There’s something deeply sinister in the media and celeb pile-on against Tim Farron over his views on homosexuality. On Channel 4 News this week, Farron, leader of the Lib Dems and a Christian, was asked if he thinks being gay is a sin. The presenter Cathy Newman, coming off like a gay-friendly Witchfinder-General, fancying herself the interrogator of men’s souls, pressed him again and again over his innermost thoughts on homosexuality. It was an ugly spectacle: what business is it of hers, or Twitter’s, or anyone else’s, whether Farron thinks being gay is good or evil?
Farron should have said, ‘Mind your business’, but he got flustered. ‘I’m not in the position to make theological announcements’, he said. Media people and celebs went crazy. TV personality Sue Perkins reminded him that ‘It’s 2017’ (Current Year Fallacy!), seemingly unaware that two people alive in the same year can hold different views. The true sinner is Farron himself, said David Walliams: ‘You are definitely a sinner for your continued intolerance and prejudice.’ Others bandied about the word ‘bigot’. Former funnyman turned Twitterbore David Baddiel branded Farron a ‘fundamentalist Christian homophobe’. Never one to miss out on a bit of Twitter outrage that might boost his flagging party’s fortunes, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it is ‘appalling’ if Farron thinks homosexuality is sinful.
No, what’s appalling is the idea that it’s acceptable to haul a man over the coals, to slam and humiliate him publicly, over his private convictions. Whatever Farron thinks of homosexuality, it appears to have had no impact whatsoever on his public life or political decisions. He supports gay equality. The Lib Dems are big backers of gay marriage. Farron is being demonised for his private thoughts, for the contents of his soul; not even for something he did in private but for something he thinks in private. The bigotry is not his; it’s his critic’s, who believe, with magnificence arrogance, and genuine intolerance, that they can build a window into our hearts and minds and make a spectacle of a man for believing something they don’t believe.
There are double standards here. Can you picture Cathy Newman interrogating a Muslim spokesman over his views on homosexuality? Or the celeb set fuming against an African traditionalist for his religious beliefs? Not in a million years. But Christians, especially white ones, are fair game. The easy targets of the speech police. The idea that Farron can’t truly be a liberal if he believes homosexuality is a sin is nonsense. In fact, it is the very essence of tolerance to be publicly supportive of, or at least tolerant of, things you dislike or find strange. That Farron supports gay rights while possibly thinking in private that gayness is a sin is the one piece of evidence we have that he is a liberal (on every other issue of liberty and democracy, he fails spectacularly).
There is something Inquisition-like — yes, without the flames and expulsions — in the public interrogation of a man’s private beliefs. In the more Enlightened era, we’re meant to accept that people can think whatever they like. In the words of the great 17th-century English jurist Edward Coke, ‘No man, ecclesiastical or temporal, shall be examined upon the secret thoughts of his heart, or of his secret opinion’. It’s not as if there aren’t loads of public policies and pronouncements on which to challenge Farron, starting with his elitist agitation with Brexit. Let’s grill him about that, not the secret thoughts of his heart.