On September 17, the House of Lords debated a motion
That this House takes note of the treatment of LGBTI citizens worldwide.
The record of the entire debate can be found starting here.
Readers may be most interested in the contribution of crossbencher Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. His speech starts here. Two extracts follow.
…Some Christians, while not able to accept same-sex marriage as a Christian option, have, however reluctantly—some have been very reluctant indeed—come to accept civil partnerships as a valid option for society as a whole. It is that second kind of change that I believe we have to work to achieve first in relation to conservative religious institutions.
In short, church leaders and institutions in those countries where LGBTI people are criminalised have to be urged to make a distinction between teaching which may be applicable for their own members in their private lives and the basic rights and dignity that need to be accorded to everyone in their society, whatever their religion or belief. Of course, working through secular channels to challenge the laws in those countries is fundamental. But behind those laws is a culture, as the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Paddick, mentioned and stressed—very often, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, a “toxic” culture. That toxic culture is, sadly, intertwined with religion.
It is no secret that the Anglican Communion has become very frayed at the edges on this issue. That is what I wrote in the first draft of this speech, but from what we read on the front page of some papers today, “frayed” is much too weak a word. The churches in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking a very conservative and hard line and see themselves as quite apart from churches in North America. Nor is that the sum of it: the frontier of the culture wars in the USA has moved to Africa, with conservative forces in America lining up with and reinforcing the conservative forces in some African countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly mentioned. Indeed there is evidence, which the Human Dignity Trust has on film, of some American churches actively proselytising in Uganda with a view to strengthening hard-line attitudes to gay and lesbian people.In those countries, the Christian churches have been and continue to be very strong. In contrast to Europe, they are a major influence in shaping the lives of people. If it is unrealistic to think of changing the minds of those churches on the issue itself in the short term, what can and should be done is to work on getting them to accept the legitimacy of the civil sphere, and, in particular, laws which protect the rights of minorities, not least LGBTI people.
The way that such people are treated in those countries is an affront to any concept of human decency, and the church must be challenged to see that its support for their criminalisation is a direct cause of this. It is an offence against the human person: the unique value and dignity of the individual, whatever their sexuality. It is a violation of everything that the Christian faith is meant to stand for. As a minimum, those states must be urged to act against those who commit acts of violence against LGBTI people…
…Behind those wider discriminatory attitudes there is a strong religious influence because, as I mentioned, most of those Commonwealth countries still have a strong Christian presence and continuing influence. That has to be addressed. I know that the main focus of diplomatic work is Government to Government, but there are opportunities to relate to wider civic society.
My concern, of which I hope that the Government take account, is that all those involved in setting up diplomatic meetings or organising conferences recognise the key role that Christian leaders play in many of the countries which have the most conservative attitudes, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. If they are not to change their church teaching, they might be encouraged at least to acknowledge, and to help their churches to acknowledge, the validity of the civil sphere in its own right as safeguarding the rights and dignity of all human beings, whatever their sexuality.
I recognise that the main responsibility lies with the Christian churches here to help the churches in those countries to acknowledge the validity of this distinction, but I believe that our Government, through our normal diplomatic channels and intergovernmental agencies, also have opportunities to engage with wider civic society. Here, the Christian leaders, especially in the countries I mentioned, the Anglican archbishops and bishops, have an influential role. They themselves need to be decisively influenced to speak out for the human rights of LGBTI people…
Some extracts from two subsequent speakers in the debate may also be of interest.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): …I also take up points made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, in relation to the Church. I, too, read with great interest the comments attributed to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in today’s papers about effectively realising that the Anglican communion is probably two or possibly three different churches, and that an attempt to make them all look alike at subjects such as this is an impossible task. I hope that he succeeds in that and does not attempt to follow in the intolerance in parts of the Anglican communion, particularly in Africa, that we heard about from so many speakers, and that he concentrates on the liberal approach adopted in North America.
In the United Kingdom and Church of England, can we please adopt a sensible, non-hypocritical approach to same-sex relationships? We all know that there are very senior priests and probably bishops who are openly gay and yet unable to openly profess that because of the strange, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule that applies in the Church of England. The sooner the Church of England comes to terms with this and agrees that the exceptions it was granted when we passed the same-sex law should no longer apply to it, the sooner our own society will be more tolerant and a much happier place.
Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, like others, I thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for securing this debate and opening it so effectively. We heard some extremely powerful contributions, including the searingly brave personal account from my noble friend Lord Paddick.
I am very glad that we are discussing this subject immediately after our debate on the new sustainable development goals. Key to those goals is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 while leaving no one behind. We know that those whose sexuality is not accepted in their home countries are particularly likely to be excluded, and in poverty, so those SDGs are absolutely relevant here.
In that debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield made a very effective contribution. I note that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was down to speak on the dairy industry debate that followed. So I wondered where the Bishops’ Bench was for this debate. I was very glad to hear the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who just spoke, because I noted that there was nobody sitting on the Bishops’ Bench, even just to listen. How could that be? I assume that the Church of England must surely move on from appointing women bishops to addressing this issue of human rights. I thought that that lay behind the moves quoted today made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury where he spoke of drawing together the communion and conversation across the whole Anglican communion. I wish them well, even if they are frayed at the edges— as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, put it…