Saturday, 24 February 2007

Faith, Homophobia & Human Rights

A conference with this title was held last Saturday.

My own report of the conference appears in this week’s Church Times. The text of that report, on the CT website next week, is meanwhile reproduced here (with permission), below the fold.

A press release giving more details of the event is here. See also these pictures and audio files, the draft programme, and the full text of the statement made.

Conference hears of Iraqi gay persecution

by Simon Sarmiento

AN Iraqi gay-rights campaigner, Ali Hilli, received a standing ovation at a conference on faith, homophobia, and human rights in London on Saturday.

Mr Hilli, the founder of Iraqi LGBT, described how multiple fatwas issued by leading Shia clerics, with the collusion of the Iraqi government, were giving divine authority for the murder of gays and lesbians by Badr and Sadr militias. This had recently been confirmed by a UN Human Rights Office report, which also quoted a religious court judge as saying: “Most [gays] have been killed, and others have fled.”

The Iraqi government had condemned the UN report, saying that rights for homosexuals “are not suitable for Iraqi society”.

The 200 people attending the conference, organised by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), included representatives from a wide range of organisations, and all the main faiths. They ratified a statement that “deplored” what it regarded as “internalised homophobia within religious institutions”.

Christian leaders in the UK were criticised, particularly in relation to the recent attempt to exclude Roman Catholic adoption agencies from the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations in England, Wales, and Scotland.

A former Labour Cabinet minister, Lord Smith of Finsbury, was critical of the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd George Cassidy. In a recent House of Lords debate on the new Northern Ireland anti-discrimination regulations (News, 12 January), Bishop Cassidy had said that “the regulations clearly demonstrate the need to strike a fair balance between the rights of homosexual people to be treated with dignity and respect, and the rights of Christians and other people of faith to manifest their religious beliefs.”

Arguing that “there was not an absolute right to manifest a belief in action if that action caused harm to others,” Lord Smith said that Bishop Cassidy had merely put more elegantly some of the justifications of discrimination used by others outside the House of Lords.

Lord Smith also expressed sadness that Dr Williams, in his attempts to hold the Anglican Communion together, had appeared to “give house-room to arrogant and homophobic views from some parts of the Anglican Communion”.

The conference’s statement said: “We reject the activities of certain religious leaders’ seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. . .

“We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths: love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 1:20pm GMT | TrackBack
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Very good. Looking at the list of contributors, it makes me think in the light of all else going on that there is, and does need to be, a coalition of progressive Christians, Jews, religious humanists, secular humanists and those in interfaith work. Not represented here but I can think of progressive Hindus and a few Muslims, and of course Western and other Buddhists - and why the interfaith element is important.

It's not just in this important area of LGBT inclusion, but across a number of issues. They begin with basic human rights and each time it is about working through to fulfilment.

This is both defence and promotion, and I dare say it is another view of communion.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 3:34pm GMT

So here we get to the heart of our dilemmas. (1)Bishop Cassidy informs us: We must of course strike a balance between peoples' rights to actually live in safety in the real world, and my rights to preach that God will squash them like bugs and burn them forever for not believing what I believe in my superior beliefs. (All praise and glory to God, then.) (2)Lord Smith of Finsbury replies: You may believe what you like, but you may not put that belief into action without considering the harm you do to others. Then he pointedly tells Bishop Cassidy that he has put more elegant language on the essential religious justifications that most people use to deny services, resources, opportunities to citizens, simply because they are not straight. Then, pointedly, to DR. Williams of Canterbury, Lord Smith says, " appear to help make room for the survival of repugnant and arrogant beliefs inside the worldwide communion of which you are an Instrument of Unity. (3)The conference calls for all world religions to concentrate on their immeasurable legacies of love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.

This rather neatly sums up.

Maybe progressive folks should take Canterbury's implicit offer to unite all believers for fairness and positive living outside the churches, and let troubles inside be dealt with via PB KJS' season of fasting and prayers. Just be aware that inside the churches, we are in for a very long season of fasting and prayer, at least in some places. The USA realignment network is now loudly calling for Bishop Robinson to either step down out of respect for those who so viciously condemn him, or for TEC via discipline processes to despose him. If neither is inclined to act, perhaps the outside foreign bishops will find ways to force negative actions, thus showing us just what this model is designed to do in our common life together. Alas. Lord have mercy.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 4:48pm GMT

One big, big thanks from one little believer to all the people who helped put the recent conference together. I am sure you did lots of hard work, and I am sure you are a blessing, even to people who cannot yet discern you as part of God's blessing upon them, inside or outside of the communion.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 5:29pm GMT

Congratulations to the organisers of the Conference which seems to have been a big success.

Just a thought is how we need much more meeting spaces for people of differing religious beliefs and none and those within what might be termed 'civil society', including civil LGBT society to talk through the challenges we are facing.

The more people are part of this conversation the better.

And of course any of a more conservative hue who want to get into the project of actively tackling homophobia in society (of which quite frankly we have seen precious little and I'm not holding my breath) as opposed to faint exculpatory platitudes that we so often hear, then they should be welcome.

If conservative religious views don't lead inexorably to oppression and discrimination then the onus is on those who espouse such views to demonstrate a willingness to tackle the discrimination the Primates so *sincerely* abhor - maybe they can start with Nigeria and Jamaica.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 24 February 2007 at 8:50pm GMT

Bravo, yes conservative Anglicans could make an excellent start on taking stands and uniting to pressure both Nigeria and Jamaica to change their prejudice and discrimination. How about a season of worldwide Anglican fasting from prejudice and discrimination? Oh yeah, I just remembered: Justice is a shallow secular concept that pales into wispy thin air, next to realignment views of personal holiness. Now how could I have forgotten that one? Funny that the believers who wish to avoid superficial and irreligious conversations about rights - ugghhh, not human rights again, that is soooooo last century? - are just the ones who already happen to enjoy them without question as straight people.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 25 February 2007 at 1:32am GMT

Let us reject the term homophobia outright. It is merely a cheap, ad hominem attack on those who disagree with any minor aspect of the homosexual political machine.

"I think that gay bath-houses should be shut down because of their proclivities towards promiscuity and spreading of STDs."

"You homophobe."

The term homophobia thus stops the dialog by accusing the person has a psychiatric disorder, a phobia.

We, who do not agree with every stand of Queer Nation, should reject the term at every opportunity.

Posted by: Robert on Sunday, 25 February 2007 at 11:28am GMT

A contributor said:

"Let us reject the term homophobia outright. It is merely a cheap, ad hominem attack on those who disagree with any minor aspect of the homosexual political machine."

In many respects the term 'homophobia' is not so useful and I wish there was another that could be used.

What it does come down to is the political idea that gay people should be treated as inferior and therefore a lot of energy has to go into inferiorising gay people generates, left to its own devices, and has always generated unless checked by other ideas societies like Nigeria where the Church is pushing legislation to put people in prison merely for either meeting or for saying (in the print, electronic or other media) that same sex relationships are not necessarily inferior or Jamaica where lynchings are not uncommon and I don't recall Drexel Gomez preaching a sermon on that or asking the Jamaican Parliament to pass a law on homophobic incitement.

++Rowan Williams believes in a gentler form of homophobia (sorry inferiorisation) where LGBT people are made to be inferior but can be left alone to live their lives. In the Western world yes, but what protections do LGBT people have in Nigeria and Jamaica? Where is the equivalent to Civil Partnerships or protection from the discrimination which the Primates hold to be anathema?

Lying words to conceal a great moral turpitude.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 25 February 2007 at 7:08pm GMT

Robert wrote: "We, who do not agree with every stand of Queer Nation, should reject the term at every opportunity"

You already do, dear Robert. You even bring it up before everybody else.

How is it that you haven't noticed?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 25 February 2007 at 8:39pm GMT

This conference is an excellent initiative.

