: 3-4). You can’t pick and choose what the bible says. God’s holy word is clear and lasts forever.
  3. The blessing of asparagus promotes and validates the asparagus lifestyle. How will the church as a whole be able to maintain moral standards in one part of the world if asparagus is blessed in another? (Matthew 5:48)
  4. If we start blessing asparagus then it automatically follows that people will demand blessings for other kinds of vegetables. Although one might not personally object to the blessing of asparagus, one must take into account where this might lead. God will not be faithful to those who bless asparagus. (Amos 5:14)
  5. It would be entirely acceptable to offer a Thanksgiving for the Picking of Asparagus provided there are no rings used to hold the asparagus and any blessing must be upon the asparagus pickers and not the asparagus itself. (Ezekiel 44:30). The blessing of asparagus itself is sinful.
  6. The Archbishops have issued the following statement: “No asparagus is a problem, or an issue. Asparagus is made in the image of God. All of the asparagus, without exception, is loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there is simply asparagus. (Romans 8:28) However, in order to maintain the unity of the church, it remains the case that asparagus blessings fall outside of that which is permitted for clergy of the Church of England following the last agreed Lambeth Conference statement on the matter. Clergy should continue to explore the maximum freedom possible when encountering asparagus whilst remaining within current guidelines. (Philippians 4:5)
  7. It remains the case that we all strive towards good disagreement (Philippians 4:2) about asparagus blessings whilst forbidding entirely the actual blessing of asparagus
  8. You cannot serve God and asparagus. The love of asparagus is the root of all evil. Do not associate with other eaters of asparagus. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
  9. There is an additional argument against the blessing of asparagus which stems from tradition. There should be no blessings of asparagus until the major churches who have the apostolic succession make an agreed statement on asparagus. This might be achieved in the form of an Ecumenical Asparagus Council of the Church however there remains some disagreement about who has the authority to call such a Council. (1 Corinthians 11:2)
  10. Always remember that God loves asparagus and that there have been some fine and courageous examples of self-giving asparagus throughout history. Many people are able to testify that some of their best friends have even eaten [unblessed] asparagus. So long as the church exercises gracious restraint in blessing asparagus, it will be possible for people to hear about the unique gifts that asparagus brings to the world. It may even be that God has a purpose for asparagus. (Exodus 9:16)

the offering of the asparagus