Homosexuality is, undeniably, a contentious issue within the Church of England. Whilst traditionally the church might have been thought of as resolutely anti-gay, things appear to be a bit more blurry than they used to be. There are people who argue that the church is accepting and tolerant of the LGBT community whilst there are those that see the church as outdated and out of touch with a society that is becoming more inclusive of those who identify as L, G, B or T. With that in mind this week we are asking whether it can still be said that the Church of England is homophobic.
Last week the former Archbishop, Lord Carey, accused David Cameron of being ‘aggressively secular’ and claimed that his support for gay marriage has left Christians feeling persecuted. To reinforce his claim he stated a poll showing two thirds of Christians felt like a persecuted minority in the UK . What was interesting is that these comments were followed by a report on Easter Sunday which showed that 69% of people found the church to be out of touch with modern society and that almost half disagree with the church’s stance on gay marriage. This stance was, perhaps, best summarised by John Sentamu, the Archibishop of York who stated that “I will be the first to accept that homosexual people have suffered discrimination and sometimes worse through the decades” but then commented “Defining marriage as between a man and a woman is not discriminatory against same-sex couples” plainly refusing to acknowledge the notion that this position could be seen as intolerant. Even within the church there are those that see it as discriminatory and out dated. Last year a reverend from Lancashire accused the church of being ‘institutionally homophobic’ and argued that there was a ‘glass ceiling’ for gay people in the church in England that prevented them reaching the institution’s upper echelons. This was seemingly highlighted last year when Mr Page, a vicar in Sussex, was prevented from preaching by diocese officials after refusing to discuss his cvil partnership and the nature of his relationship . The Church of England currently permits the ordination of gay priests but only if they are celibate and this appears to be something he was reluctant to discuss. Ralph Jones of the Independent argues that the church’s opposition to gay marriage mean that it can be ‘justifiably saddled’ with the term homophobia and that this will not change whilst the church maintains an unclear position in relation to gay marriage specifically and LGBT issues more generally. He argues that in order to avoid homophobia the church need to use a new dictionary which avoids ‘loving people as they are’, as the church often seeks to promote, and actually speak about denying right and freedom to those that are not straight
Many believers do not see a clash between faith and marriage equality and are able to support gay marriage and incorporate their views on same-sex marriage into their religious beliefs. Situations where priests have openly come out are testament to the case that there are gay clergy and gay friendly congregations. There are clergy that are in open civil partnerships and there are diocese that are supportive of these clergy. For example, on a personal level I would include my gran in the gay friendly church goer group. Since I came out, she has been a staunch supporter of same sex marriage and LGBT rights. She is open about her opinions when she goes to her church coffee mornings and has told me that she rarely encounters homophobic attitudes of others that attend. Admittedly that is only one case, but it should also be noted that she isn’t in a large city where LGBT couples openly hold hands or where she encounters gay bars, clubs and saunas popping out to buy a pint of milk, but this is in a small, in many ways traditional and religious village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. In general, there are many LGBT church members up and down the country who are openly out and discuss their sexuality. The church is welcoming and accepting for some LGBT people and provides a space for some where they can be open about their sexuality. In addition, even in the past there are incidents that suggest the church as not as homophobic as many would think. In the 1960s the church was at the forefront of ensuring that homosexuality was decriminalised and it could be argued that now they are adjusting to rapidly changing views in wider society about marriage and sexuality and that it can once again support LGBT rights as they have done previously.
Whilst the Church of England might be accused of being homophobic they might also be viewed as going through a period of change where values on same-sex marriage are being reassessed. What do you think? Do you think we can call the church homophobic? Is the church actually more diverse than it is given credit for and accepting of LGBT people?
GMI partnership provide free sexual health services focused on HIV prevention in London. We work with gay and bisexual men on various issues including relationships, identity and being gay. For more information contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
The views in the article above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of GMI Partnership.