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

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle