Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Leicester opposes religious homophobia

The Bishop of Leicester, The Right Reverend Tim Stevens, spoke in the House of Lords on 25 October in a debate on homosexuality in the developing world.

The full text of his speech can be found here in Hansard.

An edited version was published at Cif belief under the headline There is no place for homophobia in the church, anywhere in the world.

…Others in this debate have rehearsed the ways in which laws criminalising same-sex sexual activity between adults have been repeatedly found in international law to violate fundamental human rights, and this debate serves also to highlight effectively the way in which criminalisation gives rise to persecution. I want, however, to concentrate on the way in which discriminatory interference in the private sexual conduct of consenting adults is an affront to the fundamental Christian values of human dignity, tolerance and equality.

It is of course no secret, as others have made clear, that on the ethics of homosexual practice the churches in general and the Anglican communion bishops in particular are deeply divided, but that cannot and must not be any basis for equivocating on the central issue of equality before the law of all human beings whether heterosexual or homosexual. Further, many of us who are bishops in this country value and treasure our links with particular dioceses around the Anglican communion. We respect and appreciate the different, and often sharply divided, theological approaches which lead to different stances on the ethical issues. But, as the Lambeth conference of 1998 made clear, there is not and cannot be any place for homophobia in the church, and all are to be welcomed regardless of sexual orientation…

And he continued:

…Many people the world over are now asking the churches to put their position beyond all doubt, by saying simply and clearly that criminalisation is wrong. I will put my position beyond all doubt by stating it in as clear terms as I can. If criminalisation leads, as it evidently does, to gay people concealing their own identity, that must be wrong; if criminalisation leads to many living in fear, that must be wrong; if criminalisation leads to the prospect of persecution, arrest, detention and death, that must be wrong; and if criminalisation means that LGBT people dare not turn to the state when facing hate crimes and violence, that must be wrong too.

It is within the adult lifetime of most of us in this House that the law was changed in this country to decriminalise homosexual acts. However, for our children’s generation, such a state of affairs must feel like ancient history – as appropriate to the moral climate of today’s society in this country as the burning of witches. We must all urgently pursue this journey to a completely new climate in those many countries of the world where same-sex relations are criminal offences…


  • Newfred says:

    Only a couple of months ago Stevens was on the radio defending the church’s position on civil partnerships and marriage — a position which is widely viewed as homophobic. If Stevens actually believes what he has recently published, why is he willing to make apologias for the church’s stance on sexuality, and defend the church’s misleading official line that it “supported” civil partnerships legislation?

    We should go further, and say that there is no place in the church, anywhere in the world, for preaching one thing and practising another. It is time for the church to support the “equality before the law” that Stevens endorses, to support equal marriage, and to end its enjoyment of exemptions from equality law which allow it to continue discriminating against gay clergy and excluding its gay members from rituals which sanctify their relationships.

    It is time for the church to stop congratulating itself about its ability to “welcome” people, and start seriously reflecting on whether that welcome is truly being offered.

  • Susannah says:

    While I applaud the fact that he speaks out against the criminalisation of homosexuality in other countries, there is nevertheless a mismatch between what the church says on ‘criminalisation’ and what the church here in England (and elsewhere) says about the religious legitimacy of gay and lesbian sex.

    To be honest, we may lecture the conduct going on in other countries, but the fact remains that here in England the Church remains “equivocal” to use his word, and largely airbrushes the issue out of diocesan websites, and sits on the fence to avoid conflict, by a kind of silence and lack of affirmation, accommodating the ongoing official position of the Church, following on from Windsor etc, that – for example – ‘being gay’ is tolerable, but ‘having gay sex’ is not. Essentially the Church still tries to keep its status quo – that gay sex is not mandated – through a kind of silence and delay.

    But as Amiel said, “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”

    There is a silence about LGBT issues on website after website through the dioceses. There is a fear of offending people who basically vilify gay sex – as an abomination in the sight of God – so the lives and experience of LGBT people in the Church of England continue to be marginalised, the authenticity of their sexual relations left in a kind of official no-man’s land.

