ROY CLEMENTS ARCHIVE
Homophobia in the Church
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Fellowship has recently (November 2000) published a research report entitled Christian Homophobia. It defines homophobia as an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality, gay and lesbian people, and their culture and details a number of case studies which illustrate the following key findings:
That the majority of homophobic abuse suffered by gay men and lesbians in the UK is supported by the words and actions of the Christian churches.
That such homophobia has a serious daily effect on the health and well-being of the gay and lesbian population of this country, sometimes leading to absence from work, depression, physical harm and even suicide.
That the Christian churches in the UK have had a disproportionate influence on legislation affecting gays and lesbians and have, at every turn, tried to frustrate the will of parliament, defy the international consensus on human rights, and to gain exemption for themselves from the fair and equal treatment of lesbians and gay men.
That in the methods and organisation, conservative Christian groups in this country now amount to a "Christian Right" similar to that which has been active in the US for some years.
That some bishops and other church leaders act hypocritically in regard to the lesbian and gay members and clergy of their churches, knowing that they are licensing and ordaining gay clergy whilst publicly denying this.
That such hypocrisy rewards deceit and dishonesty and is deleterious to the health and well being of those who are forced into such a lifestyle.
That a significant number of clergy have been dismissed, made homeless and forced to rely on state benefits because of their sexuality.
That lesbian and gay church members are being expelled from congregations, lesbian and gay groups have been refused the use of church premises, church run welfare and housing organisations have specifically excluded gay men and lesbians
That sermons and Christian resource material supporting gay men and lesbians have been censored or destroyed, and that young people in church youth groups and other Christian settings are being indoctrinated into homophobia.
That there are significant numbers of counsellors, psychologists and other health professionals whose "Christian" beliefs lead them to attempt the "changing", "curing", or "exorcising" of gay men and lesbians against all the advice of reputable professional associations.
That there are occasional instances of heroic and truly Christian people within the churches taking a stand to support the lesbian and gay community. There are many gay and lesbian Christians who are prepared to work for the redemption of the churches from the sin of homophobia, often at great personal cost.
The full report is available from LGCM, Oxford House, Derbyshire St., London E2 6HG
Tel/Fax 020 7739 1249
More details are also available on their websitewww.lgcm.org.uk
A Christian Homphobia Hotline has also been established which invites calls in confidence from any gay man or lesbian who feels they have been discriminated against by Christians:
020 7613 1095
an open letter to the Council of the Evangelical Alliance
by Dr. Roy Clements
(Minister of Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge 1979-1999 and a former EA Council Member)
The recent report on Christian Homophobia published by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is a devastating indictment of the churches’ treatment of homosexuals. I am bound to say its assessment of the situation is wholly confirmed by my own experience as an evangelical pastor. I was, therefore, particularly disappointed by the defensiveness of the press release issued by the Evangelical Alliance on 16th November 2000. It is disingenuous for the EA to claim that there is no institutionalised homophobia in the churches. There are thousands of gay Christians in the UK who can testify to the contrary. The public silence of most of them merely confirms the intensity of the homophobia to which they are subjected.
EA’s principle argument is that members of the gay community have misconstrued the antipathy that evangelicals seem to display towards them. This is not hatred directed at them as homosexual people, but moral disgust directed at their homosexual behaviour. Evangelical churches reject homoerotic sexual practice on biblical grounds. Their demonstration of disapproval towards this "sin" does not, therefore, constitute homophobia. On the contrary, it is a legitimate expression of Christian opinion on a contemporary ethical issue.
If only evangelicals did treat the matter simply as a dispassionate debate about a contemporary ethical issue! Many gay Christians are, like me, thoroughly evangelical in their theological position holding the highest possible view of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible. We would welcome the opportunity for a constructive, even-handed discussion of the relevant pastoral theology and textual exegesis. But what we experience within evangelicalism far too often is an irrational response characterised by prejudice and emotion. There is simply no safe space within the evangelical fold where disagreement on this matter can be aired.
Yet, evangelicals have differed and continue to differ on a host of other theological and ethical issues: the millennium, the charismata, predestination, the nature of Hell, divorce, contraception, slavery, the role of women, capitalism and socialism, creation and evolution ... the list is endless. There are, within the EA, Christian groups and churches who take contradictory positions on many such issues, each convinced that the Bible is indisputably on their side in the matter. But none of these issues has been elevated by the EA into a shibboleth. To their credit, unlike extreme right-wing fundamentalist groups in the USA, British evangelicals have usually recognised the need for tolerance and diversity among themselves.
Why, then, is the debate about homosexuality not treated in the same way? There are, of course, powerful pressure groups that would like to insist that the biblical ban on homosexuality is so unconditional, so perspicuous and so central to the Christian faith that it should be defended as strenuously as the doctrine of the incarnation. But surely, enough books have been written by scholarly and spiritually-minded men and women on the other side of the debate to establish that the issue is not so cut and dried. Homosexuality properly belongs within that long list of recognised controversies. Your 1998 paper, Faith, Hope and Homosexuality, though commendably gracious in its tone, spoke with unjustifiable certainty. By failing to acknowledge any liberty of Christian conscience on the matter, it arrogantly disregarded the existence of a dissenting minority not just within the Christian Church generally but within evangelicalism too. If unanimity appears to reign on this issue within the EA camp, I assure you it because of fear ... fear generated by precisely the kind of homophobic intimidation that the LGCM report describes.
For twenty years I was myself an evangelical leader who knew himself privately to be gay and who became increasingly unconvinced by the conventional exegesis of the proof texts usually cited to support the anti-gay evangelical lobby. But, to my shame, I never dared to express dissent from "political-correctness" on the issue. If Joel Edwards or David Hilborn had asked me to contribute to the 1998 report I would have declined. I knew that to speak my mind would ruin my career, damage the reputation of my church and in all probability shatter my marriage. When, a year later, I did finally "come out" in confidence to a handful of evangelical leaders whom I counted as friends these were indeed the speedy consequences. The EA press office played no small part in publicising the scandal of my "fall" to the secular media.
What is so special about homosexuality that difference of opinion is thus emphatically stifled and that individuals are so readily stigmatised? The stakes have been raised far too high for this to be regarded simply as a legitimate expression of Christian opinion on a contemporary ethical issue. The suspicion must be that something far more neurotic fuels the anxiety that drives the anti-gay lobby within EA. In my view it is indeed institutionalised homophobia.
If the EA genuinely wishes to be acquitted of such a charge, then I respectfully suggest it should eschew hastily issued defensive denials. Actions speak louder than words.
Since it admits that homophobia (of an un-institutionalised sort) is (regrettably) present among its member churches and groups, why do we not see the EA Council organising an internal audit and exerting discipline on the issue, as it certainly would if the charge of racism were being levelled against its members?
Is the EA willing to examine the evidence supporting the "healing" claims of ex-gay groups? If that evidence is found to be lacking, will it disaffiliate all such groups and apologise to the gay Christians who have been cruelly misled by them?
Ought not the EA to rebuke the tendentious caricatures of gay lifestyle which proliferate in evangelical newspapers as the scurrilous and unfair distortions which they are? Is there no place in the EA magazine for some balanced and even sympathetic reportage of the kind of discreet, faithful, one-to-one relationships which are common within the Christian gay community and the desired goal of the vast majority of gay men and women?
Is it too much to hope that the EA might engage in dialogue with homosexuals instead of making public pronouncements about them? An open-minded delegation of EA Council members at LGCM’s planned Christian Homophobia Conference scheduled for 8th September 2001, for instance, would be a most welcome and irenical gesture.
Most of all, do we not need to hear from a senior EA representative some public acknowledgement of the damage which is being done to the cause of the gospel by the blinkered, moralistic pontifications of the emergent Christian Right in this country? Are we still in the business of proclaiming the saving grace of God to all? Or are we, rather, embarked on a crusade of national moral re-armament—with conservative Roman Catholics and Muslims as our allies? There is of course a valid and necessary place for Christian involvement in social action. But we are in danger of investing a disproportionate amount of energy in such campaigns. The ambition to establish Christian values by passing legislation on moral issues failed in the seventeenth century, and it will fail again today if modern puritans are misguided enough to try to resurrect the dream.
Evangelicals used to believe that the message of the Bible which the world desperately needed to hear centred on "Christ Jesus and him crucified". There has been precious little that is Christocentric in the media profile of evangelicals recently, dominated as it has been by the agenda of groups like the Christian Institute.
And the only crucifixion we seem anxious to advertise is that of the gay community.
Dr Roy Clements