Brian Paddick writes…We need to reassure people that Liberal Democrats remain the most accepting of all the political parties, whoever you are and whatever you believe

I write as a gay Christian about the tightrope between freedom of speech and religion and prejudice and discrimination.

One of the fundamental principles of Liberalism is to allow people to do as they wish provided it does not harm other people.  When it comes to religion, what appears to be a simple enough principle becomes complicated.

Many religions, including Christianity, require its followers to proclaim “the good news” of their particular religion to non-believers.  There are interpretations of many religions that say intimacy between same sex couples is wrong, indeed that any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is sinful.  The question then becomes, does proclaiming such ideas contravene the Liberal harm principle?

There are people who think religion is at least, mumbo jumbo, and at worst, damaging and divisive, and that whatever God, his Son or his prophets may or may not have said, it’s all nonsense, in which case, no harm done.

There are others who do have a faith, who are from sexually and gender diverse groups or who love those from such groups (family members, friends, allies), for whom it really matters what their religion says on these issues and who are seriously harmed by such declarations.

There is a third group who, whatever their faith or none, use religious declarations to sustain, fuel, and incite their dislike or hatred of sexually and gender diverse people.

Even worse is when a leader of a political party, or a former leader, who represents the most accepting political party in terms of people’s religion, belief or humanism, proclaims his minority religious beliefs over everyone else’s.  It is the job of a political party leader, and other senior members of the party, to unite members who have disparate views and galvanise them behind those common principles for which our party stands, despite our differences.

Personally, I am with the increasing proportion of Christians who believe that what the Old Testament says about homosexuality needs to be put into its historical context – sound reasons at the time that are not relevant today.  For those who believe the Bible should be taken literally and is timeless, you have bigger issues, faced with present day scientific fact, than your attitude towards same sex relationships.

As far as Tim Farron is concerned, the damage has been done and we cannot get the genie back in the bottle.  We have to reassure sexually and gender diverse people, those people of faith and of none that the Liberal Democrats remain the most accepting of all the political parties, whoever you are and whatever you believe, including you Tim.  Liberal and Liberal Democrat Christians have been at the forefront of campaigns for liberty, fairness and justice and have been steadfast in their support of such causes, no matter how unpopular.  Those who continue that proud tradition are an asset of which our party is, quite rightly, proud.

* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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  • Brian Paddick 13th Jan '18 - 9:44pm

    Thanks Andrew

  • Kath Fifield-Rhodes 13th Jan '18 - 10:17pm

    Thank you for putting the Liberal point of view so clearly. Liberals protect each and everyone of us the freedom, reglious or not, which faith or non, the freedom to practice and believe whatever we wish, providing it doesn’t impact on another of a different view. Unfortunately in the medias search for sound bites our view is usually misunderstood or simplified.

  • Yes. Well said Brian. You cut to the heart of what we as a party are all about, which is mutual tolerance and respect. I’m a gay atheist but my instinct as a Liberal is to protect the right of Christians to live as they want to live. All I expect from them in return is the same consideration. (It’s actually not that complicated!)

  • roger roberts 14th Jan '18 - 7:50am

    This is where different churches expect their members to act according to their teaching – Tim F is doing just that and if that is what he really believes he has our understanding and respect. My congregations as a minister as well a “politician” are weary of hearing my emphasis that above all else “God is Love” and that the commandments that encompass all others are to love God and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.We don’t know all the answers and we don’t always get it right but that must always be the direction in which we are going. (it also might be why I’m a Liberal!)

  • Humphrey Hawksley 14th Jan '18 - 9:43am

    Brian suggests, rightly, that this should be Party in which people should do as they wish as long as it does not harm others. Therefore, Liberal Democrats should be as accepting of the rights of the conservative Christian community and they are of the LGBT. This is not the case. As a journalist, I have reported from many divided communities outside of Britain in which the supporting one group gives a right to crush another — and that is what is happening here. Never could I have imagined that I end up part of a group in my own country that persecuted individual Christian belief.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jan '18 - 10:45am

    @Humphrey I think you always have to think about the actual harm caused by putting forward a particular point of view.

    There is a small minority of Christians who place a lot of emphasis on what they see as biblical teachings on sex. In essence, all sex outside Christian marriage is sinful, so that would mean that my registry office do really wouldn’t cut it either.

    The thing is, people don’t generally get beaten up, rejected and discriminated for having a registry office marriage. People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender still face rejection, discrimination and violence. I would argue that a liberal should take responsibility and keep quiet about views which, if expressed, might harm others. If an LGBT person is struggling with some aspect of their identity, comments inferring that they are in some way sinful really do not help. And, as Brian suggests in his article, they encourage those who promote hate, even if the comments do not come from a place of hate themselves.

    I’ve said openly that I do not regret campaigning for Tim in the leadership election. I would do the same, given the same choice, again. However, I think he needs to think very carefully about how his comments come across. I don’t think for one minute that he judges people or treats people any differently because of who they are. I am about as heathen as they come and I have worked closely with him for years with that never being an issue. I think it is important that he doesn’t continue to talk about this kind of stuff while he is a Lib Dem MP because it will detract from our inclusive message of equality.

  • Graham Evans 14th Jan '18 - 11:40am

    Carol Lindsay: Well said.

    I did not vote for Tim Farron in the leadership election, but this had nothing to do with his religious views. For entirely different reasons it seems that in retrospect Norman Lamb too would have presented problems as leader of a strongly pro-EU party. If we continue to restrict the leader to a small group of MPs we will continually find ourselves choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is one thing choosing a leader from among 50+ MPs; choosing between even as many as a dozen is very problematic.

  • Let Tim believe what he wants. But please, let him keep it to himself. I’m tired of this canard being resurrected, seemingly by Tim himself. Enough.

    We have local elections coming in many places across the UK, and lots of activists busy trying to tell people the positive news about what Lib Dems want to do to improve the country, irrespective of people’s beliefs or creeds. Tim’s interview just creates another and unnecessary distraction for us to have to deal with.

    @Humphrey, in terms of how this fits into a Liberal narrative, I’m a Liberal, so I’m comfortable to anyone’s faith, as long as it doesn’t unduly (or dangerously) impinge on the well-being of others. So that means for Evangelicals or Conservatives who believe that my partnership, which yes, involves sex in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship, and which is sanctioned by the state, is wrong, they have to decide whether they want to leave ‘that me’ be, and find things we can work on together, or keep telling me that I’m in error; in which case I will respectfully reply, as Brian intimates, with the many and myriad conflicts in their professed faith; and the fact that they are but one of many other views of the spiritual dimension of existence.

    PS I’ll give you a clue about what I want – every other Friday, as an atheist descendent of Jews, wedded to a Buddhist, I go along to my local church and help out with their Open Door Meal programme, providing food to homeless and local people in need. The priest, and her husband, know all about me, and judge me not on what I am, but on what I do, and I love them for it. And none of us judge the people that we feed. That’s how I proclaim my beliefs, in private; and I wish Tim would do the same.

  • dave sheppard 14th Jan '18 - 1:29pm

    I was quite happy to vote for Tim and this problem aside he did a good job. We all have our problems so thanks Tim. Now lets move on and win some council seats!

  • Thoughtful and well put words from Brian. I have found it very difficult listening to Tim, please, move on, let us show our open tolerant nature and get more Lib Dems elected into positions where we can combat the popularist tide

  • “If we continue to restrict the leader to a small group of MPs we will continually find ourselves choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea”

    If we open up leadership elections to include people who aren’t MPs, then we’d be basically embracing our status as a small and minor political party.

    Yes, that doesn’t allow us much choice at present, but then that’s a consequence of our past failings.

    The only thing I’d say on Brian’s article really is that it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that any leader of ours ‘proclaims his minority religious beliefs over everyone else’s’. However anyone may feel about Tim Farron’s views or how he’s handled the whole situation – and people are perfectly entitled to feel how they like about it – from what I can see, he’s quite clearly tried his best to do the exact opposite.

  • Martin Walker 14th Jan '18 - 4:20pm

    Well said Brian. As a Liberal Democrat, a liberal, and a Christian, I wholeheartedly agreed with every word. There were so many good things which Tim did or tried to do or started to do as Leader, I’m just sad and frustrated that that work is still being undermined, at his own hand, by this needless focus on gay sex.

    And while of course I defend anyone’s right to have those views, the needless evangelising on this point is really unhelpful to us. I have first hand experience of gay, liberal friends being pushed away from supporting us because of the then Leader’s position in the summer, which has just been brought back to haunt us now – and apparently will be again.

    I just don’t get it – why does anyone care? Why does our country’s establishment seem to have such an obsession with gay sex, for goodness’ sake? The rest of society has moved on, it has been an astonishing social advance in the last 20 / 30 years, which is great in an era when liberal values are under siege. As liberals we should rejoice in that progress (while continuing to campaign for equality and against discrimination where that is still necessary).

    There is no other way of saying this – I wish Tim would shut up on this issue, rather than continue to harm the Party.

  • david thorpe 14th Jan '18 - 5:39pm

    i agree completely with brian and caron. my attitude to farron will be determined by how he treats the party in the months and years to come. if he continues to give interviews on this topic. if he keeps bringing it up, particularly in order to flog his book, then he is doing the cause of liberalism a great dis service, and the party would have to consider whether it is appropriate he represents us.

  • Teresa Wilson 14th Jan '18 - 6:32pm

    I groaned when Tim’s views hit the headlines yet again, this time as a result of being questioned on a Christian programme. However, he never sought to impose his views on anyone else. In fact he tried to avoid answering the questions the press fired at him, until it became obvious they were not going to let it drop and so the issue was preventing him getting more important messages across. His suggestion that they judged him on his voting record was reasonable and all anyone really needs to know.

    I’m a Catholic Christian and I was shocked by some of the comments directed at Tim at the time of his resignation by some gay members of the party who were busily accusing him of homophobia and complaining that it was not enough to ‘tolerate’ gays. Well, sorry, but in a multicultural society you can’t demand that everyone thinks and believes the same thing. Sometimes all we can ask is that we tolerate each others differences, and that means not attacking Christians as well as defending gay rights.

  • Michael Maybridge 15th Jan '18 - 5:15pm

    For what it’s worth, I’d be astonished if Tim ‘keeps bringing it up’, especially since he didn’t want to bring it up in the first place! After desperately trying to avoid the issue during the General Election, he, in trying to make it go away, made a statement we now (we’re pretty sure) know to be untrue. I’d be the first to say that that was wrong (probably just after Tim himself), but I hope we can all appreciate the tremendous pressures that put him in that position. In this recent interview he set out to hold his hands up and set the record straight. We might disagree about the political wisdom of that step, but surely that’s not only an acceptable but also a laudable thing to want to do?

    So far as I can see, Tim’s approach to speaking about these issues has, over the years, had much in common with my own, as a fellow evangelical Christian and liberal – that is, to do so very infrequently and rather reluctantly, there being many more important and helpful things to talk about in the vast majority of circumstances, from both a faith and a political point of view. From the point of view of my Christian faith those more important issues could be fairly summarised as ‘God loves you, whoever you are’, while as a liberal my priority is to fight for freedom and justice for all (and particularly for those who may be subject to discrimination or victimisation, such as LGBT+ people) – a cause in which Tim has made a very great deal more of an impact than I have, or, almost certainly, ever will.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Jan '18 - 1:56pm

    In my view, the whole idea of religious practices can only take you so far. We are in essence spiritual beings each with our own reality of what is going on around us. We are just doing what makes sense from our level of development at that time. So it makes no sense at all to condemn those with different beliefs, knowing that all beliefs are just figments of our personal mind and at the end of the day what matters is our true spiritual nature that envelops all living things.

  • As a party member for over fifty years, and as an agnostic, i have to say Teresa Wilson and Michael Maybridge’s comments represent the best sort of traditional radical Liberal values and their position should be respected.

  • Alison Monk 17th Jan '18 - 7:39am

    Think the saddest thing about the situation with Tim speaking his mind has been the fact that it sparked yet another round of self destructive navel gazing by our party. We are our own biggest critics and it is not an attractive attribute. I really appreciated how quickly Vince, Jo, Christine and Willie all distanced themselves from Tim’s views, that shows we are learning. But we need to recognise that our response to Tim’s comments has probably done more damage than the comment itself in the wider non political world. Our strength is our belief in fairness, equality, free speech and defending those who cannot defend themselves, let’s celebrate that. Let’s take our outrage and direct it against the biggoted racist misogynistic Tories, who are saying far worse than Tim every day, and show how much better we are.

  • Tim’s comments are an example of the ‘religious’ having the need to seek ‘forgiveness’…

    Tim says that he was ‘wrong’ to put the party before his religious beliefs and this interview was his way of putting things right…In settling his own conscience he has resurrected a position that, during the election campaign, LDV blamed on intrusive journalism…

    Even the bible notes that, ” Many have paid dear for an unbridled tongue”

  • Bruce Milton 26th Jan '18 - 2:15pm

    The Lib Dems do have the vision and with the majority of people can win the arguments however when the country is polarised by our voting system of encouraging either left or right, remain or leave voting which for most people is built around a message which resonates with the voter.
    TAKE BACK CONTROL – Was a simple statement that encompassed a vision that touched a multitude of passions sentiments and feelings in voters that flew in the face of expert opinion.

    To win the voters hearts is as important as winning the argument.

    Lib Dems need to be modern, slick communicators to appeal to the natural enthusiasm of the younger voter with a clear message of hope and vision that wins the hearts as much as it wins the argument.

    I am a UK plc shareholder and I want;
    – A UK that Unites, Country, Europe, Cultures.

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