But today, according to Farron, that doctrine of liberalism has become dominant, and like state-sponsored Christianity, instead of being ‘emancipationist’, has become oppressive. Liberalism has today become like the ‘established church’ of Constantinian or post-Reformation times, wanting a monopoly of power, no longer a philosophy which challenges the human tendency to lord it over others. For Farron, the foundation of liberalism is Christianity (and particularly non-conformist evangelicalism), not political correctness masquerading as a kind of self-evident ‘liberalism’. “Secularism is a totalising creed that reduces everyone down to either consumer or regulatory units”, he says, and cannot be a basis for ‘shared values’.
At the same time, Christianity must be ‘liberal’, sticking to the Bible’s teaching, but not seeking to impose this on society in such a way as to restrict freedom of thought and action within the law. Farron isn’t saying, as some evangelicals do, that Christians should just focus on the local church, and be indifferent to the lives and choices of society outside the Christian community and those being evangelised on the fringe. As he said: “God will judge…it is not unloving or judgmental for Christians to point that out”. But he warns against the kind of close association of church and state:
“That in Britain we have a church trapped as part of the furniture of the state is a waste of a church. A boat in the water is good. Water in the boat, is bad. A church in the state is good, the state in the church is bad. Really bad. It pollutes the message of that church. It compromises it. Weakens its witness.”
This serious criticism of the Church of England’s basic DNA, which Tim Farron did not develop in his argument, puts a finger on a key issue for thinking about the future of Anglicanism in Britain. Bible believing Christians in the C of E have always argued that Establishment ensures a place for influence at the high table, and an open door into communities at the grassroots. But if Farron is right, and the state is no longer Christian-liberal, and instead has become increasingly secular-authoritarian, then the state church no longer influences positively for Christianity. It must conform to secularism in order to stay at the high table – and in doing so must of necessity shed much of its Christian character, and collude in the persecution of orthodox Christianity.