On Craig Nelson's Saturday suggestion about needing more meeting spaces to talk through the issues and the implications. In the most recent TA thread there is a quote "...The “low point” of the Primates’ Meeting came, Jefferts Schori said, when one primate equated homosexuality with pedophilia and another said he couldn’t see why the Anglican Communion should study homosexuality if it doesn’t need to study murder."

It reminds me of a scene in a recent holocaust documentary where a naked Jewish woman and her child were being led into the gas chambers. The woman spoke to the officer and asked how he could allow something like this to happen this innocent child. She and her child went to death anyway.

But what is remarkable is the officer made a note of the converation in his diary and that he had a shower that evening to remove the stench from his skin. The officer felt no sympathy for the women or child or what he and his team were doing to thousands of Jews and other outcastes every day. But she still managed to rattle him, which makes her one of the most beautiful Jewish women ever.

There is a difference between empathy and experience. I have never had a homosexual encounter and do not feel the need to have one to fully understand homosexuals. But I can empathise with their feelings of shame and being unwanted, of living in fear of their life or being violated, of being unable to honestly express themselves in a safe manner.

These are not uniquely homosexual experiences. The are the experiences of slaves; incest survivors; families from violent patriachs; the poor in nations with no labour laws; minority indigineous peoples, sects or tribes where the dominant caste enjoys humiliating and exterminating the impure.

Sociopaths who lack genuine emotional intelligence are incapable of seeing the parallels in the dynamics. Those of us who are not unhampered by a lack of emotional intelligence can see the same patterns ripple across all these dynamics. This is why Jacob was loved and Esau hated. Jacob contemplated and could recognise patterns, Esau was indifferent to others.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Sunday, 25 February 2007 at 9:44pm GMT

Perhaps this is the place to draw attention to Acceting Evangelicals and the association with alternative worship of the creative postmodern kind.

Other pages too about personnel involved.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 12:01am GMT

Technically, the empirical research that has fairly well replicated the earlier studies of racism, antisemitism, and the like via careful investigations of the prejudice and discrimination towards queer folks suggests we use the term, heterosexism. But that just for now misses the fear and anger and disgust which somehow the term homophobia has partly connoted.

There is indeed nothing special about prejudice or discrimination directed against people who are not straight. Being antigay simply imitates being anti-women, or anti-Hindu or anti-African or anti- whatever. If Akinola ever begins to make the connection between the prejudice/discrimination he and Africans have faced from, say, Europeans, and his preachments about people who are not straight, it will be embarrassing and difficult for him as a privileged, straight African male. (Who is renowned for his humility?)

More about heterosexism, prejudice, and discrimination on Professor G. Herek's web site.


Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 2:38am GMT

One additional note if I may.

No exploration of prejudice/discrimination would be complete with us reviewing Professor Stanley Milgram's famous experiments, grouped under the rubric of Obedience To Authority.

These help us understand something core about how antigay prejudice/discrimination works in the real worlds of various cultures around the planet.



Trust me, this stuff is real, and it is really something to understand.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 2:43am GMT

"Let us reject the term homophobia outright. It is merely a cheap, ad hominem attack on those who disagree with any minor aspect of the homosexual political machine."

Someone who claims ownership of a sin and can speak from a position of having experienced, lived and repented of that sin is in something of a privileged position to talk about it.

I was homophobic. I, a recently divorced man, worshiped at a parish with a significant gay membership. I was not gay. I did not want to be mistaken for gay. I did not want someone itting on me. I even spoke to the parish priest about it not knowing or realizing that he was gay.

One day, someone made a pass at me. I lived. From the look on my face, it was obvious to him I wasn't gay and word soon spread. Over the next several years, I got to know these men as faithful Christians and committed partners. Beside their faith, mine looked pitiful indeed. As someone who had failed at an 11 year marriage, I met men who had longer and more successful and more faithful loving relationships. I knew men who faced death in the form of AIDS with more courage than I had ever been called upon to demonstrate. I knew men who gave everything, all their savings, in order to care for a sick partner in their last illness. I knew a man who cared for his partner so that he could die at home in the apartment they shared and, in doing so, caught the same opportunistic disease and later died from it in a hospice. I knew Christ in that man.

Oh yes, homophobia exists. Whenever we put the words of a text before real, living people we repeat the sins of the Pharisees passing the man in the road. It is the Samaritan, a Jewish heretic, who showed true care and concern for the man. Jesus saved his harshest words for those who lived to the letter of the Law and forgot it's Spirit. The Law is made for Man, not Man for the Law.

Homophobia exists, not as opposition to a political agenda. But as opposition to the Christ. As opposition to the humanity of gay folk and in opposition to the love and commitment they have the capacity to posses. I want to say more, but I am above my 400 word limit.

Posted by: ruidh on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 5:13am GMT

Drdanfee comments "No exploration of prejudice/discrimination would be complete with us reviewing Professor Stanley Milgram's famous experiments..."

Let's remember the scandal those experiments caused. Milgram was out to prove out evil the Germans were, and discovered that American citizens would commit the same atrocities in the same circumstances.

The results were so scandalous that they established a code of ethics on how far psychological experiments should go.

The other scandal is how the people who should have realised the significance of the experiments and gone back to understand how the same phenomenom had been previously paid out in history did not. Especially scandalous are the religious institutions and their priestly castes who claim to represent God's unconditional love and vision of world peace.

They want the vision, but didn't want to take responsibility for looking at what was hampering the vision being fulfilled. Even worse, they have actively interferred with developments within their own castes that would have helped. For example, liberation theology challenges "she'll be right thinking" that complacently glosses over the inhuman and unsustainable consequences of selfish sociopathic unregulated economics.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 7:50pm GMT

Thank you, ruidh, for this moving post

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 26 February 2007 at 9:13pm GMT

"The Law is made for Man, not Man for the Law." The words of a true disciple of Christ. I shall echo Erika Baker's post, yes ruidh, thank you so very much.

Posted by: Jenny Hynes on Tuesday, 27 February 2007 at 9:18pm GMT

Lord Smith said there was "not an absolute right to manifest a belief in action if that action caused harm to others,"

Obviously not.. But what does that have to do with the RCs being banned from providing adoption services ?

Their offer to refer homosexual partners to alternative providers of adoption services prevented any real "harm"... If what Lord Smith meant by 'harm' in this case is "feeling hurt" - then that would ban manifesting *anything* belief (political, ethical, scientific, and artistic as well as religious) that anyone else felt hurt or threatened by!

In a free society the issue should be "proportionality", not yes/no decisions onb whose rights "win". What is the balance between the rights of two persons (or groups of people) to live as they wish (sexually, religously etc) when those wishes are not fully compatible?

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 at 2:19pm GMT

"But what does that have to do with the RCs being banned from providing adoption services ?"

Let's be very clear. No one is being banned. The RCs do not wish to conform to the law and plan to remove themselves. The choice is theirs. They wish to continue to discriminate where the law does not permit it. I have no sympathy.

Posted by: ruidh on Wednesday, 28 February 2007 at 7:11pm GMT

Dave wrote: "Lord Smith said there was "not an absolute right to manifest a belief in action if that action caused harm to others..."

and asked: "But what does that have to do with the RCs being banned from providing adoption services?"

Nothing, dear Dave, absolutely nothing. The Roman church is not "being banned from providing adoption services".

and "If what Lord Smith meant by 'harm' in this case is "feeling hurt" - then that would ban manifesting *anything* belief (political, ethical, scientific, and artistic as well as religious) that anyone else felt hurt or threatened by!"

You k n o w that this is not what Lord Smith meant, Dave.

You k n o w that he meant "harm" as in real harm; hate crime.

You also k n o w that the Roman church is eager (for reasons understood by itself) to "manifest a belief in action" that would cause "harm to others", because it would be - and quite rightly so - percieved by many as a justification for hate crime.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 4 March 2007 at 5:45pm GMT
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