Evangelical Christianity and liberalism: the compatibility question


In an election supposedly predicated on the issue of Brexit, few Liberal Democrats expected the issues of gay sex and abortion to dominate the headlines for the Uk’s most unequivocally pro-European party in 2017. Tim Farron’s repeated refusal to answer the question as to whether gay sex was a sin during an interview in April resulted in exceptional news coverage of the Lib Dems, but for the wrong reasons. Having led the party to a succession of impressive by-election victories and surpassing his own target to reach 100’000 members 3 years early, it was – up until that point – going so well. Farron was forced to clarify his position in Parliament the following day, exclaiming “I do not” (think gay sex is a sin). Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats, the costs of Farron’s 24-hour inertia were colossal.

I won’t hesitate to disclose that the unfolding of this story was somewhat uncomfortable for me, worsened by Farron failing to distance himself from a statement that “…abortion is wrong”, made in 2007. Whilst many of my compatriots dismissed these stories as irrelevant, citing Tim’s positive voting record on LGBT rights, I was initially less willing to swat it aside. As a former member of the Labour Party, I have borne witness to the absurd realities of blinkered party-political tribalism, and believe it to be a dangerous trait. From disposing our future prosperity through continued support of hard Brexit, through to dodging his ostensible links to the IRA, for some folk it’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of wrongdoing. The obstinance of Corbyn’s loyalists are reminiscent of a cult. Liberal Democracy necessitates divergence from this configuration; the Liberal Democrats are the party of evidence-based policy.

To examine whether Farron is liberal is to investigate the problem in the context of history, as opposed to adopting the kneejerk-beliefs of the modern day pay-per-click press. To these ends, we require some analysis of social liberalism: enter John Stuart Mill’s famous quote: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. The key question is therefore, how much of Tim Farron’s evangelical fist-swinging collided with the nose of modern progressive liberalism?

Let me offer an analogy. I haven’t eaten meat for 16 years. It is also my belief that – due to the extreme carbon intensity of its production – it’s virtually impossible to morally justify eating beef and lamb in particular. This does not mean, however, that I advocate some form of autocratic food-fascism. Equally, if Tim Farron relied upon his faith to inform his political convictions, he’d be a card-carrying member of the DUP.

In Tim Farron I see a true liberal…a man willing to stand by the courage of his convictions: from defending LGBT rights, to admitting he smoked marijuana at university in order to make a point about prohibition, it’s clear we have lost a brave and progressive leader. Tim was the only politician who mentioned the importance of tackling climate change in every public engagement I witnessed: one of the core reasons I voted for him as leader in 2015. Tim was undoubtedly the most inspiring politician in the UK on the refugee crisis. How many others had the fervour to travel to Lesbos, witness the situation first-hand, and roll their sleeves up to support some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens? On Brexit – undoubtedly the most pertinent political issue for a generation – Tim was a beacon of hope amongst a tempest of chaos and delusion. The real test is therefore whether history will kinder to Tim Farron than the publics’ misunderstanding of liberalism. We have lost a great leader.

* Jim Hodgson is an environmentalist who joined the Liberal Democrats on 8 May 2015.

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  • “It is also my belief that – due to the extreme carbon intensity of its production – it’s virtually impossible to morally justify eating beef and lamb”. This is an odd statement to make: beef and lamb have been important, even dominant, sources of protein for centuries for tens if not hundreds of million of people, long before greenhouse gases were emitted at unsustainable rates. It all depends upon how it is produced, at what overall scale, and what compensating processes occur. CO2 released by livestock can be recycled by plants if we stop and reverse deforestation.

    All ‘agriculture’, including deforestation and all other forms of agriculture, accounted for only 24% of total GHG ’emissions’, according to the US EPA: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data .

    About 20% of the carbon dioxide emissions from grazing are a result of industrial techniques based on fossil fuels, including in processing/production of animal feed (45% of emissions associated with livestock come from the production of feed which in principle could be almost carbon-neutral), transport (10%), and manure-decomposition (10%). Better husbandry using existing techniques can also reduce emissions by about 30%, said the FAO in 2013. See http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/ and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/26/greenhouse-gas-emissions-livestock

  • A great piece and, although only a voter and ot a member, I can only agree with the last point, “We have lost a great leader”.

    I did have some discomfort over his handling of the Gay sex issue, but actually he got there in the end and far quicker than the Leader so slavishly supported by Joe Otten who took years to apologise for the Tuition fee error that still plagues the Party.

  • Russell Kent 15th Jun '17 - 5:41pm

    For me the issue was not his Christanity, it was his ineptitude.

    The electorate clearly rejected total right wing and total left wing dogma, albeit Jermey Corbyn did better than expected. But, they were not given the chance to vote for a centralist viewpoint, as Tim clearly indicated that he would not enter into any coalition deal. So, anyone who might have voted LibDem to give them an opportunity to hold a balance of power, did not do so. And the result is the Tory party has done a deal with a the DUP. An opportunity missed in my view. So, for me, whatever Tim Farron did prior to the General Election, when he had the opportunity to show leadership, and ignore “blinkered party-political tribalism” he was found lacking. And the country will be the poorer for it.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jun '17 - 5:52pm

    Tim has proved that his Liberal principles matter more to him than whatever prohibitions evangelical Christians may advocate, and certainly the basic principles of Christianity are entirely compatible with Liberal Democrat values. He has had a wearying time continually fending off the repeated but unnecessary questioning, and may well feel exhausted now after so many weeks of patient and gracious responses.

    But he should be asked to stay on as Leader, for the sake of the party that he has served so well. His strong and consistent policies have been upheld by the party, and it cannot be good for our credibility and influence if the leader now leaves the field to others. He should stay on for a properly timed leadership election, when his record as our leader can be considered instead of his religious views, and the members should be given the right to decide on who should lead them, even as we decided to choose Tim last summer.

    At this time of the hung Parliament, moreover, our policies can be heard more and have more weight than was possible in the election campaign, and we need Tim to lead a team involved in cross-party talks on the best ways forward, on the EU negotiations, on the economic situation, and on how the ills of the nation can best be tackled. It is a hard thing to ask of this excellent man who has been overtasked, but we should nonetheless be showing how important it is for him to take up the burden again, at this crucial time for the country.

  • Tristan Ward 15th Jun '17 - 6:11pm

    “[Tim] should be asked to stay on as Leader…”

    The public would never understand this.

  • Tristan, ‘the public’ probably haven’t noticed. Unless it was the dreadful timing of all this.
    Do you think the public would approve a leaderless party for however many weeks, when we haven’t even got a settled government yet? Until such time as either two people they’ve never heard of, or two people they associate with the coalition, go head to head for the role?
    Do you remember how much damage was done by Labour and the Tories, immediately after the Brexit vote, leaving the public to fend for themselves while they indulged in internal battles?

  • Peter Watson 15th Jun '17 - 7:00pm

    There is a good article about this on The Guardian website (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/15/tim-farron-christianity-progressive-politics-lib-dem-gay-sex) from which I would quote (for the second time today, sorry!):

    It is hard to see the teachings and message of Jesus in any way that is contrary to the aims of progressive politics. There is his favouring of the peacemakers over the warmongers, the poor over the rich, the powerless over the powerful; his injunctions to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, set free the oppressed; his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness; his care for the sick and those cast out by the rest of society.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jun '17 - 7:02pm

    On the contrary, Tristan Ward, the public is unlikely to understand why Tim Farron would choose to resign now. At a time of a squeeze on the smaller parties because of the national concentration on the two dramatically contrasting main contenders, the Lib Dems under Farron still managed to increase our number of MPs. And in the context of the hung Parliament and the Government’s consequent weakness, this is a time for our party to assert itself, not for self-examination and the distraction of a leadership campaign.

  • Cassie B
    At least one of our best by-election results, Dunfermline 2006, was fought while we were leaderless! Both the outgoing and later-to-be-elected leaders played significant parts in the campaign, and ironically, of course, both were Scots! (I hope Caron will accept my reference to Charles here!!)

  • Yellow Submarine 15th Jun '17 - 7:53pm

    The problem for is as someone said on Twitter we now live in a Secular Theocracy. To many people think that thinking anything is a Sin is a Sin itself. In some ways this is a triumph of one strand of liberalism. The triumph of tolerance is so complete that it’s become intolerant. Tim represents the very best of other strands of liberalism. The idea he can’t lead the party with his views is to me absurd and disturbing but then my strand if liberalism prioritises diversity and individual conscience over uniformity liberal or otherwise.

    What the public will make of the leader being forced out in a Gay Sex scandal in which noone was Gay and noone had any sex is beyond me. It’s an intraliberal civil war off normal people’s visible spectrum.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 15th Jun '17 - 7:58pm

    There is a problem in being a party of evidence-based policy when we clearly do not live in an evidence-based political culture. The journalists who harassed Tim Farron were not seeking evidence about the compatibility of religious faith and politics, they were simply using a convenient means of attack to try to upset and unbalance him in the hope that he would say something that they could use against him. Meanwhile, they let Jeremy Corbyn get away with promising a wonderful future without ever challenging him to provide the evidence of how it would be paid for, especially if – as the Labour Manifesto promised – he was going to lead the country into Brexit.
    The evidence is that the press and media are not going to do our campaigning for us. Our route to popular support is through the hard slog of winning the argument, vote by vote, by working in the community and engaging people in delivering our policies where they matter: where the people are. As it happens, Tim is extremely good at this and, in my view, he has been an inspiring and hard-working leader. I sincerely hope that he continues as a great Liberal Democrat campaigner.

  • And David Laws, someone who proved more Tory in the coalition than Liberal has waded in..

  • Graham Evans 15th Jun '17 - 8:55pm

    Time and time again on social media I found myself having to defend the Liberal Democrats against the charge that we had a leader who was at best luke warm to LGBTQ issues and at worst homophobic. This may be a grossly unfair characterisation of Tim Farron, but perception is all, and time and time again Tim’s utterances failed to change that perception in many people’s minds. When at last he got round to saying that he did not believe homosexual activity was a sin many people no longer believed he was sincere in what he said. Their doubts were then confirmed by the disasterous LBC interview. It’s all very well LDs saying we should listen to voters and respond accordingly, but when it comes to Tim most LD members seem deaf to what many young people thought of our leader, namely that he lived on a different planet to them.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Jun '17 - 9:13pm

    If we are to exclude evangelical Christians (especially those who do not proselytise) then presumably we should exclude Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs. . . . . ?

    Most Atheists have only a vague view as to why other people are religious. Even if they do, they do not identify with this major element of the psyche of a huge chunk of humanity. It’s part of the reason why they are Atheists. But that does not permit them to write the people they do not understand out of active politics. The moment we go down that road, we become fascists, not Liberals.

    As an Atheist Liberal Democrat I declare here that Tim Farron is a better Liberal and a better political leader than anyone likely to follow him. And seriously better than those who pushed him out. Come back, Tim!

  • Yet another “its not what he believes but what his voting record shows” argument, but this just doesn’t hold water. A party leader has to prove that (s)he believes in what they vote for and what the party stands for. Would you support a known racist just because they had never yet voted according to their beliefs (or as in Tim’s case only abstained).

    If his views were not based on religion no-one would be going out of their way to defend him. (Prospective) MPs should declare their religious beliefs in the same way they have to register any outside business interests, then the public would know (or at least have a better idea of) who they were voting for.

  • LibDemDavid 15th Jun '17 - 9:54pm

    David Laws should really join the tories, he’d be very much at home there. When my mother lived in his constituency he was never that interested in social care and issues which affect the elderly and when it comes to the evidence, shun them was exactly what he did when in a cabinet position in the coalition.

  • Joe Otten

    “The point of seeking out a candidates underlying attitudes is to have an idea of what sort of person they are and therefore what they might do – who they might stand up for or oppose – in some new situation. To say “this is my belief but it is not relevant here” is logically sound but appears evasive. And it makes it harder for me to guess how you might respond in a new situation.”

    Tim never said that. And if a candidate is a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew are they too going to be asked at candidate selection about the doctrine of sin – indeed, should they be from now on – or are they going to be asked whether they will fight for the civil rights of minorities? On the latter, Tim has an excellent record.

    “And political allegiance seems to me more than ever a badge of identity. Something to feel good about being on the right side of. It’s not a very attractive badge if you suspect, rightly or wrongly, that the leader privately agrees with the bad guys.”

    Who are the ‘bad guys’? People who do not conform to the current orthodoxy?

    As Lib Dems, we are meant to be the party of conscience and reform. We are the party that fights against enslavement to conformity. So are we a big tent party or are we a sect of purists who only feel good about ourselves when our leader conforms to secularist values, rather than coming into the party inspired by his Christian values, as did many of this party’s forebears?

  • Ryan McAlister 15th Jun '17 - 10:59pm

    I for one am glad David Laws is a Lib Dem, even if I think his intervention tonight was misjudged (though his point is correct in my view).

    Being from Somerset, I also know what a hardworking local MP he was. The people of Yeovil and South Somerset are much worse off with the thin-skinned hard brexiteer Marcus Fysh.

    Only fair to have some balance on this comment thread.

  • Ruth,
    I don’t think the press let Corbyn get away with anything not even the Left leaning press, except the Mirror. Tim’s problem was really the court of social media and was more akin to the hounding of a minor celeb after saying something on twitter. Having said that, I think the basic reality of Britain is that a lot of people find religion a bit odd and sometimes even a bit suspicious. As a nation we don’t really do God. I think this part of the problem when talking about things like Islamophobia as well. Everything is couched in terms of religious tolerance and shared belief, when really the country is pretty irreligious.. To be honest, as a non religious person what someone believes is a sin doesn’t interest me because, well, I’m not religious.
    Tim seemed like a nice bloke and a decent leader in difficult circumstances.

  • Jane Ann Liston 16th Jun '17 - 12:47am

    If you want a radical mission statement, look at the words of the Magnificat, which includes sentiments such as: ‘He hath exalted the poor and put down the mighty from their seats’ and ‘He hath filled up the poor with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.’ I am sure it is this sort of thinking that underpins both Tim’s faith and his political beliefs.

    He should definitely stay our leader.

  • As only a member of the electorate but not the party I doubt if Tim`s religious views cost the LibDems even a handful of votes from voters who had much bigger things about which to worry.
    However, those views enraged that segment of the party which seems forever in a state of rage about Christianity. In fact I know many LibDem members who are intelligent and generous in spirit but as these blogs show there is a group that is always angry and hectoring about something and who regard these conversations not as opportunities to learn but personal trials of strength to be won at all costs.

  • There is a way of looking at the loss of Sheffield Hallam and the loss of a Leader. Both could be cathartic while necessarily painful. They could clear the air as we get stuck in to the slow rebuilding Ruth Cleman-Taylor alludes to. Recrimination and quick judgements will be singularly unhelpful. We have hard policy work to do as well as rebuilding from the ground up. There are areas (e.g. tuition fees) where easy assumptions must give way to careful thinking. The worst thing we could do is panic in the face of a possible “second election” which is far from inevitable. Steady breathing folks!

  • Tristan Ward 16th Jun '17 - 9:43am

    Leaving that aside, the issue is how Lib Dems reconcile a religiously held believe that homosexuality is wrong, held by a person whose actions demonstrate tolerance and indeed positive advancement of the LGBT agenda, with those who may feel repressed by such views. How do we fit that into the constitution that says:

    “….Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.”

    This is not the moment to have the debate suggested by the headline article. Our enemies will welcome it. We have an isolationist/nationalist Tory party, a resurgent Labour party moving toward the democratic socialist end of its spectrum. Both those parties are committed to leaving the single market or worse. The next election may be six months away, or less. We need to get a new leader in place and campaigning as quickly as possible without distraction. Geoff Reid is spot on.

    To Karen P and others – my experience is that the public does not see Tim as an electoral asset. I have met no one (other than party members) who thinks he is. His own constituency majority is now less than 1,000. In recent elections polls show our vote share increasing in the course of the campaign. The simple reason why it was suggested he might resign is that there was an under performance. The public will see this; and they will also conclude what people are seeing here: that Tim’s views on homosexuality are unacceptable. Hardly any of the public will think abut are agonising about what this means for “Liberalism”. They will put us down as self indulgent and introverted if Tim remains leader.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 12:05pm

    I won’t vote for a leader who believes in god. In fact I won’t be voting for candidates at public elections who believe in god.

    I am reliably informed that ending state funding of ‘faith’ schools has been party policy, in one form or another, since 1906. On March 19 polished my shoes, prepared my speech and schlepped over to York for the debate on faith and education. I wasn’t called, but no matter, the motion was carried. Hurrah, I thought.

    I feel betrayed that not a word of the policy made it into the 95 page manifesto. But it’s clear why. The Liberal Democrats are not really committed to secularism.

    As the democratically arrived at policies of the membership are to be ignored, I’ll have to find other ways to end the religious privilege that runs through our country.

    And the easiest way is to stop putting religious people in parliament and council chambers.

    I anticipate the encouragement to ‘stay in the party and fight for what you believe in’. I did just that but the leadership has just ignored us.

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '17 - 12:29pm

    Mike MacSween: “I won’t vote for a leader who believes in god. In fact I won’t be voting for candidates at public elections who believe in god.”

    So you wouldn’t have voted for Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jnr. or Nelson Mandela if they had been candidates we could vote for. Okay. Your decision.

    “As the democratically arrived at policies of the membership are to be ignored, I’ll have to find other ways to end the religious privilege that runs through our country.

    And the easiest way is to stop putting religious people in parliament and council chambers.”

    I’m struggling see how these comments are compatible with membership of a liberal party ie: one committed to pluralism, and to fighting ignorance and conformity. Perhaps you would care to elaborate on how you reconcile religious intolerance with Liberalism.

  • I admired much of Tim’s work as leader, and deeply regret ther circumstances surrounding his resignation, but as a journalist I took a special interest in the way he handled the ‘is gay sex a sin?’ question and he handled it evasively. Theresa May (a vicar’s daughter lest we forget) handled it with a single barked ‘no’. Tim’s repeated ambivalence – and there was ambivalence – drained energy from the campaign. It was a media gift, granted often.
    Clearly Liberalism is about tolerance of other views and freedoms, and equally clearly those of strong religious belief – and indeed humanists, of which I am one – have a right to expect respect within the party. Also, as many stress, Tim’s voting record on LGBT issues was supportive.
    But crucially Liberalism must also at its heart possess certain core values if it is to progress from an admirable philosophy to a political party capable of victory. And, in terms of this issue, the idea that Tim was tolerating something his evangelical form of Christianity told him was wrong, or wrestling with a dilemma many people (especially young people) simply did not understand or respect, was damaging to the party’s identity: this when 80pc of people are unclear what we stand for anyway.
    If only his religious fervour was drawn just from the Gospels – Jesus never referenced gay sex.
    Predictably, the media hounding verged on ignorance – typically for journalism, the nuanced assessment only appeared after the kill had been made – but Tim’s conflict was potentially damaging for LGBT people and felt as out of synch for the Lib Dems as, say, a leader not believing in climate change.
    Yes, as was remarked above, we do run a big tent, with freedom of expression at its core (and, yes so many good things about Tim have now been lost and it is to be hoped he remains an influential force), but that big tent only holds if the leader is the pole at the middle, embedded in the party’s core beliefs, offering the opportunity for progress.
    It is a crying shame.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 12:54pm

    “Perhaps you would care to elaborate on how you reconcile religious intolerance with Liberalism.”

    Ah yes, the old ‘intolerance’ accusation again. What happened to using words for their meaning? A bit old fashioned I suppose.

    I do ‘tolerate’ religion. There’s several churches and synagogues within easy reach of my house. I’ve not burned any of them to the ground. I’ve not attacked anybody on the street on the basis of their religion. I’ve not refused service to anybody of religion. I’ve not refused to speak to a christian, jew, hindu, muslim and so on. On the extremely rare occasions I find myself in a place of worship I tolerate their customs, which usually involves singing hymns at a wedding, badly. Because that is polite, and ‘tolerant’.

    ‘Tolerate’ religion is what I do. And that is ALL I am obliged to do, morally and legally.

    Though interestingly there’s a school near me which has 11 criteria for admisssion, in descending order. The first ten all mention contain the word Catholic. The last one is ‘any other children’. Looks like they don’t really ‘tolerate’ anybody except Catholics.

    And there are those people in the house of lords dressed in black and white. The ones placed there automatically. Every one of them an anglican. Looks to me they don’t ‘tolerate’ anybody but anglicans, as ‘lords spiritual’.

    Well done with raising the issue of whether I would vote for any of the icons you mention. But it’s a bit hypothetical isn’t it? What with them all being dead, and in other countries, and standing in completely different circumstances to the ones we’re in now. But seeing as you dreamt up the rhetorical trick, and to answer an easily anticipated rejoinder, I wouldn’t have voted for Pol Pot or Stalin either, you know the famous atheists that are usually dragged out to ‘prove’ something or other.

    I’ve explained once but I’ll have another go. Secularism is important to me. The Liberal Democrats are clearly not committed to secularism, so I need to find another way to move towards that. And part of that would be NOT having people with religious belief in positions of power. I do hope that’s clear, I can’t find a way to make it any clearer I’m afraid.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jun '17 - 12:58pm

    I cannot believe the sort of stuff that some spout as liberalism ! To see that Mike above is a member and says what he does is only relieved in effect by the superb response of Helen !

    It has never been policy to end state funding of state schools !

    The policy was to allow a variety of selection, now , none on the basis of faith questions at interviews, but faith groups, many , such as the Anglican , and particularly Catholic churches, can , under such a policy, still, with their centuries old expertise and often, vocation for education, run or oversee schools.

    The promotion of Liberal spirituality, and the protection of religious minorities has been a Liberal cause world wide as well as the disestablishment of churches and the separation of church and state.

    To discriminate against someone , whether politician or any other person, is illiberal, and immoral !!

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 1:03pm

    “Let me offer an analogy. I haven’t eaten meat for 16 years. It is also my belief that – due to the extreme carbon intensity of its production – it’s virtually impossible to morally justify eating beef and lamb in particular.”

    It’s a poor analogy. GHG emissions due to meat production has discussable, quantifiable science to examine. Religion doesn’t. Just because you use the word ‘belief’ to describe both things doesn’t mean they are in any way comparable.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 1:15pm


    “It has never been policy to end state funding of state schools !”

    I do apologise. I am misinformed then about the 1906 election. Let me have a quick look. OK, found this. See what you think, but it rather confirms what my (very experience) Liberal Democrat friend tells me.


    The motion passed at conference in York didn’t advocate an end to state funding of schools. I don’t think I said it did. What it DID do was advocate an end to selection by religion in state schools. Is that clear? Here’s the motion, the apposite part being the very last section:


    “To discriminate against someone , whether politician or any other person, is illiberal, and immoral !!”

    Interesting, you seem confused. Where did I suggest discriminating against anybody. And perhaps you could have a look at this, the admissions policy for a local school, and see if you are as enraged by the discrimination it contains as you seem to be about how I arrive at my decision who to vote for:


    Why does it make you so angry that I would take into account somebody’s beliefs when deciding whether or not to vote for them? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Or are religious beliefs so ‘special’ that we are obliged to ignore them?

    I note, with disappointment, your accusation of ‘illiberal’. As has been pointed out elsewhere, this is become the standard method of attempting to shut down debate amongst Liberal Democrats.

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '17 - 2:13pm

    Mike MacSween

    ” What it DID do was advocate an end to selection by religion in state schools.”

    This is a straw man, neatly sidestepping the history and context of education in this country, by setting up an assertion that somehow someone somewhere is being ‘discriminated’ against.

    From a Catholic perspective, Catholic schools are a freedom hard won.

    In the nineteenth century, and in centuries before that, Catholics were a minority discriminated against by the British Establishment. They were not allowed to found new churches, organise into a hierarchy of leaders, nor provide schools for the children of their community.

    Yes, Catholic parents often want their children to have a Catholic education. Parents have the freedom to choose the education they want for their children.

    What you intend for this community is to end the freedom to provide a catholic education for the children of Catholic parents who want it. You will also end choice for the parents who wish their children to take part in an education which offers a distinctively catholic ethos.

    This is compounded further by the fact that less than a fifth of all schools are schools with a religious character. Most schools are entirely secular. This means that children who attend faith schools often have to travel much further than other children. They are prepared to do so because their parents want a specific education for them.

    So there is plenty of choice in the system. If there is someone who wants an entirely secular education then they have 80% of all schools to choose from.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 2:19pm

    “What you intend for this community is to end the freedom to provide a catholic education for the children of Catholic parents who want it.”

    No I don’t. Private education is still available. Stonyhurst is very good, so I believe.

  • I won’t vote for a leader who believes in god. In fact I won’t be voting for candidates at public elections who believe in god.

    And the beauty of democracy is that you are free to vote, or not vote, for anyone you like, for any reason, even silly reasons.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 2:21pm

    My local LEA, Leeds, spends £800,000 transporting children to faith schools EVEN THOUGH an non-faith school is nearer. I want that money to go on something useful, like teachers or carers.

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '17 - 3:09pm

    Mike MacSween
    ” Private education is still available. Stonyhurst is very good, so I believe.”

    Tell me how a poor Catholic family will be able to find around £17,000 p/a to send their child to a top independent school? That is discrimination on the basis of ability to pay.

    ” EVEN THOUGH an non-faith school is nearer. I want that money to go on something useful, like teachers or carers.”

    I already explained that as there are far fewer schools of a religious character in existence, these children have far further to travel. So the LEA is in fact facilitating their freedom to attend such schools.

    Other children whose parents are not Catholic or Jewish or Sikh for example have a far greater choice of schooling. In fact, many parents prefer their children attend a faith school because of the quality of the education and the enrichment they offer.

    Taxation is the pooling of resources by the community. Catholics also pay their taxes and pay for local community schools, as well as contributing to the local Catholic school.

  • Mike MacSween 16th Jun '17 - 3:30pm

    “So the LEA is in fact facilitating their freedom to attend such schools.”

    No. My council tax is being used to support religious privilege and entitlement.

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Jun '17 - 7:30pm

    Mike MacSween

    You missed this bit:

    Taxation is the pooling of resources by the community. Catholics also pay their taxes and pay for local community schools, as well as contributing to the local Catholic school.

    How is having the freedom to serve a community which reflects its distinctive ethos somehow grabbing an entitlement barred to others? I have just explained to you that 80% of all schools are LEA/academy schools which are not affiliated to any faith community.

    I suppose I could turn the argument on its head and cry ‘discrimination’ over the fact that there is no secondary school or academy run by a faith community of any variety within twenty miles of my home.

    However, there are five entirely secular secondary schools. So who is privileged now?

    How wonderful then that there are some areas of the country where there is a greater variety of schooling than my area is accustomed to.

  • Denis Mollison 16th Jun '17 - 10:39pm

    “Catholic parents often want their children to have a Catholic education. ”

    That (and the same if you substitute any other religion for “Catholic”) is what I believe to be wrong. I understand the history – wanting Catholic schools to balance C of E schools – but the right answer is to have no state-supported faith schools. Educate all our children together, give them equal information on all religions and none, and let them choose their own when they are old enough to make their own judgement.

  • Denis Mollison 16th Jun '17 - 10:49pm

    The second equally important reason for not having state-supported faith schools is so that children whose parents are of all the different faiths and none are educated together. Segregated education is bad for social cohesion.

  • David Pocock 16th Jun '17 - 11:56pm

    I think a point that is missed here is that (ironically) I think many people see their own “sins” in Tim. Even if the slur is true Tim was never going to actively take away lgbt rights.

    The country does not follow the liberalism of “I might not agree but I will fight for you.” I imagine many progressives if they got to power would try to force all sorts of groups to so stuff they don’t want to on the alter of “equality” and if they are of that mind why would you think that Tim would not do the same.

    The real question is not is Christianity and liberalism compatible, ofc they are they have been for years. The question is are the people still compatable with liberalism.

    Honestly I care about remaining in Europe, it is a cause but the highest cause for me in politics is freedom and liberty. Not this shallow and false equality that society is producing to pave over cracks and is built of censorship and intolerance. The brutal liberalism that demands of us courage and to remember that our talants might be different but we all deserve respect and we might all have different voices and we will not always harmonise correctly, but we must stand together against tyranny. I just feel we are in great danger of a growing political tyranny creeping over us this century and the liberal party has to be the force to push back. And that means we need to lead the wat by embracing all of liberalism, even the bits that require virtue of us.

  • I am not sure this article actually deals with the issues regarding Evangelical Christianity and “hold(ing) faithfully to the Bible’s teaching”.

    An Evangelical Christian likely believes that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Tim did give an honest answer when asked a “sin” question on Channel 4 during the leadership election – “we are all sinners”. The problem for a modern politician is will the public accept that you have no wish to make sex outside marriage illegal, but you regard it as wrong? I don’t think the public will. They expect a politician to only consider actions as wrong when they are illegal.

    The alternative position is set out clearly by Nick Cohen in Guardian in April – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/29/tim-farron-defending-true-liberal-even-if-it-makes-us-queasy – when he paraphrases Voltaire – “I may disapprove of who you take to bed, but I will defend to my death your right to bed them”.

    Could Tim have given a different answer, “sin is a matter between the individual and their God, but for me and all liberals the question is not about sin it is about what the state should make illegal and the state should only make illegal that which causes harm to others. Therefore it is right and proper for any sex between consenting adults to be legal and it is not the role of religion or a person’s individual beliefs to be the basis for the laws of the UK”?

    People believe many things in the OK and have different views on what is right and wrong but the role of the state is not to impose conformity on the public. This rejection on imposing conformity is a major tenet of liberalism.

    David Laws in the “i” put forward an illiberal view – that it is not good enough to support a person’s freedom to do things which you think are wrong – https://inews.co.uk/opinion/tolerance-not-enough-lib-dems/. He demands much more “But as a gay man, I do not wish to be “tolerated”. I wish to be respected for who I am”. He even does not respect or tolerate Tim’s Christian views – as “outdated and frankly offensive religious views”. The first part at least seems to be the view of former SNP MP John Nicolson as given on this weeks “This Week” TV programme.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Jun '17 - 1:04pm

    Dennis Mollison
    1. ” I understand the history – wanting Catholic schools to balance C of E schools – but the right answer is to have no state-supported faith schools. ”

    Clearly you don’t. Catholics were, and still are in some quarters, the subject of prejudice and discrimination against them in this country. Up until the mid eighteenth century these restrictions were enshrined in law. Catholics were allowed to open their own schools from the late 18th century but were only granted access to higher professions and universities upon the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act, 1829.

    The history of the Catholic community in Great Britain is one of struggle against discrimination.

    So now you want to reimpose restrictions and discriminate against Catholics and it seems all faith communities by taking away their freedom to educate in the community and to be supported in this endeavour by taxation.

    2. “Educate all our children together, give them equal information on all religions and none, and let them choose their own when they are old enough to make their own judgement.”

    Clearly you do not know what is taught in RE in Catholic schools. More than one religion is taught. This is required not only for a good general education but also it is required by law. Also the clue is in the name: Religious Education. You cannot educate someone without teaching them to think, reflect, analyse, understand and acquire knowledge. In this way, RE is the same as the other Humanities.

    3. “The second equally important reason for not having state-supported faith schools is so that children whose parents are of all the different faiths and none are educated together. Segregated education is bad for social cohesion.”

    Few if any Catholic schools in England and Wales are comprised of 100% Catholics. Many parents who are not Catholics wish for their children to have a catholic education and send their children to these schools.

    Catholic schools have actually been commended by the Government for being champions of promoting social cohesion because of their community outreach and emphasis on spiritual, moral and social development.

  • Denis Mollison 17th Jun '17 - 9:00pm

    Dear Helen – I’m sorry, but I do find your “clearly you don’t” insulting.
    I was trying to summarise the long history on which you expand – and which I’m quite familiar with – in half a sentence. If we’re going to lecture on history, I could respond that your rather longer summary is inadequate, because it does not explain the background to discrimination against Catholics in Britain, which of course lie in the violence between Protestants and Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries following the Reformation.

    To take your points in order:

    1. How can you say I want to impose restrictions or discriminations on catholics? To the contrary, my position is that no state school should discriminate for or against any religion or belief system. If the USA and France can do it, in their different ways, why not us?

    I do think it’s a fundamental liberal position to want children to be free to think through the question of religion for themselves.

    2. You make it sound as though Catholic schools present all beliefs equally, which stretches credulity.

    3. On segregation and social cohesion, I think – and hope – that you’re right about England and Wales. Certainly in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, we do suffer socially from the divide between Protestant and Catholic schools. And this divide is supported by the Catholic church, which has for example vetoed moves to redevelop Protestant and Catholic schools on a shared campus.

  • Michael BG ” He even does not respect or tolerate Tim’s Christian views – as “outdated and frankly offensive religious views”. ”

    Are we obliged to respect all views which stem from a person’s religion or culture, even when those are clearly outdated, and yes offensive? Is religion sacrosanct from all criticism? I can think of many things from the Bible which I would hope all of us would now find pretty abhorrent. If Tim believes in those very things, are we wrong to express our concern?

  • Mike MacSween 17th Jun '17 - 11:01pm

    You ask “Is religion sacrosanct from all criticism?”

    For many people, including many Liberal Democrats it seems, yes. All it takes is to precede the word ‘beliefs’ with ‘deeply held religious’ and one’s ideology is supposed to be immune from any examination at all. I will have none of it. If an ideology (for that is what religion is) is so all encompassing and true, then its believers should be able to defend it rationally.

    But of course they can’t. Because religion is not rational. It is ‘faith’. My Marxist brother is quite prepared to defend, rationally, his ideology, however heated our discussions become. But religion presents itself as some how armour plated, by the believers stubborn ‘faith’, against any critical analysis. And if you dare to call into question the viability of their faith they will demand ‘respect’ and throw out, like so much confetti, the accusations of ‘illiberal’ and ‘intolerant’.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '17 - 12:21pm

    Dennis Mollison
    The USA and France are not good examples of successful education systems. Both offer a different version of secularism, both do not solve discrimination according to socioeconomic and ethnic status, nor do they have good track records in promoting social cohesion.

    ” I do think it’s a fundamental liberal position to want children to be free to think through the question of religion for themselves.”

    I don’t disagree, which is why it is essential that children have access to high quality Religious Education. Education brings freedom. Where I disagree is in the proposition that this kind of RE is only available in schools subscribing to the secularist model you prefer for all children and their parents.

    As I explained to you before. Catholic religious education requires the teaching of key skills such as analysis, reflection, evaluation, acquisition of knowledge and understanding. It requires the teaching of more than one religion.

    How could it be otherwise when so many entrants from Catholic schools are successful in A levels and GCSEs? These are nationally recognised qualifications.

    In what way is the situation and context of Northern Ireland similar to the situation and context of England and Wales? In what way is the residual sectarian divide in parts of Scotland in any way reflective of the wider educational scene?

    They’re not. Once again, straw men are set up in order to make highly selective assertions about successful schools of a religious character.

  • Mike MacSween 18th Jun '17 - 2:23pm

    @George Kendall.

    Pointless. There are only 24 hours in a day. You may want to have ‘genuine’ ‘honest’ discussion about religion. It’s been talked about forever. I won’t waste my time.

    There was a time when tobacco companies claimed that cigarettes didn’t cause lung cancer. Their argument being that no CAUSAL link had been found. And that therefore the huge amount of epidemiological evidence didn’t mean that cigarettes caused cancer. There may be some who still claim that. They are ignored, because they are irrelevant in the campaign to reduce the harm caused by cigarettes.

    I look at this desire for some sort of reasoned genuine debate the same way. It’s been done to death, the old ‘existence of god’ thing. I’m not playing your game.

    And I know what the game is. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to attribute motives to other people.

    The game is this: if religious people can persuade those nasty atheists to engage in ‘honest, genuine’ discussion that will make their arguments appear valid. Because if I listen to them ‘seriously’ that lends them some validity. I listened seriously, showed their religious ideas ‘respect’ so, well, maybe the believers are right after all. Non-sensical arguments don’t become any more valid because they are expressed politely OR BECAUSE THEY ARE LISTENED TO POLITELY. Politeness != rationality.

    Nope, not playing that game. There is no evidence for the existence of any sort of God, he doesn’t exist.

    Woody Allen had it right – “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.”

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '17 - 3:06pm

    Mike MacSween

    What game? Dialogue and debate are not games but essential for furthering understanding.

    “Nope, not playing that game. There is no evidence for the existence of any sort of God, he doesn’t exist.”

    Isn’t this the kind of statement of dogmatic certitude that we complain about when we hear it coming from religious fundamentalists when they arrive on the doorstep uninvited?

  • Mike MacSween 18th Jun '17 - 9:10pm

    @Helen Tadcastle

    With all due respect, if one has come to a conclusion about something, in my case that god doesn’t exist, there seems little point discussing it any further. The issue has, after all, been discussed and debated a great deal. And over a great length of time. I suppose the notion that atheism is ‘modern’ is handy to those who would like to preserve religious belief. That would help to keep alive the idea that ‘discussion’ could somehow be fruitful. I don’t believe it is.


    If you choose to describe my non-belief in god as ‘dogmatic certitude’ then that’s up to you. I would put it in the same class of certainty as 2+2=4 and the sun rising tomorrow. Hence my unwillingness to enter into long winded, well trodden but eventually pointless discussions on the subject of ‘does god exist’.

    You may reply if you like, but I’m afraid I won’t, or perhaps won’t be able to, reply. Don’t take any lack of response as rudeness, simply that, as I say, I see further discussion as not worth my time. Now I must go and get rid of some ragwort, apparently it’s an offence to let it grow.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jun '17 - 9:53pm

    I was quite shocked a few years ago to realise that religious faith (or to be more precise, Christianity since I’ve never seen Jews, Muslims, etc. dismissed in the same way in discussions on this site) was the one area where Lib Dems could be rude and intolerant towards each other, with perhaps after 2010 the Orange Book just behind the Bible in terms of controversial books to put one’s trust in.
    Over the last couple of years, under a leader whose Christianity had been raised during his leadership contest, it looked like faith was no longer an issue and Brexiters had replaced Christians as people towards whom Lib Dems could openly show scorn and intolerance. Now it appears that contempt for Christians was simply being bottled up and this week the cork has come out.
    It is unclear whether it is principle, political expediency, the settling of old scores, or something else that has driven events this week, but these last few days have made Lib Dems look nasty, ruthless, and incompetent. After the Coalition years and electoral humiliation in 2015, the party could at least point to an increased number of seats in 2017 as evidence, however weak, of a Lib Dem fightback, but now it simply has given itself even more rebuilding to do.

  • @ Phyllis
    “Are we obliged to respect all views which stem from a person’s religion …, even when those are clearly outdated, and yes offensive? Is religion sacrosanct from all criticism?”

    The question of how far should a liberal society tolerate the views of the religious is an interesting question. Toleration is not agreement.

    Some Muslim women wear the Hijab believing it is demanded by their religion. Some Muslims believe that all women should follow their interpretation of the Islamic dress code. These Muslim may well believe that only women who wear the Hijab will get to paradise; believing therefore that women who don’t are the equivalent of sinners in the Christian tradition.

    Should we tolerate such views in our liberal society while disagreeing with it?

    Saying someone’s religious views are offensive is not toleration, while saying I disagree with them is. For myself I would be happy to engage in a discussion of why I think that a particular religious view is incorrect even within that religious tradition.

  • Mike MacSween 19th Jun '17 - 3:54pm

    @George Kendall

    I joined the Lib Dems because I had gained the impression that they were generally a rational party, and also secularist. I am beginning to suspect I may have been wrong on both counts.

    Rudeness/politeness has no bearing whatsoever on the correctness of an argument. That is a statement about rationality and critical thinking. ‘You are rude therefore you are wrong’ is a logical fallacy, but it is the implication behind such accusations.

    What I have noticed are frequent comments on people’s ‘tone’, sometimes described as ‘rude’, when it is nothing more than a robust statement. Calling somebody a b*****d is rudeness. I don’t see much of that going on.

    I reject the attempt to silence people by false accusations of rudeness. Perhaps consider that what is happening is that the listener/reader who makes the accusation feels threatened by disagreement, and responds the only way that is allowed in polite Lib Dem circles, by issuing the snarl word of ‘rude’. There are of course other words in the Lexicon of Lib Dem silencers, such as ‘illiberal’ and ‘intolerant’.

    Claims to be interested in ‘genuine and honest debate’ are all too frequently belied by the issuing of the ‘impolite’ accusation.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Jun '17 - 3:27pm

    Mike MacSween

    I was simply responding to your comment. I’m happy to debate any time.

    “With all due respect, if one has come to a conclusion about something, in my case that god doesn’t exist, there seems little point discussing it any further. ”

    But I didn’t raise the question. You did.

  • David Allen 21st Jun '17 - 3:56pm

    Mike MacSween said: “I won’t vote for a leader who believes in god. In fact I won’t be voting for candidates at public elections who believe in god.”

    Speaking as a “secularist” who has argued that religious belief can cause great harm – Let me repudiate that statement as intolerant and illiberal. Many religious people are motivated by religious belief to adopt liberal and humane political stances. Many are able to avoid imposing their personal beliefs on other people. Many do recognise that God is not automatically on their own side. I will always be wary of believers who may fail on some of these criteria. But I will happily vote for believers who seem to me to meet them.

  • Nick Collins 22nd Jun '17 - 11:23am

    @ David Allen et al.

    There are, I believe, many people, of various faiths, who will not vote for an avowed atheist. Are they being intolerant and illiberal; or is it only atheists of Mike MacSween’s persuasion to whom you apply those epithets?

  • Mike MacSween 22nd Jun '17 - 11:57am

    I want to live in a secularist world. One where religion is a private personal belief that does not impinge on the public world. I hope that is clear.

    A great part of religious interference in public life is state funding of faith schools, as we have now. I would like to see that end. So, allegedly, would the Liberal Democrats. I am reliably informed that this has been party policy since 1906. Which does seem to be true:


    At conference on March 19 2017 we passed a motion on faith schools:


    While it doesn’t specifically address the issue of the FUNDING of state schools, it does include this (final) statement: “Ensures that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.” The effect of which would be to end the discrimination, on the grounds of religion, in admissions to state funded schools.

    Success, I thought. However, there is no mention whatsoever of this policy in the manifesto. I’ve heard a variety of, frankly, weak excuses for this. Lack of space, other more pressing issues etc. I don’t believe it.

    I think something else a great deal more unpleasant, and undemocratic, is going on. Despite over a century of lip service to secularism, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats have not done anything at all substantial to move our country towards being secular. And I can only conclude that that is because of positions of power which are held by people of religious belief.

    So I am left with no other option. To attempt, by the only means left to me, to vote those people of religious belief out of office. Which is what I shall do. No doubt some will suggest that I should ‘fight within the party’ for what I believe. I did that at conference in March and have been completely ignored. The party may just as well have said ‘go to hell Mike MacSween, we don’t care what you want’. Some of them may well mean that literally.

    But please do tell, given the century long history of the Liberals in regard to secularism combined with it’s lack of real action to achieve that, what would you do, in my position?

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