The Right Reverend Tim ThorntonHow would you describe your ideological or religious identity?

I would say I am a Christian, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I have always belonged to a thing called the Church of England, which is part of the Christian Church.

What made you choose to remain in this tradition?

God is the answer to everything. This can be a short interview! My father was a priest, married and working in the Church of England, because priest can marry in the Church of England. I was born into the vicarage life, and was baptised as a baby, and I always tell people that I have never yethad my teenage rebellious years. I am looking forward to it. There has been no time in my life in which I have gone away from the Church. I have always been in the Church of England and I would say that I now, obviously make choices, about staying within it and there have been several moments when I felt like leaving it. There are still some moments in which I feel like leaving it, but I am still of the opinion that I would like to work within to change it, when I see things which are not right. It has not done anything yet which has made me want to walk away, although I have had to think quite hard in some moments.

Would you say that Great Britain is an equal and tolerant society particularly in relation to religion and belief?

That is interesting. I think… had you asked me ten years ago I would have said unhesitantly yes. Now I am not so sure. I think large parts of the country are unbelievably tolerant. Living in Cornwall I am sorry to say that there are sections of our community that would not be tolerant about people of other faith backgrounds. I am well aware that in a place like Cornwall some people choose to come and live there, because it is all ‘white’, if I can put it like that, and they believe that the Church should be part of that. It should be as it was thirty, forty years ago. We are about to welcome our first refugee families from Syria and that has been really difficult. Some people in Cornwall have not wanted to welcome them. On the one hand therefore, I think there are some sections of our community which are not tolerant, but itis much more complicated. On the other hand, I feel as a religious leader that there is a secular agenda around. So, in some of our biddings for funding for example, it has been difficult because we are faith based, and equally, often when I go to school, other faiths are very well-taught (Islam, Judaism, etc), but actually Christianity is not that well taught. I feel we need to say we are one of the faiths, so can we have a say on matters as other people do?

How easy is for you to live in accordance with your Anglican faith in this country? Are there challenges, and if there are, are they social, political or legal in nature?

There has never been a morning in my life in which I have had to get up and think ‘crikey, how am I going to be a Christian in this country? So, the first thing to say is that it is very easy. I don’t have to think about it. It is that easy. Because I am a Church leader there are things I do which are more complicated. I have this extraordinary privilege of sitting in the HofL, and so I get to open my mouth in a lot of ways. So, this is complicated, as I happen to be a member of the HofL and as I am a bishop, I am aware that some people come to see me and ask my opinion. That is a privilege and I must not abuse that privilege. However, I am never sure. Is this because I am a bishop or is it because I am in the HofL? I don’t know. In a place like Cornwall I think there is a sense, when I talk with my colleagues in other parts of the country, that I have access to parts of society which maybe some other bishops don’t have. In a way Cornwall is maybe more conservative with a small c.

How does your Anglican faith regard HRs? Has it contributed to or influenced the way HRs are understood in the world?
I would like to say yes. Through history Christians and members of the CofE have worked hard to put the HRs of people on a better footing, but I am well aware that some of my predecessors were quite compliant or quiet about slave trade, for example. So, I would say that the CofE has not always been at the forefront of pushing for the HR agenda. More recently, notably with some of the work I have been doing with the foodbank for instance, I think there is a very strong social justice sense amongst people, which I feel very proud and with which I want to associate myself. Very recently, you will know that Anglican bishops in the HofL have been very vocal. I am concerned about that. It seems to me that bishops in the HofL in recent years have almost become the opposition and I am not sure that it is always healthy for us constitutionally. There should be a strong Government and a strong opposition, and bishops should get into the various debates in various ways. I think it has been assumed in different ways in recent years that we would be the Opposition.

Do you think that HRs that apply to everyone in GB are a good or a bad thing for British society?

I think that HRs, by which I mean that every human being should be valued and upheld, is a very good thing. As it happens, I have to ask myself… we had a debate recently about the food poverty area, and they wanted to push the rights debate… sometimes I slightly worry that the whole language about HRs ignore responsibilities. Jonathan Sacks says in one of his books that in the Bible there is hardly any reference to rights, but there are many references to responsibilities. Yes, HRs are a good thing but they must be set in a wider context.

Are there any ways in which the CofE has in contemporary Britain an influence on human rights? Can you identify any particular issues in which the Church is actively campaigning?

Yes, modern slavery. My colleague, the bishop of Derby is leading on those issues, around many others who are helping. Very crucial area. Slavery not only in terms of people from overseas moving to different countries, but also here in this country, for example the person who was found in a Welsh farm, after 11 years… so, the huge modern slavery debate. Another one is the food poverty debate… welfare reform is another important one. Bishops were instrumental in the tax credit overturn recently, which I think is part of the HRs debate. Interestingly, you could say this affects about the whole gender issue… If all humans are the same, why hasn’t the Church always treated women equally? And of course, the whole debate about same sex marriage and how we respect those of different understandings of their own sexuality… that has not always been great, and I put my hand up to say that the way the Church has operated has not always been helpful.

Would you say that HRs are generally respected by the Government and other public bodies in GB?

Generally speaking, they are. There are areas in which they have been cautious. For instance, not enough has been done in the area of disabled people, but I know that if you ask those people they will say that they are committed to HRs. They will make an argument, rightly or wrongly, that the financial side Is significant.

Do you think public authorities intervene too much or not enough in the lives of individuals and groups, both in general and particularly in relation to religion and belief?

As a human being living in this country, I don’t feel they intervene too much. However, I have had a series of meetings recently in Cornwall where some people working in the public sector and voluntary sector, were coming together precisely because of that implicit bias against faith bodies in biddings for funds. I was very intrigued they wanted to meet with us and try to work out what was happening. I don’t feel there are many problems there, but I wonder if sometimes there have been or there is almost a default position in those places. There were some examples, during the last few years, in which some of the ways i the Government, at local and national level, offered funding for organisations, included wording that if you were faith based you could not apply…

When do you think public authorities must necessarily interfere with people expressing their religion or ideology through either actions or life style choices?

I think that when they challenge the fabrics of other people’s lives. So, extremists of all faiths. I am thinking of those people who have misinterpreted the tenets of their faiths and they are oppressing others, and not only oppressing them, but persecuting them.

Would you say that living in a parliamentary democratic society makes it easier or harder for you to live in accordance with your Anglican faith? Is there any other form of Government that you would consider preferable?

I think the Pope should be in charge! I am joking… I spent three weeks with him. I was in Rome, in the Synod of the family. He is brilliant. Just in the coffee break, he sat next to you and it was amazing. One of my problems is that I have only lived in this country. So, it is difficult for me… I don’t have experience of living in different countries. So, that makes it complicated. I am also probably, because I am a CofE bishop, white and probably imperialist… So sometimes we think we are better than anybody else. So, I need to think about that. I suppose the way I have been brought up in quite a liberal country, I appreciate the way parliamentary democracy works and the space and freedom I have to debate. What I don’t always know is what is behind the scenes. I see transparency and openness, but it may be completely different. I can imagine there are other forms of government which could allow the Christian faith to flourish in many ways, but whether I would be happy to be living there, I am not sure.

Given that we live in a democracy, does your faith mean that you have a personal responsibility to vote?

Yes. Until I joined the HofL… if you push me, I am interested in those countries where the voting is compulsory. I am worried and ashamed of the very poor level of engagement in our country.

Would you say that it is a good or bad thing that the democratically elected body in our country, Parliament, has the final say in making and changing British law? Should the judiciary be able to strike down primary legislation?

My immediate response would be no. Why do I answer no to that question? I think it feels to me like we need checks and balances, and if any one body, no matter how important it is, appears to have a power of veto, that worries me. On the other hand, I fear that referenda, although they apparently empower people, have some sort of unforeseen consequences… However, if you have a serious process that has been built up throughout the years, you need to be very careful if you alter it too much. I am just surprised about the whole debate about sovereignty in this country. I keep telling people… if the Queen gets up tomorrow morning and says that everyone must go to work at 6am until midnight, how would we react, is having a sovereign a good idea? How does that work?

Do you think that an understanding of democracy as the will of the majority of the people is problematic for minority groups?

There are several questions there. I personally think that many people don’t fully understand our parliamentary democracy. I listen to radio programmes and then people say ‘I voted for my MP, and they should vote this way or the other’. So, they misunderstand that they do not mandate their MPs. Personally I am content. I think there should be more free votes in Parliament. I really worry about the low level of understanding in our country of the democratic process. My answer to your question is to access how power is exercised, you have to get to certain gates, and for some communities in our society that does not happen, either because to be honest they can’t be bothered and they don’t understand, or because the way the gates are set up prevents access from some parts of society. So, there are significant sectors of our society which I think are underrepresented and don’t have access… In Cornwall, for example, there are significant numbers of people who have come to live in Cornwall because of the life style there… … in some way they don’t want to be part of the country, and then they move to that area. So probably they wouldn’t vote, but they would be very bothered if some things happened in our country. There is also the case that I think that some sections of our community, like migrant groups, simply don’t have access. I was in an event last night in which I was told about the number of unaccompanied minors in Calais. It is extremely sad.

Do you think it is problematic that members of the HofL are not elected by the citizens?

