Homophobic Church Leaders vs. Their Flock

It’s interesting, that at a time when Stonewall has released a report which suggests that Church leaders are significantly more homophobic than their flock, it’s curious to see that the Rt Rev Daniel Deng – Archbishop of Sudan – has demanded at the Lambeth Conference that Bishop Gene Robinson resign for the sake of the Anglican Church:

“The people who consecrated him should confess to the conference because they created an outcry in the whole Anglican world. God is not making a mistake creating Adam and Eve – he would have created two Adams if he wanted. If he was a real Christian he would resign.”

If you’re reading this and gay, this argument will likely be one you’ve had thrown at you at least once before. A variation on Adam and Steve, eh? Such a tedious stereotype, which you’d expect of a child, or a young person, without any experience of self-reflection, not a so-called man of God. He’s actually demanding that Robinson collude in the bigotry of others – the arrogance is breathtaking. However:

Ben Summerskill, the Stonewall chief executive, said: “Witnessing the tragic divisions in the Church of England demonstrated at this week’s Lambeth Conference, it’s telling that so many people of faith say they actually live, work and socialise with lesbian and gay people, and that significantly reduces negative ideas about difference.”

Proof, albeit not necessarily definitive, that people are not as stupid as their representatives, either political or those of faith. In this country at least, it suggests that equality legislation has proven Gene Robinson’s approach right, in demonstrating to his ‘moveable middle’ of the religious community, that with full civil rights for us the world doesn’t come to an end – plagues don’t come down, social order doesn’t break down. Nutters like Deng can’t speak for them, because Stonewall’s side of social change is having an effect, in increasing our visibility through normalising everyone’s treatment before the law. The same approach is needed within the established Church, and Gene Robinson must stay put at all conceivable costs. In a society governed by the rule of law, to exclude religion from the need for equality really must be out of the question, partly on humane grounds, partly on those of diversity – just look how much better society operates when we all are free to take part equally within it!

I can’t help but be reminded by this of the fight in 2004 over same-sex marriage in the US (which of course persists). The persistent argument was that same-sex marriage on equal terms to heterosexuals would undermine heterosexual marriage – somehow if we were granted equal rights, it would be at the expense of those who already had them. It was homophobic nonsense when articulated by George W Bush, it is homophobic nonsense uttered now by Archbishop Deng.

Perhaps most alarmingly from the Archbishop:

Deng said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan.

Like Iran eh? Uganda? Nigeria? This claim, if not countered, is the most dangerous of all because it doesn’t allow for a difference of opinion, for shades of grey, or any scrutiny at all. He could say Robinson should resign because it’s politically necessary at this time in the Church’s history. My opinion in response would be to disagree – the opposite is politically necessary – but instead he’s playing up to homophobic superstitions, no doubt shoring up a cheap power base, which only encourages those who would dehumanise us. In Iran Ahmadinejad’s identical claim legitimises the torture and execution of gay people; for a man of God to offer the same argument is beyond shameful.

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2 responses to “Homophobic Church Leaders vs. Their Flock

  1. You’re so right that increased visibility means that more and more straight people now know someone who is gay and, therefore, are much less likely to be frightened or disturbed by them. It’s giving homosexuality a human face, if you like.

    That’s why I’m kind of torn about how best to respond to nutters like Iris Robinson and Graham Cogman. Part of me wants them removed from office and totally held to account about their views. My concern though is that – like the Lillian Ladele case where an inept Islington Council handed victory to the Christian Institute because it didn’t follow proper procedures – stories like the religious policeman play into the hands of the right wing press. The Daily Mail loves nothing more than making it look as if he is being persecuted by overly-PC liberals. The likes of Cogman and Robinson will go to their graves believing we’re evil – we’re never going to bring them round. It’s the battle for the hearts and minds of your average, decent, fair-minded man in the street that I’m more concerned about.

    Just as perceptions that Muslims or black people are getting “preferential treatment” feed prejudice, so I wonder if sometimes our best response is just to rise above it. If some fanatical policeman wants to send a few emails quoting barmy Biblical references, what’s the harm? Or can’t he at least be asked to stop rather than dragging him to tribunal? (I realise I don’t have all the details to hand and like the Ladele case, it takes some digging to work out exactly what happened, so it could well be him who’s escalated the situation to the point it’s now reached.)

    On the other hand, it clearly is wrong that Iris Robinson is festering prejudice and hatred in her role as an elected politician. So maybe in her case she should be removed from office. The problem is with the police investigating her, it just allows her to cast herself (and her fellow religious nutters) as victims.

    I’m really not sure what the best way to deal with it all is. But as conservative and fundamental Christians continue to rally their forced to try and push back the social changes that have been achieved over the past ten years, we do really need to be prepared.

    So I’m busy sitting on the fence – what do other people think?

  2. I think you’ve brought out a really important issue here. Should Lillian Ladele and Graham Cogman have to take responsibility for their actions? Sure, but maybe the situations surrounding them didn’t have to happen, and only did because of serious failings with a) Islington Council and b) Norfolk Police in their organisational culture. No doubt the latter, which had only just been investigated for homophobia, needlessly overreacted to avoid any feasible accusation of homophobia of it. In fact you’re right, they could have given him more training or just dismissed his ravings. It’s an interesting perspective on this problem – maybe the Ladeles and Cogmans, even the Christian Institutes aren’t wholly responsible for these problems arising.

    Iris Robinson MUST be removed as Chair of the Health Committee, that much is clear. But her argument as an MP and MLP needs to be publicly countered, and the only Brit I’ve heard doing it in an effective way has been Ian McKellen. Noone has dared take her on because somehow religion is sacrosanct. It shouldn’t be.

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