An Open Letter to Justin Welby from Peter Tatchell

On the occasion of his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

 

Dear Archbishop Justin Welby,

Your enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion will be an occasion for rejoicing by your faithful.

Like them, I wish you well.

I hope you will use your new authority to guide the church to accept equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Just over a decade ago, you expressed harsh homophobic opinions, condemning gay  relationships and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. You may have since revised these views but even now you oppose marriage equality.

One of your first public statements, when you were confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury last month, was to declare your support for discrimination against gay people: namely your support for the legal ban on same-sex civil marriage.

Moreover, although you have expressed your support for civil partnerships, it is reported that you have not approved civil partnerships taking place in churches or church blessings for same-sex couples. 

You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic - in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist.

Homophobia has come to mean more than an irrational fear for gay people. It includes support for anti-gay discrimination and the denial of equal rights to people who are LGBT. In this sense of the word, you are homophobic because you support discrimination in law against gay people.  

Discrimination is not a Christian value; regardless of whether this discrimination concerns gender, race, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.  

You say that you are listening to the concerns of the LGBT community but you continue to ignore and reject our claim for equal marriage rights. It does not feel like you are listening. Or perhaps you listening but not hearing?

You are not without precedent with regard to LGBT equality, in the UK and abroad.

Sadly, successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to speak out clearly and consistently against LGBT human rights abuses worldwide and against the frequent collusion with these abuses by local Anglicans.  Large swathes of the Anglican global communion actively support the persecution of LGBT people, mostly without rebuke.

The Anglican churches of Nigeria and Uganda are supporting draconian new anti-gay bills that are currently before their respective parliaments.

Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill intensifies the criminalisation of LGBT people, including life imprisonment for mere sexual touching and the death penalty for repeat gay offenders. It also outlaws same-sex marriage, LGBT organisations and gay human rights advocacy.

Similar repression, excluding the death penalty, is enshrined in the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.

I urge you to speak out against these totalitarian homophobic proposals.

Such concerns aside, I note with encouragement recent statements by you that may indicate a softening of your stance and a greater openness to LGBT equality.

Most commendably, you support strengthening gay relationships and recognise that love between people of the same sex is no less than that of heterosexual couples.

You are quoted as saying: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.”

Indeed, you have indicated that you are open to on-going discussion and dialogue with LGBT people, for which we thank you.

I urge you to show true moral leadership by standing against homophobic discrimination in favour of LGBT equality.

In the name of free speech, I have spoken out against the prosecution of Christian street preachers - even homophobic ones. I have defended persecuted Christians, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

I call on you to reciprocate.

It would, I believe, be wrong for you to collude - either consciously or by default - with those fellow Anglicans who reject gay equality.

I ask you: Would you make such compromises on equal rights in the case of ethnic minorities? I expect not. So why should LGBT people be treated differently?

My mother is a devout Christian. She believes that homosexuality is, according to The Bible, a sin; albeit not a major one. Equally, she believes homophobic discrimination is wrong. She makes a distinction between her personal beliefs and the law of the land.

I would, respectfully, urge you to do the same with regard to marriage equality and other legislation.

I understand and appreciate that you want to maintain Anglican unity and prevent a split in the communion. But is sacrificing LGBT equal rights morally justifiable in order to secure this goal? Is it a price worth paying to keep the church united?  Should gay human rights be compromised to appease those in the worldwide communion who endorse homophobic persecution and legal discrimination?

I urge you:

Be a moral leader for universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell

Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation

***

This Open Letter has prompted a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He has offered to meet Tatchell and begin a dialogue on LGBT issues; a significant breakthrough for the LGBT community, made all the more significant because Welby comes from the conservative, evangelical wing of the Anglican Communion. 

Welby wrote to Tatchell: 

Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. It requires much thought and the points it makes are powerful. I would like to explain what I think to you...and listen to you in return.

Welby is the first Archbishop who has offered to meet Tatchell. Not even Rowan Williams made such an offer. 

 

Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Photograph: Getty Images

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder