Friday, 10 January 2014

Giles Fraser speaks about homophobia and religion

On the BBC Radio 4 programme Thought for the Day, this morning, the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser talked about homophobia.

Thought for the Day - 10/01/2014 - Rev Dr Giles Fraser. (includes link to audio and full transcript)

Part of what he said:

…Of course, it’s not just football that has a problem with homophobia. If anything, it’s more difficult with religion where this attitude towards homosexuality can commonly be presented as having some moral or theological justification. But despite the widespread perception that faith is uniformly hostile to homosexuality, there are a significant number of people of faith who want to offer a minority report that insists being gay is no sort of moral issue – indeed, that the ways in which two adults express their love for each other physically ought to be celebrated as something precious, as something publically to affirm. What makes homophobia so especially wicked is that is traps people into a miserable life of clandestine relationships, continually fearful that they might one day be discovered and exposed for who they really are. Which is why having the guts to make such a public declaration of being gay, thus risking insults and name-calling – and in some countries considerably worse - is such a powerful witness to the truth.

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay” wrote Charles Wesley in a famous hymn about his religious conversion. “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, 
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” He then goes on “No condemnation now I dread”. It was not, of course, a hymn about coming out of the closet, but about discovering and being able to speak the truth about oneself - and how liberating such truth-telling can be.

Nonetheless, these experiences are remarkably similar. “I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses” wrote Gloria Gaynor in a rather different sort of anthem. And St John put it even more pithily: “The truth will set you free.”

And yet, for many, the truth may not necessarily set them free, but might even end up landing them in jail. In Uganda, for instance, a law is about to be enacted in which consensual gay sex can lead to a 14 year term of imprisonment. Indeed, it’s going to be a criminal offense if one fails to report gay people to the authorities. Whereas St John spoke of truth as leading to freedom and release, for others, however, the truth can lead to prison.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 12:13pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Well done Giles.

Truth-speaking indeed. One of the best short pieces I have ever encountered.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 1:56pm GMT

One question, and it is a serious one.

Wesley's experience was one of validation by God (the Holy Spirit). But this did not entail having the wider ecclesia agree with what he discovered in Christ. Christ was all he wanted and had. He sought no external validation whatsoever, and indeed one could argue his pre-conversion life was precisely one of seeking validation through works or through public approval.

He was set free from that. He was born again.

Please don't pile on in the cause of same sexuality in the 21st century. My point is a narrower one of Wesley's conversation narrative and analogies proper to it.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 3:38pm GMT

I feel my heart strangely warmed (also)...

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 4:06pm GMT

Just an FYI and correction--

While Gloria Gaynor may have had a hit recording of "I Am What I Am," she did not write it. The music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman from "La Cage Au Folles"...fittingly, a story about a long-term committed same-sex relationship.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 4:24pm GMT

Well done by Dr. Fraser. And so wonderful to see such a wonderful statement on a backdrop of silence.

C. Seitz, it is indeed proper to see the difference and similarities between the conversion experience of Wesley and the experience of a gay Christian coming out to the truth of who we are, and that God made us in her/his image, and loves us. It is a powerful personal moment to be validated by God. One that changes the landscape for us, our church, and our society, unavoidably.

The difference between Wesley's conversion and the LGBT experience is that our human rights and our spirit have been trampled by institutional homophobia in government, church, and society. The truth of being created in the Image of God means that this awful homophobia is an affront to God's creation, in addition to human rights.

For those of us who have had this amazing affirming experience, the homophobia from people in the church looks increasingly ridiculous. Who is anyone to tell me that I haven't been affirmed by God? And when legions of us come forward with similar experiences?

And what does one do in the face of Uganda and Nigeria? What does our collective moral conscience say about what is happening to LGBT people there? The conservatives who have looked to them for affirmation of their homophobia have a real quandary. Their actions or inactions are going to speak volumes.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 7:47pm GMT

I agree. It is important to see the differences. Thank you.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 10 January 2014 at 10:12pm GMT

Meanwhile, "homophobia and religion":

cseitz, you are *deliberately* twisting Cynthia's meaning. Is that really all you have to contribute?

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 11 January 2014 at 1:14am GMT

Bravo Giles. And cseitz, anybody's conversion is a powerful moment in their life, and you have no right, nor credibility to question, condemn or denigrate it.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Saturday, 11 January 2014 at 1:43am GMT

Fr. Giles Fraser once again speaks honestly of homosexuality 'as it is', with an engaging sense of reality that must, surely, be heard by the Churches today.

Ever since I attended a meeting at St. Mary's, Putney - at the times of a Lambeth Conference from which Bishop Gene Robinson was excluded - to hear Bishop Gene in person, speaking of his own coming out as a gay person; I have been convinced that the Church of England's institutional homophobia needed this sort of input - from a cleric prepared to be honest about his own experience of being intrinsically homosexual, and living with it.

Bishop Gene's subsequent ministry to gay people in Anglican Churches around the world has been life-giving - as a direct result of his willingness to challenge hypocrisy and duplicity about this.

Thank you, Giles, for your explicit messaging on this important issue for the Church and the world.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 11 January 2014 at 7:34am GMT

I don't understand your umbrage. I was confirming the insight offered above that 21st century 'coming out' and Wesley's conversion are indeed different things. The latter did not entail seeking wider approval for a novum confronting the ecclesia, nor was it motivated by a sense of overcoming social prejudice -- so Cynthia's firmly stated insistence (trampling homophobic governmental, etc). Wesley was set free from works of the law and from any approval or approbation other than the one directly given by the Holy Spirit. I agree that is different from the coming out experience as related by those for whom they are so decisive.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 11 January 2014 at 5:56pm GMT

I am away on holiday so must have missed the condemnation of the penal laws in Uganda and Nigeria by our bishops.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 11 January 2014 at 6:12pm GMT

"I agree. It is important to see the differences. Thank you."

But it's important to see the similarities. Wesley had a vision that changed him, the church, and the world. Likewise, legions of LGBT have had powerful conversion experiences and it is changing us, the church, and the world.

Meanwhile, the rather odd people who would deny our experience aren't particularly outspoken about the egregious human rights abuses being visited upon our LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda and Nigeria. Tacit approval is it? Or just another moral bankruptcy?

Posted by: Cynthia on Sunday, 12 January 2014 at 11:52pm GMT

Dr Giles Fraser suggests "that the ways in which two adults express their love for each other physically ought to be celebrated as something precious". President Francois Hollande and actress Julie Gayet are no doubt happy to be expressing their love for each other physically. Who is celebrating that as something precious? Certainly not the French people.
The reality not recognised by Dr Fraser is that physical love, however precious, has its bounds in what is morally acceptable to the population at large.

Posted by: Pilgrim46 on Monday, 13 January 2014 at 12:55pm GMT

My comment was not posted, Cynthia.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 13 January 2014 at 1:02pm GMT

My apologies for the delay in approving several recent comments on this thread, due to an oversight, not intentional.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 13 January 2014 at 1:06pm GMT

"The reality not recognised by Dr Fraser is that physical love, however precious, has its bounds in what is morally acceptable to the population at large."

The reality not being accepted by Pilgrim46 is that no educated person in the Western World believes that YOU are qualified to determine what is morally acceptable in MY life, that of my LGBT brothers and sisters, and in society. After all, the "population at large" clearly supports passing laws towards equality and acceptance. So you are definitely in the minority. Your position is even theologically shaky...

What a very odd thing to say, definitely 1950's, which is before my lifetime.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 13 January 2014 at 7:07pm GMT


You are so totally off the wall in this matter that it really is a waste of my time in responding at all.

The population at large sets the acceptable standards of morality in a civilised society. As a member of that society you have no right either in law or as a member of a church simply to determine what is morally acceptable for yourself in your own life. If that were true, it would used as a sufficient justification for every rapist, paedophile and child abuser in the land.

We are not free agents able to hold to our view of morality. We cannot commit incest. We cannot commit sex with minors. We cannot inflict pain or injury. There is a lot of stuff we cannot do in public or private without being arrested.

As far as I am concerned if it is legal and hurts no-one else I have no problem with your life choices. But like it or not you are governed by the moral standards deemed acceptable to others not in the 1950's but here and now in 2014.

However it is not me but the Anglican Church's own teaching that chooses to make same sex physical relationships an issue. That is not to say the teaching is right and shouldn't change - just that it hasn't yet and judging by Pilling is unlikely to do so.

Meanwhile your moral compass has lost its pointer.

Posted by: Pilgrim46 on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 4:33pm GMT

"The population at large sets the acceptable standards of morality in a civilised society."

So much for universal human rights and moral absolutes. But that said...

"But like it or not you are governed by the moral standards deemed acceptable to others not in the 1950's but here and now in 2014."

... has the minor problem that same-sex marriage _is_ acceptable to the population at large, and a majority of it too. So if the CofE wants to argue against it it's going to need to find a better argument than "the population at large sets the acceptable standards of morality". Because by that test the entire issue of same-sex relationships is settled both in law and in the "population at large".

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 11:41pm GMT

Pilgrim46. I think your moral compass could use some recalibration. Your calendar could also use an update from 1950 to 2014. It wouldn't hurt to take a reality check with where the general population is on equality, and it would be worth making an observation of the moral arc of the universe that is bending toward justice, as MLK said. And MLK and his family supported justice for my and my LGBT sisters and brothers.