  • Susannah says:


    But this silence – no matter how vocal the Church is about the easier and separate issue of criminalisation overseas – basically sustains the status quo, and works to perpetuate a conservative view as default, while leaving actual people’s lives in a kind of ‘out there, other, and best not to mention it’ sort of place…

    …when actually this is a frontline of social justice, which the Church should be championing, as the Episcopal Church in the US has done, boldly and decently.

    So, one cheer for the bishop for his overseas championing, but the wider Church’s frequent silence, delaying, and distancing… to the point that LGBT scarcely exists in diocesan structure, support or media profile… is itself a violation of truth, and outrages conscience by its expediency and insufficient care.

    Take a look at the Leicester Diocese website for yourself. In over 100 webpages there is not a single reference to LGBT, to gay, to lesbian. LGBT does not exist in the public face of the media. Perhaps it is an embarrassment?

    How much longer should this marginalisation and ‘outrgaeous silence’ continue? It is one thing to decry ‘criminalisation’ in another country, but what about young gay or lesbian Christians here in England… where is *their* support, their affirmation, their resources, even acknowledgment that they exist?

    The Diocese of Leicester’s website entirely marginalises LGBT into a kind of convenient invisibility. It is nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately I feel that collaborates with those who would like LGBT simply not to exist.

  • Susannah says:

    You can see for yourself:

    Not one single reference to LGBT, gay or lesbian.

    The majority of other diocesan websites do the same.

    I commend the bishop for speaking out on a serious overseas issue.

    But I urge the bishop to address the silence and invisibility towards gay and lesbian and bisexual and transsexual Christians and enquirers when it comes to his own diocesan website.

    And to flag up where LGBT youth, and couples, and seekers can turn for help, support, and affirmation in the structures and resources of the diocese.

    And to acknowledge how important this is by naming – visibly – a contact staff or priest, with a mandate to promote LGBT presence, help, and understanding.

    And to basically ‘give presence’ to the real people and real lives, so LGBT is not something hidden away through embarrassment or awkwardness, but something flagged up, and promoted, and – dare one ask – celebrated with love and goodness.

    How can there be not a single mention or resource or point of contact, under ‘social responsibility’? No point of care. No point of help. How can there be not a single resource or reference on LGBT needs?

    Essentially, WHY is it felt more expedient to have no mention whatsoever of gay and lesbian people – even though it is a huge issue with huge personal needs – at a time when so many LGBT people feel the Church offers insufficient support, for their faithful relationships and tender loving care?

    So I appeal to the Bishop of Leicester to reflect please on this, if he happens to learn of these posts.

    Once again: “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”

    The Leicester Diocesan website is silent on LGBT. Compared and contrasted with the Episcopal Church in the US, English dioceses seem craven in this airbrushing out of a major social issue and real human needs for support, acknowledgment, and inclusion in their major social and media spaces.

  • The great tragedy of modern Anglicanism.

    Good people saying the right thing now appear to be hypocrites.

  • Colin Coward says:

    The full text of Lord Lexden’s introductory speech and the Bishop of Leicester’s speech can be read on the Changing Attitude web site:

    The attitude of Bishop Tim and of several other bishops is difficult to fathom, and reveals the mess they are in. They have revised their original opposition to civil partnerships (thus qualifying to be dismissed as Revisionists by the Global South, whether or not they support same-sex relationships).

    We wait to see what they make of the reports presented by the two House of Bishops’ Working Parties.

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    What Newfred and Susannah said.

    Stevens recent attack on marriage equality does not fit with this – as others have expressed so well.

    Even in this speech he is on record as using the offensive expression ‘homosexual practice’.

    This kind of double-think is very common as has been said above, and appalling.

    On this showing, Stevens would be ideal for Canterbury, and in the Williams mould. But more importantly, the wider C of E has so much to repent of.

  • Craig Nelson says:

    Very pleased Bp of Leicester has spoken in this way; I hope that this is not the sort of positioning advised by people such as John Milbank to allow the Church not to appear to be discriminatory.

    So hope it’s a genuine intervention and that the discussion does not get suppressed within either the Commonwealth or Anglican Communion where criminalisation is common currency and rarely challenged.

  • Susannah/Laurence:

    To support decriminalisation holds no obligation support legitimisation.

    Also, it’s not just the absence of LGBT references, there’s not one reference to the black race on the diocesan web-site. So, does that mean I should give them a wide berth because they’re racist? I don’t think so.

  • Priscilla White says:

    David Shepherd “the black race” ?????
    Ethnic minority concerns surely!

  • Erika Baker says:

    the status of black people is thankfully no longer in doubt, that of lgbt people is still debated hotly. It would be extremely helpful if dioceses could be a little more forthcoming about their thoughts and actions.

  • Newfred says:

    David, your analogy fails.

    1/ Resources on diocesan websites speaking to racial issues would be just as welcome as those speaking to issues of sexuality. Good reasons for this can be found here: — The church’s failure to provide these resources, or to be seen to be bothered about the different circumstances and treatment they receive in life — implies, unintentionally I’m sure, that the church is old heterosexual white men talking about old heterosexual white men to other old heterosexual white men. This is not a wholly inaccurate picture when it comes to how the church is run.

    2/ Race and sexuality are, for the time being, substantively different theological and legal issues. First, because thankfully we no longer live in a society where the church could openly try and “delegitimise” racial difference. But we do inhabit a church where gay people are still routinely described as mentally ill, “falling short” of God’s purposes, and in the case of Keith O’Brien, “grotesque”. We are routinely thrown in with paedophiles and polygamists in public debate. In that context, the church’s failure explicitly to stand with the oppressed casts them by default in the role of oppressor. Tim Stevens’ cognitive dissonance is merely a case in point.

  • Susannah says:


    I raised the issue of invisibility on diocesan websites – the erasure of LGBT presence to avoid awkwardness and complaints from social conservatives in ‘the flock’. Basically, the invisibility of LGBT issues on these websites is so pronounced, from diocese to diocese… and specifically the diocese of Leicester I referred to… that it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that the avoidance of the topic (which carries with it very significant human needs) is done out of embarrassment, and a retreat to ‘default’… the idea that gay and lesbian sexual relationships are not “legitimate” (to use your term) human behaviour.

    The absence of support for a group of people who could benefit from diocesan presence and acknowledgment is pretty craven in my opinion.

    The fact that the Church of England comes across as predominantly ‘white British’, which can also be seen from website to website, is also not satisfactory, but was not the issue I was raising.
    It doesn’t make the marginalisation of LGBT right.

    I hesitate to speak on the subject of race – because I feel less informed – but I’d suggest that there is a difference between erasing LGBT presence basically because it is awkward and embarrassing and likely to offend people who think gay sex is abominable; and failing to give presence to people who are non-white, where I really do not believe there is the same motive of race being likely to offend people.

    Your church member visiting a diocesan website is very unlikely to be offended by a picture or article about a person ‘engaging’ in being black! But the reason LGBT is suppressed – to the point of invisibility on many diocesan websites – is *precisely* because the authorities fear that church members are likely to be offended by a picture or article (or even a link to support) about people ‘engaging’ in being lesbian or gay.

    The two are not synonymous, because ‘being black’ has legitimacy in our church. ‘Being gay’ is projected (and indeed asserted by the church’s default position) as being illegitimate, at least at the point where sexual relations are involved.


  • Susannah says:


    It is this perceived illegitimacy that explains the discriminating absence of lesbian and gay experience, lesbian and gay accounts, lesbian and gay advice and support – to a shocking invisibility that is (in my view) cowardly and marginalising.

    And yet the country as a whole – and the law of the land – does not regard the decent, committed and caring relationships of lesbian and gay couples as ‘illegitimate’. The decent people of this country oppose discrimination and the shutting out of minorities, whether that is because they are black or gay.

    In shutting out LGBT accounts, support, and presence from diocesan websites, the church is actually being pretty pathetic.

    There’s no leadership. The silence is ‘outrageous’, the invisibility an affront, because it’s an invisibility arising out of fear of one group’s ‘othering’ of gay and lesbian couples, and to that extent contributes (along with the church’s default position on the subject) to a climate where homophobes can feel gay presence should and is erased, and that it is erased with a religious mandate.

    Ethnic monorities are not being erased from diocesan websites out of fear that racists will disapprove of black faces in the church. Your comparison doesn’t hold up at all.

