Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Autumn 2000

The active and outspoken campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Peter Tatchell reflects on two millennia of hatred and violence by the godly upon the queer.

Apostles of Unreason Settle into their Third Millennium

by Peter Tatchell

The Church of England marked the new millennium by celebrating 2,000 years of Christianity with a special National Millennium Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in January. Attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen and the Prime Minister, this service was shamelessly triumphalist.

For lesbians and gay men, however, the Christian millennium is not a moment for celebration. It is a time to mourn two millennia of religious intolerance, which has inflicted terrible pain on homosexual people. Over the last 2,000 years, church-inspired homophobia has led to hundreds of millions of queers worldwide being rejected by their families, driven to depression and suicide, discriminated against by anti-gay laws, and condemned to death for sodomy. Christian leaders have never expressed any remorse for the church’s persecution of lesbian and gay people. When Pope John Paul II apologised in 1999 for centuries of Vatican-backed injustice and oppression – such as anti-Semitism and colonialism – he made no mention of Catholic support for murderous anti-homosexual witch hunts.

His heartless omission was compounded this year when he attacked the World Pride 2000 gay festivities in Rome as an “offence to Christian values” and launched another embittered attack on the gay community, condemning homosexuality as “objectively disordered” and “contrary to natural law”. Here in Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s millennium sermon in January was an opportunity to atone for the genocide inflicted on us, but Dr Carey chose to ignore our suffering. When asked by fellow Christians to express his remorse for the church’s crimes against queer humanity, the Archbishop declined. Likewise, in response to OutRage!’s request for an apology to the lesbian and gay community, Dr Carey remained silent and indifferent. How should we respond to such callousness? An eye for eye? But that would leave us all blind.

In an atmosphere of ongoing religious bigotry, it is difficult to show forgiveness – especially when church leaders express no sorrow or regret for the homophobic victimisation they and their predecessors have caused. The lesbian and gay community must, nevertheless, rise above the low morality of organised Christianity. Stooping to the church’s lack of compassion would make us no better than they are. Why not instead reverse the Christian fundamentalist mantra that is directed against queers – loathe the sin of homophobia, but love the sinner and strive to deliver them from prejudice and discrimination?

However much we may deplore religious superstition and irrationality, it is surely better to win over to the struggle for homosexual emancipation as many Christians as possible. Better to have them as our friends and allies, rather than as our enemies and opponents.

Although redemption and forgiveness is the ethical response to church intolerance, it is a response that is understandably hard for many lesbians and gays to accept. More than any other institution in British society, Christianity has waged an almost ceaseless 2,000-year-long war against homosexual people.

It is a war that continues today. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury mobilised homophobes in the House of Lords to vote down an equal age of consent, thereby continuing the criminalisation of gay sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. Godly folk such as Baroness Young and Cardinal Winning have scaremongered and queer-baited nonstop all this year, in a desperate bid to save Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act. They failed in Scotland, but succeeded in preventing repeal in England and Wales. The result? Discrimination rules. Homosexuality remains singled out for special legal restrictions that do not apply to heterosexuality.

Current religious homophobia has its roots in Biblical teaching. Leviticus 20:13 demands that homosexuals be put to death. And this is exactly what the Christian churches did for over 1,800 years. They followed literally and precisely the murderous incitements of Leviticus 20:13, sponsoring the mass murder of queers. We were stoned to death in antiquity, burned alive during the medieval era and, in Britain, hung from gallows until the mid-nineteenth century. This slaughter of homosexuals took place with the official blessing of successive popes and archbishops of Canterbury. The murder of queers in the name of “God” is comparable to the Nazi extermination of Jews. Both Christianity and Nazism demonised, scapegoated and murdered minorities. Nazi anti-Semitism parallels Christian homophobia. The Bible is to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews. It is the theory and practice of Homo Holocaust. While the church no longer advocates the death penalty for gay lovers, it still preaches a gospel of sexual apartheid, arguing that homosexuality should not be accorded the same moral or legal status as heterosexuality.

This claim for the moral superiority of heterosexuality is analogous to the way the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church defended white superiority during the apartheid era in South Africa. It echoes their theological justification of racial discrimination against black people. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Winning, the leader of Scotland’s Roman Catholics, preach a similar doctrine of supremacism – straight supremacism – which they use to justify the treatment of queers as second-class citizens. They provide moral respectability and legitimacy for the homophobic hate campaign of the Daily Mail. Their opposition to gay equality gives comfort and succour to queerbashers everywhere. It coincides with the prejudice that inspired the Soho nail-bomber, David Copeland.

While they may disclaim it as their intention, these men of “God” encourage the homophobic attitudes that fuel violence against our community. Church leaders have queer blood on their hands. Cardinal Winning, Dr Carey and the leaders of most other Christian denominations continue to support discrimination against gay people with regard to the age of consent, marriage, employment, Section 28 and the fostering and adoption of children. They say that lesbians and gay men are not entitled to human rights because, according to their interpretation of Christianity, there is no moral equivalence between heterosexuality and homosexuality. If church leaders advocated similar discrimination against black or Jewish people, there would be a nationwide outcry and near-universal calls for their resignation. They would be shunned and disgraced.

Instead, these apostles of intolerance and unreason were invited to advise the government on the content of the school curriculum and on the wording of the recent Learning and Skills Bill covering sex education in schools. They were granted privileged access and influence that was not accorded to child-welfare agencies, teachers’ unions or education experts.

OutRage! and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association have often been criticised by some people in the gay community for protesting against Church homophobia. Why bother? Christianity is an irrelevant minority sect, they argue. I wish!

The still unresolved battles over Section 28, the age of consent and sex education show that the Church continues to wield significant political influence to the detriment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Religious homophobia is still powerful. We ignore it at our peril.

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Created : Sunday, 2000-10-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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