Quitting leadership before you’ve even started
On 14 june 2017 Mr Tim Farron resigned from his position as ‘leader’ of the Liberal Democrats in the UK. I put ‘leader’ in quotation marks because I am not sure that Mr Farron is or was a real leader and I am certain that the bosses of the other parties, including Mrs Theresa May and Mr Jeremy Corbyn have not shown any detectable leadership qualities. They have more that unites them than divides them.
Mr Farron’s case is an interesting one. His reason for going was quoted in the Guardian [*1][*2]:
“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader…
“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.”
I don’t think Farron has any right to be “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader”. In fact, the former should greatly his enhance his ability at the latter, as I argue at 3 below.
The sticking point seemed to be revealed when Mr Farron was asked in a number of interviews about his views on whether homosexuality was a “sin” (that is, proscribed in the bible [*3]). For example [*4]:
Tim Farron has refused to say whether he believes homosexuality is a sin after a caller repeatedly pressed him on the issue during a radio interview.
The Liberal Democrat leader was asked about his views on gay relationships during an appearance on LBC on Friday morning. Farron, a practising Christian, has been repeatedly questioned on the topic due to an evasive answer he gave on homosexuality two years ago. Last month, he said he did not believe being gay was a sin and that he was proud of his party’s record on LGBT rights.
Sir Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat leader in waiting, said later that Farron did not handle questions about gay sex “very well” [*5]:
“He [Farron] did, as he himself acknowledged, not handle that whole issue very well at reconciling his own personal faith with his public positions on gay rights and other issues.
“His position was a perfectly fair one. A lot of people have private views deriving from their religion, but they have to put these to one side when they’re enacting public policy”.
Obviously, the problem was Farron’s failure to anticipate questions on this subject and to have a clear position ready when questioned. A basic unforced error when preparing for any sort of meeting. Nothing to do with religion.
Firstly, as Cable has said, it is reasonable for politicians to have views contrary to their party’s policy, or even the law―though this will always put them in a difficult position when preyed upon by journalists.
Secondly, it is not as if there isn’t another well known example of a political ‘leader’ having his cake and eating it [*6]:
Jeremy Corbyn intends to scrap the UK’s Trident nuclear programme as soon as possible, according to the founder of the Glastonbury festival, Michael Eavis. As the festival in Somerset ended on Sunday Eavis recounted a conversation he had had with the Labour leader, telling an audience on Sunday that he had asked Corbyn: “When are you going to get rid of Trident?” Corbyn, he said, had replied: “As soon as I can.”…
Labour said the quotes attributed to Eavis paraphrased a conversation with Corbyn and did not fully reflect the leader’s position or the party’s position on Trident, which remained unchanged from the 2017 manifesto.
“Both Jeremy and the Labour party have long been committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which aims to achieve a nuclear-free world. Trident renewal is Labour policy, as spelled out in our manifesto, which Jeremy and the party were proud to stand on in the election,” the party said.
Surely, hypocrisy is the default position for most high profile politicians and Farron has thrown away a god-given opportunity to demonstrate that it needn’t always be true.
I am no religionist, though I am interested in the teachings of Jesus’s ‘philosophy’ *. Turn the other cheek, and so on. Jesus had something to say about leaders [*7]:
Whoever would be great among you must be your servant
In the words of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst [*8]:
Serve to lead.
There are plenty of quotations in the bible, more or less useful, about leadership [*9].
I doubt whether Mr Farron would have any difficulty in following these. I feel therefore that he passed over the perfect opportunity to show that a Christian approach to leadership could be useful, practicable and to the point. This might have been the single most important piece of work he did in his lifetime; it might have been his calling.
For we know that, by and large, those in politics, in business, and indeed in most walks of life, including religions, who flatter themselves that they are leaders are nothing of the sort. They are almost all bosses of varying degrees of pleasantness or unpleasantness.
One of the things leaders do is to show by example. So, with his example, it is reasonable to think that others might have adopted a christian leadership approach from Farron, thereby spreading the goodness. I believe such a leadership approach is the most effective so one might imagine that, over time, the liberal democrat party was not only more effective, but also more influential. This might, in turn, have resulted in a better performance than would otherwise have been achieved at the next election (and those after that, too).
In short, by putting the needs of the party and the country before his own personal needs, he would have fulfilled those very needs. It might have been tough, but it isn’t as if he would have been acting alone. In addition to his god, whom I assume Farron would have believed would have supported him, there are any number of religionists who would be only too keen to do so.
* I note that there is a thing called Christian atheism:
Christian atheism is a form of Cultural Christianity and a system of ethics which draws its beliefs and practices from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels of the New Testament and other sources, while rejecting the supernatural claims of Christianity at large. (Wikipedia)
And Alain de Botton’s book, Religion for atheists [*10] contains much useful material derived from the non-supernatural components of Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism (though I thought that Buddism was not a religion [*11]).
[*1] Tim Farron quits as Lib Dem leader (Jessica Elgot, Heather Stewart, Guardian, 14 june 2017)
[*2] Tim Farron resigns as leader of Liberal Democrats – video (Guardian/AP, 12 june 2017)
[*3] “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13 and elsewhere)
[*4] Tim Farron again refuses to say whether homosexuality is a sin (Nadia Khomami, Guardian, 2 june 2017)
[*5] Likely Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable says Tim Farron didn’t handle gay rights question ‘very well’ (Meka Beresford, Pink news, 2 july 2017)
[*6] Jeremy Corbyn wants to scrap Trident nuclear plan, says Michael Eavis (Kevin Rawlinson, Guardian, 25 june 2017)
[*7] Mark 10:43 ESV (and at Matthew 20:26)
[*8] Serve to lead (Sandhurst trust)
[*9] For example, Bible verses about leadership and Being a leader (unattributed collections)
[*10] Alain de Botton, Religion for atheists (Penguin, 2012)—Wikipedia article
[*11] Steve Hagen, Buddhism plain and simple (Penguin, 1999), pp3-4
> Leadership, particularly What do managers who are leaders do that managers who aren’t leaders don’t do?
© 2017 Jeremy Marchant . extended 13 july 2017 . image screen grab from BBC coverage
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