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…

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Newfred
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

(continued…) 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,… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

You can see for yourself: http://www.leicester.anglican.org 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… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
8 years ago

The great tragedy of modern Anglicanism.

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

Colin Coward
8 years ago

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:

http://changingattitude.org.uk/archives/6529

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
Laurence Roberts
8 years ago

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
Craig Nelson
8 years ago

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.

David Shepherd
8 years ago

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
Priscilla White
8 years ago

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

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
8 years ago

David,
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
8 years ago

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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/02/racial-equality-bad-old-days — 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.… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

David, 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… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

(continued…) 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… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

(concluding…) 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… Read more »

David Shepherd
8 years ago

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. Erika: ‘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. NewFred: ‘Resources on diocesan websites speaking to racial issues would be just as welcome as those speaking to… Read more »

Newfred
8 years ago

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
Susannah
8 years ago

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.… Read more »

David Shepherd
8 years ago

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’. http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/8xrr8zjqs7/YG-Archives-Pol-ST-results-09-110312.pdf (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… Read more »

David Shepherd
8 years ago

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
Susannah
8 years ago

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… Read more »

Susannah
Susannah
8 years ago

(continued…) 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… Read more »

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