Elder Clifford Herbertson
How would you describe yourself in terms of religious belief and identity?
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As you know our nickname is often Mormon. I have been a lifelong member, my parents are both members of the church and I was baptised as an eight year old and I consider myself a very active and faithful member of the church. In the UK there are just under 200,000 members of our church and I would say less than half would have been lifelong members, many would have joined the church as would what we call a convert. Baptism in our church is at age eight, so if they were baptised at eight we say they were born in the church, after that we consider them a convert. I would say that a significant portion, at least half would be converts within the UK.
Is GB an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
I would say predominately yes, I think that there are certain cultural aspects. I think there’s a difference between institutional approach and tolerance and cultural. I would say institutionally yes, the review of religion etc, I don’t think that there is any institutional lack of tolerance. But culturally I would say there is…..certainly within certain groups, and I would say as a young person growing up in Glasgow as a faithful churchgoer, I was the only one in any of my classes going to church. And that certainly takes you out a little for teasing, for people taking the Mickey of that. Those prejudices would be faced by other religions too, because I was Mormon an extra little bit, but I just think anyone who practised and followed their religion can be taken out for prejudice.
How easy to live in accordance with your faith? Are there challenges, and if so, are they social, political or legal?
For me personally, no problem. I haven’t encountered and don’t encounter anything which stops me practising my faith at all. My social circle is predominantly Mormon, but I have a lot….within my business circle and political circle within which I move I think there is a complete acceptance of my religious belief and following my faith. People know from the outset that I have a certain background and certain faith and I don’t think that I’ve been regarded differently because of that.
How does your religion regard Human Rights?
I think one of the fundamental tenets of our belief, is that we belief that every person is a son or daughter of God, and that as such they should all be treated lovingly, caringly and openly and that is our most fundamental aspect of our view on human rights. Because of that relationship that literally we are brothers and sisters of a Heavenly father then we treat each other in that way. And so we do what we can to support people rights with religion to worship God in accordance with the dictates their own conscience, and according to other outlooks to act in their own way.
Are Human Rights applied to all people in our society a good or a bad thing?
It can only be a good thing for British society for us to have that, because it’s about respect. If we respect each other we seek to understand why they do things, why they behave in a certain way, and I think as long as we are open to understanding, accepting and respecting other people we will be able to live in a much more comfortable society.
Does your group have a practical influence on Human Rights?
The church, and again I think we always have to separate the church and an institution and church members acting. There are many church members who play an active role in politics in the UK, and active roles within their communities, whether that’s as a school governor or an MP, so a broad range of engagement. As church as a whole, as an institution, we will identify certain issues that we believe are very important to put in formal engagement or make formal statements on. Those would tend to be around areas effecting religious rights. But we also like to applaud governments when they make positive steps, so for example recently the prime minister announced that they would introduced a family test for all new government policies. So all policies would be placed up against a test to say does this strengthen or weaken the family. And when we saw that we sent a letter to the prime minister to thank him and his government for taking that step.
In other instances, for example with same sex marriage, we did not agree with the policy that was being introduced, so in that instance we sent a formal letter to those who were sponsoring and driving that forward, and in doing so we joined with many other religious groups.
Are Human Rights generally respected by the Government?
Is state intervention in individual life at the right level?
I think that’s a tough question. The reason is I think that governments often do not know where that line really lies, and so acting as a government collectively I think they can often be infringing on religious freedom when they are not intending to do so. An example of that can be, and this doesn’t effect our church, but people who are wanting to wear their religious insignia public. Wearing a cross as part of a uniform. I think that that a sensitive area for governments to act on and they just need to be careful. But I think that generally compared to many other countries our political leaders are more respectful of those things.
When should state intervene in relation to religious freedom and expression?
I remember as a young boy, in our church we have something called a family home evening where we gather together and share positive experiences, we have faith promoting messages, we spend nice time together. And I can remember a message in one of those fam home evenings that my mother shared and it was a very simple thing. But the words when something like this…..my right to punch you on your nose ends where your nose begins. I’ve always reflected on that. That’s the important thing to understand. As soon as someone feels that their rights are being breached, that their ability to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, as soon as that point stops I think that careful consideration needs to take place. I also recognise that if that person’s personal outlook can have a detrimental impact on other people then it may be appropriate to say that your following what you wish to do can have a detrimental effect on other people so we need to consider that with you. That’s a very roundabout way of answering it.
Is living in a democracy a good thing? Does it make it easier to practise your faith?
Yes, I think democracy is the most suitable way of being able to follow a religion.
Does your faith mean that you feel that you have a duty to vote?
Yes, absolutely. And not just to vote but to take an interest in the political discussions and the topics and the people standing. One thing our church does is that it does encourage our members to get involved in the political process. So there are many church members involved in playing a part in the process. But every time there is an election we are encouraged to find out about the candidates and the issues and make sure that we vote, but we are never told what to do. Because we’ve got the things going on in the States right now I can read you an example of the kind of letter that’s read out. This is a letter relating distinctly to the elections in the USA, this would have been read in every single church meeting, the main worship service. I’ll just read it out to you, it says:
As citizens we have the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy, participation in the process affects our communities and nation today and in the future. We urge Latter Day Saints to be active citizens by registering and then regularly exercising their right to vote. So engage in the political process -we also urge you to spend the time needed to become informed of the issues and candidates you will be considering as you vote, along with the options available to you through the internet, debates and other sources. The church occasionally posts information about particular moral issues on which it has taken a position, at Mormon newsroom. And again the distinction between-there is never any approval or recommendation of any candidates or parties, but issues sometimes, there’s a particular focus on. LDS as citizens are to seek out and uphold leaders who are wise, good and honest. Principles compatible with the Gospel may be found in various political parties and candidates. While the church affirms its institutional neutrality regarding political parties and candidates, members should fully participate in the process. The church also affirms its constitutional right of expression on political and social issues.
I’m not allowed to give you a copy of it, but you’ve got the content and the gist.
Is it good or bad that the legislature has the final say in making law? Would you like to see judges being given the power to strike down legislation?
Well, I think that’s a difficult question for me to answer. In the UK we do have the H of L that acts in a way to try and reality check to get the Commons to reconsider things. But the same sex marriage legislation that was passed I think is an example where there can be no question about the importance of treating people equally and respectfully, but same sex marriage in our view, and in my view, took that a little further. And the churches, not just our church but the churches were given protection against being forced to perform these marriages. That seemed to a recognition of the government to say that while this is legal and this has to be put into place, we will not enforce that upon faith communities. And I think while there is that recognition and appreciation, that perhaps highlights the kind of situation you’re indicating in other countries. Time will tell if the safeguards around same sex marriage are sufficient, I don’t think we know today, in 20 years time we will have a chat and I’ll tell you.
Is majoritarian democracy a problem for minorities? Are there barriers to participation for some groups?
I think in the UK it is very good at seeking out and understanding the needs and issues of minorities, I think we’re pretty good at that. And I think that’s one of the reasons that as a country we are more tolerant, because effort is made to really reach out to and seek to understand the minority groups.
We do not really see ourselves as a minority because we regard ourselves as Christians, and so Christians are not minorities. I think there are certain aspects where our views are different to some of the mainstream Christianity groups. But I think we’re listened to and we get that opportunity to engage as we need to.
The membership of the House of Lords is unelected, is that a problem in your view?
I don’t think that’s something I should comment on churchwise, as a representative of the church. Frankly, I think that there has already been a lot of change within the H of L, and the make up we have of the Lords today compared to 20 years ago is much more representative of understanding the UK and understanding the application of laws etc, and I’m sure they’ll be further changes made in the future.
How do you feel about the presence of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords?
I think there is certainly a role of faith groups in contributing to government policy and considering the impact on policy on faith groups. I’m not sure that they need to have a formal place or seat in government, as they do in H of L today, but I think that the input of faith leaders should be sought.
These bishops claim to speak on behalf of all faith groups, how do you feel about this?
That’s a loaded question, again I think that I can understand what they say and how they will reflect the fact that they are representing people of all faith. But I think that they can only do that if they have good connections, communication and understanding of people of all faith, and I’m not sure that if you were to ask people of many other denominations whether they would feel that their views and concerns and issues are understood by these representatives and therefore reflected by them.
Do public authorities respect the will of Parliament expressed in legislation?
I think there is a genuine attempt and effort to represent and I think it’s up to members of faith communities to get engaged in the political process, I really do. I think quite often large groups in society isolate themselves from the political process, and say we can’t effect that, they don’t represent us, and I think it’s up to the faith communities to get engaged in the political process, to meet with the political leaders and say here are our views. Here is where you’re not representing us or reflecting us. It’s interesting that this event I was sharing with you in London next month, the family values award, one of the archbishops is going to be there at the lunch.
No, no Southwark. We invited the archbishop of Canterbury and his office has expressed that he is too busy to do so right now. We certainly seek to reach out to others to help them understand a little bit more about our faith, our community and the things that are important to us and the contributions we make. And so I think that in government as a whole it’s important for all groups who want to have that kind of engagement to reach out and make that effort on their own part. Otherwise they’ve no complaint.
What do you think about the devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland? Have these been positive for our society?
Again, I can’t answer that on behalf of the Church.
Importantly, we are not claiming you are speaking on behalf of the Church…
I mean personally, again I’m a great believer in responsibility being as close to representation as you can and that’s why I think the Scottish parliament in some respects is appropriate for issues which only affect Scotland. So why have people in the south of England inputting on and making decisions on things that only affect people in the north of Scotland. And I think that’s one of the areas within the EU that’s important, that we get that balance correct with the people who have the greatest representation and understanding should be the ones making the decisions.
What does your faith teach about people with power and the responsibilities this brings?
I think there’s a couple of points on there. One of the things we have are Articles of Faith, which were 13 very brief statements that were written a long time ago. And they give a think a clear indication of some of our beliefs and I’ll send you a copy of those so you’ve got it. But the second article of faith says that we believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. And the principle behind that is that people are accountable for their own decisions and choices and actions. And so that when we look at people in political power, with power comes responsibility and therefore we look that people who take on positions of power or responsibility should be accountable for the actions they take there. And so when we elect someone to an office we believe they should be accountable for carrying out their duty and responsibility for that time. Some of that accountability will happen in this life but some of that accounting will happen in the life after and God will judge that.
Is the Church of the LDS appropriately/proportionally represented in public life?
I think that many of the principles and values that members of our church have, have a far reaching influence and could have a positive impact. That in the UK we probably are quite well represented for our size. We have 2 MPs currently serving, we have no members in H of L. We have a member of the European Parliament. We had a member of the Scottish Parliament who has sadly passed away a couple of years ago, we have another 2 parliamentary candidates for the next election, in addition to the 2 who will be standing. We have more members of the European parliament standing, so I think we have a number of people playing those roles. But one of those things which is very clear is that when they are in those kind of positions, they are MPs first who happen to members of the LDS church, they are not LDS who happen to be MPs. And I think that’s very clear we don’t push people and say you should go and stand for election, you should go and do this, that’s their own choice of vocation that they want to follow. But I think in terms of those areas, there is no institutional barrier which prevents members of our church getting into those roles, and I would like to see a day when some of those roles that are appointed, like the judiciary and H of L etc, that members of our church may be again identified for the role they play in the community in order to fill those positions.
Is there enough distance between legislature and judiciary?
I’m not sure I can make much comment on that. One thing I will say, is it Paul Coleridge who was a High Court judge and he just retired, earlier this year, he set up a group called the marriage foundation, specifically aimed at supporting and encouraging the institution of marriage and helping families to be strengthened and stay together. And he felt that there was reaching a point where he could not carry on campaigning and being a beacon for that and be a part of the judiciary and that is why he retired…in order to do this. And so I think that might be an area to consider or look into, was that because he was feeling pressure from his bosses in terms of the judiciary or was it because quite literally because he was campaigning actively on this area which would have an influence on government policy that that was not conducive with remaining objective. So I think that would be a good case study. But I don’t feel in a position that I can comment on that.
How do you feel that the exercise of power should be regulated?
Again, going back to that first principle, I would like to see people held accountable, and that that accountability should be made to the public who put them in place, the electorate, as much openness of decisions, people taking responsibility for the decisions and actions made, that people should be held accountable and be open with decisions and choices they make.
How does your group challenge decisions it sees as problematic?
So if there were particular moral issues that the church feels strongly about we will make formal representation on those, those are fairly select and when we do so it’s done with great care, and often we will join with other faith communities in making those kind of representations. But I think one of the things that’s important about our church, is that we believe deeply in people’s ability to make their own choices. So Joseph Smith who was the first president of our church, he made a very clear comment, I’m known as being willing to die to protect the faith of another Mormon, but I would also be just as willing to die to protect the faith of Methodist, or a Catholic or a Baptist. So that inherent principle in our mind that people should have the right to worship the way they wish to worship, or not to worship at all is very, very important to us. And that is one of the key moral issues that as a church we will always seek to protect, the freedom of religious belief and faith. And you’ve seen that with Cole Durham and stuff…..that’s important to us.
Do public authorities understand the needs of LDS?
Again, I think the responsibility of them understanding our needs is up to us to express those needs. I’m a great believer that we can’t turn around and expect others to know of our needs we have to be the ones to go out there and help people understand. And my experience when we reach out to organisations and share our needs they are so respectful and appreciative. There are 3 main thrusts of community engagement that the church is involved with in the UK. The first one is blood donation, the church is one of the largest organisations involved in donating blood. We give our, like that this meeting house here, meeting houses through the UK we allow the NHS blood and transfusion service to come in use it free of charge, all of our facilities, members of our church and members of the community come in and donate blood. The NHS BT are so appreciative and respectful of that engagement. The second is the poppy appeal, though that was just completed, the Royal British Legion, throughout the country members of our church are actively engaged in carrying out the poppy appeal. Part of the diversity of our church with both of these…..these organisations love the fact that we have young people and people from different ethnic backgrounds. So we have young, black female teenagers shaking poppy appeal cans in south London, they don’t get that anywhere else but they get that from us. And then the third one is what we call Mormon helping hands. In all of those areas, those institutions, the councils, the mayors the MPs, they love our engagement and are very appreciative of that. These things are ways in which we can show to these different groups, here’s who we are, here’s what we want to do, it’s not up to them to seek us out, it’s up to us to help them understand how we are, what our interests and needs are.
Is it important to act within state law?
I think it’s entirely important for me to live within in law. As a church we emphasise that, another article of faith says we believe in being subject to kings, rulers, presidents and magistrates and in honouring and sustaining the law. So we are and seek to be law abiding citizens and I don’t know of the instances of the circumstances that might lead to a breaching of that law, I can’t picture what those might. We encourage our members to be law abiding citizens.
Do you feel that you have a duty to speak out against Injustices affecting third parties?
Yes, again as Christians we follow Christ and his teachings to care for the poor and the needy and the vulnerable. He spoke out for those who were vulnerable and as a church we should collectively and individually seek to do so also. And again I think our engagement in international religious freedom effort is an outcome of that.
Is the Rule of Law applied equally? Do some groups experience prejudicial or preferential treatment?
I’m not aware. I can’t answer that. I would say if I were aware of and felt that there was clear prejudicial action then it would be up to me to stand up against that. Again, the only time where we are treated or perceived differently are because we’ve not stood up and helped people understand about us. I think once we make our opinions and views known and clear, people utterly respect them. Again, I’ll give you a little example, with the blood donation that we do in all of our meeting houses. The NHS BT when they will come to, if they are using a school hall, they will serve tea and coffee to people who come and donate blood. In our church we don’t drink tea or coffee and so that was causing a little challenge, where they wanted to serve tea and coffee and we were saying we don’t do that, so we prefer that not to happen in our chapels. And they just say that’s fine, water and orange okay? And we said perfect, even hot chocolate probably okay, so again when they understood our outlook they were entirely accepting and took that on board.
How do you feel about the increase in police powers over recent years?
That’s a very political question. Again as a Church I don’t think we’d have a view on that. Individually, I think people should be treated the same.
Are there any legal rules currently impinging on your life/faith?
Nothing. The legal framework has certainly not had a detrimental effect. I have not seen any negative on my ability to worship that the legal system has had.
Would you have concluding remarks?
Again, I think going back to that inherent responsibility to look after other people, as Christ looked after the poor and the needy, I think our responsibility is too…so therefore that’s why international religious freedom is as important as UK religious freedom. I think that because we have the constitutional law here, because we have so many good judges and academics, I think there is an onus on us to reach out and help other minority groups in other countries who don’t have the same protection that we have here. I know you’re familiar with Cole Durham’s work, but the church is also a stakeholder with the all party parliamentary group on religious freedom. And we seek to play an active role there, we seek to reach out to other minority faith communities and work with them to find ways of promoting items on our agenda that we believe to be important to our faith too. And generally people respond very well to our including them in that.
Elder Clifford Herbertson is an Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His responsibilities cover Europe, and he has specific stewardship for the Church in Scotland, Ireland and Southern England.
The Church has no paid clergy and professionally he is a Corporate Strategy Consultant.