It is quite sad to see someone staunchly defending bigotry as moral. And if I were black? Is racism OK with you too? And misogyny? How about anti-semitism? These were all quite acceptable in the not too distant past. There were plenty of people who insisted that God made those people inferior and less moral. We've all heard that song before, and we know how it ends.

Jesus's morality doesn't remotely resemble yours - and that alone is worth pausing to consider.

My words are off-the-wall? My words are pretty much standard fare for educated Westerners. Theologically speaking, Jesus hung out with the outcasts, his harshest words were against the status quo for excluding and demeaning people, he never married and had kids, he said don't judge, he used the example of the Good Samaritan when he knew Judeans hated Samaritans. Jesus turned the world upside down in a demand for compassion, justice, and mercy, and against oppression. It is not off-the-wall to look at Radical Jesus and come to the conclusion that no one has the right to discriminate or judge others.

Your comparing gaydom to incest, pedophilia, and other sorts of injury is offensive and insulting, but most of all it is deeply, deeply ignorant.

The moral arc of the universe is bending toward justice for LGBT people.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 at 2:02am GMT

Still would like to know just what it is that is immoral about homosexuality.

And still would like a theological answer for why, when it is well documented that stable same sex relationships confer the same emotional benefits as straight ones, and when forcing gay people to lead lonely lives leads to well documented psychological harm, God would absolutely insist that one whole group of people leads lesser and harmful lives - for absolutely no moral benefit to them or to society.

If anyone wants us to move away from the morals of a scientifically and psychologically aware and compassionate society and return to one that is deeply harmful to us, they will have to come up with some very very good reasons.

Because otherwise we will continue to believe that anyone who insists that God is really that cruel for no reason is not actually following God at all but is blinded by prejudice.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 8:58am GMT

"Still would like to know just what it is that is immoral about homosexuality."

Good question, Erika. A partial answer is that some people seem to think that morality is about ticking all the right boxes on personal issues. Straight? Check. Male? Check. Monogamous? Check, maybe. Never Divorce? Check. Lying? No. Dishonoring parents? No. Etc., etc., etc. And if you have ticked off all the right boxes, not only will you go to heaven, you have earned the right to mercilessly judge others and pass oppressive laws that ensure that you and your box ticking kind remain the dominant power group.

Sadly, none of the boxes seem to include Justice for all, compassion and mercy for all, recognizing all in the image of God.

I always thought that morality had to do with how one treated others, and that is what I get out of the Gospel of Jesus. If someone is being harmed, that's immoral. If no one is being harmed, it's not immoral. It might be amoral or moral, but not immoral. If there are no victims, how exactly is that a problem?

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 17 January 2014 at 5:33pm GMT

Cynthia, for the last couple of months I have been waging a one woman campaign on a number of online forums just repeating this question. And I have never had a single attempt at an answer from any of those people who are so sure that homosexuality is sin.
It seems there actually is no answer.

But it does leave me with the question of what we actually mean by sin when we cannot even point to a single negative consequence of it.
And what does it say about our image of God, if we are happy to see him as someone who demands the impossible from a group of people for absolutely no discernible reason at all.

Is our faith really so blind that we don't need any intellectual reason for our beliefs?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 17 January 2014 at 9:04pm GMT

Erika, because I'm too lazy to fetch my Greek Bible and notes, I stole this from Yahoo Answers: "The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is usually translated as sin in the New Testament. In Classical Greek, it means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target" which was also used in Old English archery."

Somehow, missing the mark makes a lot more sense than all the twisted translations about sin being about depravity and whatnot. When one sins one is missing the mark of God's Dream for the world, that including justice, compassion, mercy, Good News for the poor and oppressed, etc.

Similarly, to repent [from sin] is to turn back, as in turn back to God.

This all makes so much more sense to be than box ticking piety. Interestingly enough, the liberal view is actually more literal, in the original language, anyway. [OK, one of the "original" languages].

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 18 January 2014 at 1:43am GMT

yes, "sin" should not be used synonymously with "immoral" (although I'd argue that 'missing the mark' doesn't describe homosexuality properly either, it's still a moral weighing the condition does not warrant.
On the other hand, it's not the use of the word that's the underlying problem but the strong feelings evoked by homosexuality. If "sin" had not come to mean "immoral", another word would have been found and used to say the same thing.

I would love people to examine their responses and to tell me what, precisely, is sinful, immoral, falling short here, to the extent that it needs to be legislated against, assigned a formal inferior status, be condemned as against God's will.

What mark is being missed by gay people?
And still it seems there's only silence and the only ones discussing it are 2 lgbt women on a liberal blog ...

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 18 January 2014 at 12:32pm GMT

Wesley would be appalled that his words about coming to salvation have been compared with pursuing an active homosexual lifestyle which he would have regarded as utterly sinful.
Fraser's shame knows no bounds.

Posted by: James on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 at 2:33pm GMT
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