Some thoughts on Tim Farron’s withdrawal from Northern Men’s Convention

I saw some comments on Tim Farron’s withdrawal from the Northern Men’s Convention recently. Farron put the following on Twitter:

Graham Nicholls – Director of Affinity – said the following:

Tim Farron would claim to be a Christian who wants to stand up for biblical truth and so this last-minute withdrawal raises some serious questions for him to address. For example, what exactly prompted his exit? Was it pressure from political allies, enemies or campaigning groups? Also, what specifically is he objecting to in the wording of the publicity material? Has he raised these concerns with his Christian brothers and sisters who are organising the event?

My mate Dave Williams has done a pretty good job of summing up the likely answer to those questions here. In fact, going by the respective time stamps, Dave hadn’t seen Graham’s comments before he posted them.

The offending wording in the publicity material was as follows:

…assaults on orthodox Christian teaching, and morality, especially in the area of sexuality, seem to have increased at an alarming rate. Those who have stood firm in the Anglican tradition at General Synod have been ridiculed and vilified. The leadership from those in authority in the denominations who should be the guardians of biblical truth has been muted to say the least and even in Bible teaching churches many appear to be wavering under the onslaught of the gay lobby. Add to this scenario the increasing problems associated with immigration, and Islam in particular and indeed many other things which push Christians further and further to the margins, there is for many a feeling of despair and even fear about standing up and speaking out.

Based on stuff Farron has said in the past, I’m going to guess that two things would have particularly been an issue for him. First would be the overall tone suggesting that Christians are being pushed ‘further and further to the margins’. He has made several public comments, both during his Lib Dem leadership and after, that made clear he does not think Christians are being marginalised in the way they often think. I suspect he would have objected to this emphasis.

Second, and more seriously, I think the phrase, ‘the increasing problems associated with immigration, and Islam in particular’ would not thrill him. Farron is a man whose political career was built on a belief that immigration is a fundamental good and that Islam is no more a threat to society than anything else. He was a classic liberal in the sense that he wanted room for all and he would not have endorsed such statements that could easily be construed – indeed, have been construed even by those sympathetic and supportive of Christian Conventions – as demonising Muslims.

My friend, Duncan Forbes, has written about how this sort of terrible publicity happens. His recent post here is worth a moment of your time, particularly if you cannot see the problem with the wording of that publicity. As he noted on Twitter in response to Dave Williams:

For what it’s worth, our church is slap bang in the middle of an overwhelmingly Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim area of Oldham. Most of the people in the town are here as a result of calls we put out to draw them over to work in industries we didn’t have the labour to fill. Many of them now enrich the town in a number of ways.

What is more, from a Christian point of view, immigrants – Muslims in particular – do not represent a threat to Christianity but an opportunity. The vast majority of people coming to faith in our church over recent years have been Muslim-background Iranian and Afghan people. What is more, the local South Asian community in our area of Glodwick have been welcomed into our church through English Classes and Muslim-Christian dialogue meetings.

In fact, just last night, we held one of our monthly dialogue evenings. Far from representing any sort of problem, we shared about our respective faiths, we robustly discussed the significant differences and we ate together in a spirit of friendship. We do not see our Muslim neighbours as ‘problems’. They are our friends; friends who desperately need the gospel. They are not threats to Christianity but people who need to encounter the true and living God in the person of Jesus Christ. In our experience, as we have welcomed and befriended them the Lord has opened wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. And, praise God, some have responded.

I don’t know whether Tim Farron spoke to the convention organisers or not. I don’t really know the reasons he pulled out, the above was just my best guess. But, truth be told, if I had been due to speak and had that publicity landed upon me, I have to say, I’d probably be thinking twice about it too. Not for the sake of controversy, but for the sake of my ongoing ministry. I struggle to believe many people with any sort of public profile working with Muslims frequently would feel any differently.

If, as some of us have been saying for some time, we had more minority voices involved in leadership of British Evangelicalism, much of this sort of thing could be easily avoided.