Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My letter to Tim Farron

Dear Tim

Thank you for your personal message to LibDem party members explaining that you have decided to stand down as leader. I know you will not have taken this enormous step without a great deal of thought and prayer.

The first thing I want to say is that you are in my own prayers now. I respect your candour as a politician, as a Christian and as a decent human being. Thank you for your leadership of the party in these tumultuous times.

I too am a Christian and a liberal (big L and small), living, as it happens, not far away from you. I love the far north of England as you do, not least for its sense of spiritual place, its soils infused with the long memory of our northern saints like Aidan and Cuthbert. I don't say that it's easier to be a Christian here than in the hectic Westminster village where, like Athens in the Acts of the Apostles, people are forever in search of something new to gossip about. Maybe up here we breathe a little more easily and are not always having to defend ourselves or our faith against the kind of opprobrium you have had to endure.

It's not for me to comment on your decision. I know you will have taken it with integrity, and from the tone of your letter, not without much inward struggle. But I am genuinely sorry about it all the same. I think you were under a degree of media scrutiny that was pitiless and intrusive in its invasion of your privacy. "We do not make windows on to men's souls" said Elizabeth I famously, but this is precisely what the media have tried to do with you, despite the fact that during the campaign you have not wavered an inch from LibDem policy in relation to same sex relations, equal marriage or anything else. The Prime Minister is also publicly known to be a Christian of conviction, but we don't find the media spotlight focusing relentlessly on her own personal opinions as a woman of faith.

You and I may come from different wings of the church, but this is not a factor as far as I am concerned. I am a Christian who believes with all my heart that the logic of gospel faith drives us to an inclusive vision of the world in which we give our LGBT friends the same rights as everyone else, just as we do people of colour, women and those with disability. I may wish that everyone else saw it that way, but I realise that this isn't the case. So we learn as Christians to practise what Justin Welby calls "good disagreement". I know that you have made your convictions about gay marriage clear in both what you have said, and how you have voted. That should have been the end of the matter. But even if you had taken the opposite view, I would have respected it. I can see that it might have been a struggle to reconcile personal faith with aspects of official party policy, but how you or I do this is no-one's business but our own. In any case, as you've said, a true liberal allows others to have different convictions from our own.

But illiberal media commentators don't seem to want to allow you that privilege (even though on this issue you haven't asked for it!). So if your recent relations with the media are behind your decision to resign, then I am doubly sorry. It is yet another victory for a media that is too often a disgrace to a progressive (I want to say enlightened) secular society that should be proud to sign up to liberal values. It does in theory - but not always in practice.

Of course, you may have been subject to a lot of other pressures that have added to your discomfort in the role of leader. Life in politics must be extraordinarily stressful. But if your resignation is a straw in the wind, and it is going to become harder than ever for a convinced man or woman of faith (any faith) to contribute as a political leader, then I am deeply worried about what this says about our country. We need Christians to be committed to leadership in public life in every sector of a secular society. I know you believe this ex animo because you have given us an example of how to inhabit such a role as a man of Christian principle. So I believe you would not have resigned unless the pressures had become intolerable. That's what is so troubling about your announcement - not because of what it says about you, but because of what it says about the rest of us!

You end by referring to Isaac Watts' great hymn of the cross: Love so amazing, so divine / demands my life, my soul, my all.  I was moved by that confession of faith on your part. And yes, we must not compromise our holding on to that central article of our faith. What could possibly matter more? It's why I have been a priest for more than forty years. And when conscience directs us in the light of the cross to act in a particular way, we dare not disobey.

So I want you to know that I entirely respect your decision, even if it also saddens me. You will be a loss to the party as its leader, and as a man who has brought your Christian gifts and insights to the high table at which our political leaders sit.

Let me wish you well for the future in a spirit of Christian friendship and in thankfulness for all that you have brought to British politics during your tenure as leader.

Best wishes,
Yours sincerely,


  1. A very Christian message Michael. Thank you, I pray it is well received.

  2. Thank you for your very thoughtful contribution to this debate. There are other Christian MPs in Tim Farron's party and members of his own denomination who will disagree with him but will respect his views. He has presumably made his decision and I am sure he will continue to make an important contribution to public life in his new role.