It is clearly problematic for many people. Of course, as I am there, I am biased. I think if we have a revising Chamber, in my view if the revising Chamber is wholly elected, it also gives you lots of problems. I can’t see how it can be resolved. For what is worth, I am a sort of old fashioned bishop, I can see a lot of good arguments for a non elected Chamber. However, I think 800 members of the HofL, is bonkers… on the day I was introduced in the HofL there was a question about female genital mutilation, there was a question on physics and how it is taught in schools, there was a question about Syria… there were experts in all these fields there, giving wisdom in their answers and I thought to myself that we had all these bright people, who were giving their time freely to be part of shaping our society. The fact that we have not been capable to reform it, is quite indicative, in my view. There is an underlying issue about why we haven’t been able to reform it…

Do you agree with your own presence in the HofL? Should there be representatives of other faiths and how they should be appointed?

I am very conflicted on this. I think I would answer… if we had to start again, we wouldn’t have bishops in the HofL. Incidentally, I am not sure I would have faith representatives in the HofL, but I am there, and I am going to make the most of this. All I had to do was breathe for a number of years until I got there… my predecessor told me that there are very few peers who live in Cornwall and then I had to take very seriously my role in the Upper House. Somehow I would become a voice for Cornwall, in addition to all the stuff I do. There is a system, I am part of it… I thought hard before saying yes. I absolutely can see that the HofL ought to be reformed in a variety of ways, but I would be saddened if we ended up negotiating positions there, like ‘let’s keep X number of bishops’. I think it is a much deeper question. Honestly, I don’t know the answer!

In your own experience, are you there to speak on behalf of other citizens other than Anglicans?

Yes, I am there to speak out. Full stop. I speak about general matters concerning Cornwall, which is one of the most deprived areas of the country, unknown to many people. I have a huge responsibility to speak out for Cornwall, but I have spoken out in a wide range of issue, but that is what I should be doing.

In your view, do public authorities try to respect the democratic voice of people as expressed through decisions made by Parliament, or can you think of any example for public bodies ignoring deliberately legislation?

My view would be, on the whole, in this country we are too law abiding. I often think about this when it comes to the EU referendum. I don’t understand it. Why don’t we just stay in Europe and do what many other countries do and ignore the rules? I can’t really think of the top off my head of any examples of people either breaking or ignoring the rules.

Is it good or bad that some decisions which affect the UK are made by devolved administrations?

In terms of devolution, that is interesting. When I became bishop, the then bishop of Exeter was chair of the Constitutional Convention and back in those days, regions had offices and we were prepared for directly elected assemblies and so on. We had a church officer who was going to be a representative there, and all that has now disappeared. I am fascinated that all that happened at once. The whole change has moved more strongly towards Wales and Scotland… Northern Ireland is, of course, a completely different matter itself, but in England the attempt to get regional assemblies faultered. I don’t really understand it. In Cornwall, anyway, we feel like a different nation . We are not English, we are Cornish. I am not sure if it is a superiority or inferiority complex. I can’t really work out what is going on in the regions in England. We have a really poor understanding of English identity.

What does your faith teach you about people with power?

I am reading a fascinating book, the End of Power. I am really interested in power. In Church we hardly talk about it. I am also fascinated by power in human society. We talk about money and sex, drugs and rock and roll. We hardly talk about power, but I think it is a basic human instinct, probably related to evolution and survival. I don’t think we understand it enough. I am also reading a lot about hierarchical structures which do not work any more. So, as Church I feel we are not really understanding that we are in many wasy going against the trend… but your interesting question goes clearly beyond that, and I would say, wouldn’t I… as I read the Gospel, I think Jesus was subversive… if you read the dialogue with Pontius Pilate, about whether he was a king or not, and you think about it… and also Jesus’ answers to other people… I think the Christian faith has a lot to teach the world, but the Christian Church has not learnt the lessons itself, and until it does it, it won’t be able to teach the world.

Do you think that Anglicans are appropriately and proportionately represented in terms of members of Parliament, local authorities, the judiciary? Do you think that the values which Anglicans hold have a particular contribution to make?

Yes is the answer… How wouldn’t I say that? On Tuesday I went to the Cornwall Council Chamber, to the meeting of the council. Every meeting starts with a prayer. Before the meeting the first item in the agenda is prayer. I am part of the rota. It is not always Anglicans.. There are over a hundred councillors, but only a handful would refuse to join. In many surveys that have been conducted, it is clear that many of the organisations that work in the voluntary sector are populated by people of faith, and because of the way our proportion works many of them are Anglicans. So, I would say we are usually overrepresented.

Would you say that our judiciary are sufficiently independent or are they too closely linked to politicians?

I am not sure I have ever given thought to this. However, my intuition is that there is such a distance.

If you look at the relationship between Parliament and the Government, what system of checks and balances would you like to see between both bodies?

Going back to what I said before, I think in this area we really get what we ask for. As a public, we vote for the Government as it is now, and then it is the role of the Government to govern, and we can kick it out if we like. I do think there is a system of checks and balances, but I think it is down to MPs and the Opposition to stand and call the Government to account. If they don’t do it, there is no point in saying that the system is wrong. Actually there is a system and perhaps we don’t make the best use of it.

Do you think that public authorities (NHS, local authorities, etc) understand the needs of practising Anglicans? Is the understanding of any of these bodies better or worse than the understanding of others?

I think it is a mixed answer. More or less, on the whole, I think people understand. There was a governance review of the Cornwall local council and I was asked to be one of the three people who did it. I think local authorities and public bodies hold the Church in high esteem and ask us to do things. I think sometimes some parts of some public have some neuralgia about faith groups. I am not sure where it comes from. I think it is about fear of proselytism. So, I think it is interesting that some of the publicly funded bodies are at times quite resistant to faith based organisations.

Is it always important to you to act under the law of the land? Are there any circumstances under which you would feel compelled to break the law?

The short answer is yes. I feel bound to respect the law of the land. It is important for our system, because of the checks and balances model. However, I could feel I need to break the law if I felt that the law is based on wrong principles or brought about for wrong principles. I have thought a lot about what I would do in some situations. In my last job I had to travel a fair bit, and I had to go to South Sudan… talking with my colleagues there about their lives, and particularly in North Sudan, where there was persecution against Christians by Muslims, I am sorry to say, it is happening…. I think therefore that there would be circumstances under which I would feel compelled to break the law, but I can’t think that would happen in this country at this stage.

Do you feel that your faith requires you to speak on behalf of third parties, particularly the weak and the vulnerable?

Yes, I believe that the Christian Gospel has a bias to the poor, and Jesus spent significant amounts of time with the marginalised, and my role is to give voice to the voiceless.

Do you think the RL is applied equally to everyone in British society?

My gut reaction, being a good old fashioned liberal person, is that there is a bias to the wealthy and those who have access to power. I don’t have much evidence of this, but I feel that is the case. The obvious example about this is what is currently happening with Google. If I am sorting out my tax situation, as I am at the moment, HM knows that it is advisable to talk with me and debate matters in order to get money. With a poor person, unfortunately, there is apparently no such discussion.

Should public authorities be subject to the same rules as private parties?I am particularly interested in your views about recent developments concerning powers of the police.

It is a difficult one. It is a very different world. I think we call them asymmetrical rules. I completely understand that safety is crucial, but there is a danger that for the purposes of security, authorities may go too far and I think that is very dangerous. I find it difficult. I want my family to be kept safe… am I willing to give out my personal data? I am not sure, but I can understand it is a difficult one.

Are you aware of any rules which have an impact on your freedom to practise your religion in Great Britain?

I can’t think of anything. I think of those people who grumble about not wearing crosses at work, issues with cakes, etc. It is interesting that the changes in Sunday trading rules didn’t go through. I suppose that the only thing I would say, which is not a particularly modern change… we are now coming to Easter. I am interested in a Christian country… in the past you couldn’t miss Easter, but now you couldn’t tell it is Easter. There will be a parade in Trafalgar Square with Church leaders on Good Friday, but I don’t think there will be much more. However, I cannot think of any legal rules which have an impact on practising my Anglican faith.

Is there anything which you would like to add?

I think it has been very comprehensive. Just to reiterate the point that I feel in a very privileged position and I mustn’t abuse it. My biggest worry is not so much from a legal or constitutional point of view, but about the lack of engagement of many people in our country. I have a worry about wider civil society. I meet lots of people in local councils, district councils, etc, and they give so much of their time… but it is not appreciated by the wider community. I think there is a lack of trust in institutions and I worry where this is taking us. We just focus on personalities and celebrities. We don’t trust politicians, journalists or Church people, and I wonder where that lack of trust is leading us to.

Tim was made Bishop of Truro in 2008 prior to that he was Bishop of Sherborne for seven years. Tim has been ordained for over 35 years and has served in several dioceses and contexts. He was Principal of the North Thames Ministerial Training Course and served as Chaplain to David Hope when he was Bishop both in Wakefield and London.

He is Trustee of a number of organisations e.g. Bishop’s Forum, Transformation Cornwall and Volunteer Cornwall. He has responsibility for leadership programmes for senior clergy across the country and also serves on the Council for Christian Unity. He co-chairs the regular conversations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in this country. He has been in the House of Lords since 2013 and co-chaired the inquiry that lead to the report Feeding Britain.

He is enjoying working in Cornwall. The priorities here are to discover God’s kingdom and grow the church. He is putting his energies into reshaping the church’s structure in order to meet these priorities.

He was born in Yorkshire and is married to Sian who is a Senior HMI and they have two grown up children, twin granddaughters and a grandson.