Two days ago (14 June), Tim Farron, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats—one of the larger minority political parties in Britain—announced his decision to step down. This move, which came a week after a general election in which his party did not do particularly well, may not sound all that surprising.
But Mr Farron’s decision had nothing to do with his party’s performance.
In a hastily arranged statement, surrounded by close colleagues, Mr Farron explained, “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 . . . A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017, and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”
As a Christian living in the UK, the question I’m left with is this: Has he made the right decision? The general election resulted in a “hung parliament” (which basically means no one won), throwing the country into even more chaos at a very sensitive time. Surely our leaders should be stepping up to the challenge, rather than stepping down? Couldn’t Mr Farron have done more, despite the barriers and burdens he faced because of his faith, and compromises he may have had to make?
I work with people who know Mr Farron very well; they go to the same church as he does. They speak of him as a humble man who loves Jesus. I can’t think of a better description of the sort of person I’d like to be a political leader! We need more people like this guiding our nation. But he chose to step down. Was he right to?
I’m reminded of the advice the apostle Paul wrote to his young friend, who was also called Timothy. Timothy wasn’t a political leader, but he was the leader of a church. Paul told him: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Timothy clearly had responsibility for the people he led—but as Paul mentioned, Timothy’s first responsibility was his own life before God.
I think that’s what we are witnessing with Mr Farron as well. What’s most important is that God gets the glory in our lives. For Mr Farron, being a humble man who loves Jesus is more important than making political waves (as good as they may have been). If being a party leader was indeed compromising his faith and beliefs, then he absolutely did the right thing. His life before God is his first responsibility—as it is for all of us who know Jesus.
As Christians, we are all going to get “shot at” for our faith. It makes us stand out. Our responsibility is to humbly love Jesus throughout, even if that means making hard choices and walking away from important things. Mr Farron stood out for Jesus, and the media mocked and hated him for it. Yet, despite the “popular opinion” of him, he leaves behind great respect and a God-centred impact on his party.
Mr Farron left his political position before his faith was compromised. He was ridiculed and hated by much of the media (including one report that called his decision “self-obsessed”), but before God, he has clearly shown his priority. When the choice was standing firm in Jesus or pursuing his political career, he chose Jesus.
Thank God for that witness. May we all hope to leave legacies as simple and direct as that.