    Ethnic minorities *are* underrepresented (in my limited knowledge) in the power structures and cultural ‘default’ of the Church of England. To the extent that that creates ‘absence’ on diocesan websites, that is wrong as well. But the absence does not seem to do with legitimacy, does not seem to be a political erasure to avoid offence, more like disappointing negligence.


  • Susannah says:


    I’m basically appealing to people like the Bishop of Leicester to systematically analyse all diocesan websites and ask themselves: ‘Are we satisfied, are we pleased, with the welcome, the support and the presence – the inclusion if you like – that we give to gay people?’

    They could do a similar analysis of the black presence on diocesan websites too.

    Basically LGBT is being avoided, shut out, erased, left invisible, not talked about, not supported… in the public forum and shop window of diocesan websites. It is a presence that is cold-shouldered… pretending it isn’t there… whereas actually the Church has thousands of real human beings, who are living with LGBT issues, who contribute to society and the church in countless ways, and who deserve proportionate presence and acknowledgment of their lives, including their relationship lives, deserve networks and contacts and resources of support within diocesan structures – and deserve them being available online for them, or young gay people, or enquirers, to feel, yes the church recognises we are here.

    The Bishop of Leicester did a good thing by condemning the de-legitimising of LGBT overseas. But, institutionally, in England the Church continues to de-legitimise LGBT, to vilify the tender intimate love of human beings as being against God, abominable even. The diocesan websites re-enforce this de-legitimisation through erasure.

    But gay and lesbian love is no longer illegitimate, gay love is affirmed by society, homophobia condemned, gay and lesbian couples received and accepted in all walks of life, in the media, in the family lives of ordinary people… except in these islands of religiously-motivated discrimination.

    Then a whole class of people get erased. It is so widespread as to be described, reasonably, as institutional.

    I’m just saying that’s not good enough.

  • Priscilla:
    Your correction casts me back to a more censorious era that I’d rather forget. Nevertheless, I will ensure that I apply the most inclusive PC search criteria to the diocesan web-site next time.

    ‘the status of black people is thankfully no longer in doubt’. Not sure whether you’ve looked at the racial mix of General Synod, or the House of Bishops, but I beg to differ. There’s also little chance of subtly infiltrating that hierarchy as a ‘closeted’ black man.

    ‘Resources on diocesan websites speaking to racial issues would be just as welcome as those speaking to issues of sexuality.’ I’m sure they would. The absence of diocesan references either is no proof of discrimination, simply that the focus is on Christ and broader issues of community, rather than sprinkling the site with shibboleths of left-wing solidarity.

    ‘Race and sexuality are, for the time being, substantively different theological and legal issues.’ Really? Then why is the sexual orientation issue debated as a repetition of the theological and legal arguments over racial discrimination?

    You argue that it’s because: ‘thankfully we no longer live in a society where the church could openly try and “delegitimise” racial difference. But we do inhabit a church where gay people are still routinely described as mentally ill, “falling short” of God’s purposes, and in the case of Keith O’Brien, “grotesque”.’

    Have a look around the black communities in the UK and ask yourself why the church leadership for those areas is still drawn from the white minority. This is why blacks desert the Anglican churches for churches with an ethnically diverse leadership.

    The analogy (however unpalatable) is entirely valid.

  • Newfred says:

    David, the view that providing pastoral resources for minorities is but a “shibboleth of left-wing solidarity” seems to be an excellent example of the problem I and others are trying to bear witness to here.

    As for “community”, it cannot be achieved by ignoring the identities and needs of those individuals that form it. There is also nothing mutually exclusive about addressing the needs of individuals-in-community. What destroys community is marginalising a minority in members in the perceived “interests” of the majority.

    Coincidentally, that is the story of Anglicanism over the past 50 years.

  • Susannah says:

    David, lesbian and gay relationships, and equal marriage, are not “shibboleths of left-wing solidarity”.

    David Cameron backs equal marriage and he is hardly “left-wing”.

    This is a justice issue, recognised by people of all parties, not a party political issue.

    If you look at the welcome and inclusion that the Episcopal Church offers to gay, lesbian, heterosexual, trans and cisgendered alike, you will find a shining example – not of “left-wing shibboleths” but – of justice, and standing alongside minorities and including them.

    More than that, seeing them as gift, and using them, employing them, celebrating their lives and presence.

    I maintain that the lack of presence – the invisibility in the church’s public media – is a failing and a sad distancing from people who deserve better welcome, inclusion and support.

    It’s strange, because Jesus made a point of *not* distancing Himself from groups the religious establishment would have frowned on.

    If diocesan websites want to focus on Christ, then recognising the very real needs of minorities, and giving them presence and apsce on diocesan websites, is a very Christ-like thing to do. Gay and lesbian people (especially youth) struggle with issues, not least within the church itself, and the websites should flag up structures of support, contacts within the diocese, working parties on human sexuality, support groups… and opportunities for people in LGBT categories to be able to ‘voice’ exactly how it is for them… because the church needs to listen more, not just talk ‘about’ them.

    Diocesan websites should play a valuable role in promoting presence for minorities, and yes, that applies to issues of race as well.

  • Susannah:
    You said: ‘David Cameron backs equal marriage and he is hardly “left-wing”. This is a justice issue, recognised by people of all parties, not a party political issue.’

    I think you should recognise that, in spite of Cameron’s public posture on gay marriage, a significant majority (63%) of a recent YouGov poll held the view that ‘he doesn’t believe that it’s right, but is doing it for political reasons’. (page 8)

    So, unsurprisingly, this is a coalition in which Conservatives can temporarily espouse radical policies that keep the peace with Liberals until, like House of Lords reform, expediency forces them to drop ‘justice’ issues to lure core voters back.

    The lack of token diversity statements and idealised rainbow imagery on diocesan websites does not worry me half as much as the lack of anglican leadership diversity (especially in regions where minorities predominate).

  • Newfred:

    Paragraph 2 of your reply is thoroughly valid. I think the Anglican hierarchy has engaged in community by proxy, rather than by participation that is representative of parishioners’ priorities.

  • Susannah says:

    David: “The lack of token diversity statements and idealised rainbow imagery on diocesan websites.”

    I will be honest. This sits uncomfortably with me.

    I am expressing sincere points about the lack of presence and visibility of LGBT issues and lesbian and gay individuals and the social challenges they face. Homophobia and transphobia are real. These are important issues.

    You know very well I wasn’t arguing for “token” diversity statements – I’m asking for much more than that. I’m asking for unashamed identification of the church with minorities who face abuse on the street and ‘othering’ even within the church.

    I don’t want these issues dismissed as somehow tokenism of less importance than race or poverty. When it comes to all these issues, they should *all* be addressed and helped.

    I felt you were being dismissive. Same with reference to “idealised rainbow imagery”. What even do you mean by that?

    I just feel that this verges on the dismissive attitude too many people in the church still have towards LGBT issues. A kind of mental othering rooted in theological distaste for the lives people happen to live, the people they happen to be.

    Ironically, I sincerely agree with you about the dominance of white male bishops and senior clergy. I think that really needs addressing but, see, I am taking your issue seriously.

    Is it too much to understand that, at a time when it’s still unthinkable we’re going to have a lesbian bishop for many years, I may at least make a case for more presence on diocesan websites? Because that’s about as far as things are going to go right now.


  • Susannah says:


    It’s not just race, David. It’s gender (0% female bishops, 50% female membership) and it’s people’s real-life orientations and identities. At least there *are* black senior clergy. There is no ‘in principle’ marginalisation.

    But it’s not a competition. We should press – as a Christian principle – for more presence for minorities through ALL the expressions of the Church. Minorities should not be kept ‘invisible’ out of the intolerance of others.

    The concern for presence and inclusion for gay interests, gay people’s lives and accounts, gay support groups, gay contacts for young LGBT (and, obviously, for lesbian, bi- and trans youth and adults, who can be incredibly vulnerable and marginalised) is – I believe – a serious and appropriate request to be made of the Church.

    So please don’t keep implying that, compared to race, these are issues of tokenism, left-wing lunacy, and whatever you mean by idealised rainbow imagery.

    There is *nothing* idealised about the harrassment, bullying, othering, and marginalisation that – for example – young trans kids get at school, at home, or on the street.

    These are real issues, that in many ways get less social protection than being black. While I believe some Christians offer real pastoral support at local level, it seems inexcusable that at diocesan level – in the public view – LGBT gets conveniently erased.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *