Mumford and Sons’ Winston Marshall Visits the Blessed Sacrament — Then Leaves the Band

“The week before making the final decision,” says Marshall, “I was pretty much planted in my local Catholic church around the corner from the house.”

Singer Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons performs onstage during the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2019 at Honda Center on Dec. 8, 2019, in Anaheim, California.
Scott Dudelson
Getty Images
Singer Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons performs onstage during the KROQ Absolut Almost Acoustic Christmas 2019 at Honda Center on Dec. 8, 2019, in Anaheim, California. Scott Dudelson Getty Images (photo: Scott Dudelson / Scott Dudelson)

Last month, Winston Marshall, a member of the wildly successful folk/rock band Mumford and Sons, quit the band. His decision wasn’t the result of discord or a desire to go solo. He saw that the price of staying in the band would come at the price of his conscience, and he ultimately wasn’t willing to make that trade.

The drama started in early March, when Marshall, as was his quarantine habit, tweeted his reaction to a recent book he had read. The book was Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy. The author, Andy Ngo, is one of the few journalists who will report on the far-left group’s violence, and for his trouble was beaten so badly that he received a brain injury in 2019.

“Congratulations @MrAndyNgo. Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man,” Marshall tweeted.

The “woke” mob, which seems to oscillate between believing that Antifa doesn’t exist and believing that it’s America’s best defense against fascism, descended upon him immediately. He was called a fascist, a racist and a supporter of far-right extremism. The hammer didn’t come down only on Marshall, but on the other three members of the band, as well as their families. 

Marshall did as most people would during that kind of deluge and apologized, retracting his support for Ngo’s work. He said his main goal was protecting his bandmates, but he was ready to accept that he had indeed made some kind of horrible mistake. But in the months since, he realized that the only mistake he made was to backtrack on the truth. He then broke the mold in a way few others have by retracting his apology and doubling down on his original statement. And to protect his bandmates and his integrity, he quit Mumford and Sons.

In an essay published on June 24, Marshall outlined his reasons for leaving the band.

“For me to speak about what I’ve learnt to be such a controversial issue will inevitably bring my bandmates more trouble,” he wrote. “My love, loyalty and accountability to them cannot permit that. I could remain and continue to self-censor but it will erode my sense of integrity. Gnaw my conscience. I’ve already felt that beginning.”

Marshall sat down with Bari Weiss, who is perhaps one of the only people who can fully relate to his situation, and gave a raw interview in which he explained his thought process and emotional state in more detail.

“I felt that I was participating in the lie that either extremism didn’t exist, or that it was a force for good. That began to really bother my conscience. … Over the period of months, I felt really ill at ease with my integrity.”

In the interview, Marshall opened up about the influences that guided him toward leaving everything he had worked for for 15 years. Soviet dissident Alexander Solzenitzyn’s essay “Live Not by Lies” was a big driver, as was the life of Winston Churchill. But most of all, it was his Christian faith that pushed him to reject the lies he’d capitulated to under duress.

Weiss pressed him on the subject of faith, observing that, “Not everyone, but an inordinate number of people who are willing to tell the truth and stand up to the new illiberalism, are religious.”

With a laugh, Marshall said that he would often come back to a phrase repeated by “the great American theologian Kanye West” — “Fear God, and you will fear nothing else.”

“My faith has played a big part in this period of my life and actually the week before making the final decision, I was pretty much planted in my local Catholic church around the corner from the house,” he said. “It’s a bloody big moment for me. That’s probably why after a while, the apology was bothering me like it did, particularly that I’d felt like I’d been participating in that lie that we already talked about. I couldn’t square those things in my conscience.”

What struck me most about Marshall’s story was that he is not only someone who listens to his conscience, but someone who carefully discerns the whispers and movements of the Holy Spirit within his own thoughts — before the Blessed Sacrament, no less. Whether consciously or not, Marshall intuited the basic steps of St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits.

The first Rule states that when people fall into sin, there is a bad spirit that makes the sin attractive and justifiable. At the same time, there is a good spirit that causes discomfort in the mind and soul, “pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.” By recognizing that the turmoil he felt after issuing his apology was prodded by the good spirit, Marshall could follow it into a state of consolation.

St. Ignatius calls consolation “every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.”

In discerning that he needed to choose the truth over all else, Marshall described the feelings of peace and charity that ensued — sure signs that he had entered consolation.

“A good friend asked, ‘How are you going to feel when you see the guys on stage?’ and my sincere answer is I’ll be delighted. I’ll be so proud and happy for them,” he said. “I think I would know that to be on stage with them … It’s difficult to speak about because my conscience was burning so badly before and the statement really cleared it for me, so it’s a little hard to articulate, but I’m very at peace with it. … I go with love. It’s still sad, sure, but I’m proud of what we’ve done. Back to Kanye: I fear the Lord, so I don’t fear the future.”

“The peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6) comes from observing God’s truth, not Twitter’s version of the truth. Attaining it may require serious sacrifice, but those who make those sacrifices, including Weiss and Marshall, are convinced the sacrifices are worth it.

“I feel like I got my soul back a little bit,” Marshall said. “Sorry, not a little bit — completely.”