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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Has Arlene Foster saved power-sharing in Northern Ireland?

The DUP leader's decision to attend Martin McGuinness' funeral was much more than symbolic. But is Gerry Adams willing to make a deal?

After some prevarication, DUP leader Arlene Foster chose to attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry today. Her decision to do so cannot have been an easy one.

A substantial part of her loyalist base has noisily resisted attempts to memorialise the late deputy first minister as anything other than an inveterate killer. Foster herself notes in today’s Belfast Telegraph that the former IRA commander was responsible for the deaths of “many neighbours and friends”. And in 1979 – aged just eight – she bore witness to the bloody aftermath of an IRA attack in her own home: her father, a reservist police officer, was shot in the head by a gunman later eulogised by McGuinness.

Her attendance at today’s funeral is thus noteworthy and has been the subject of due praise. She was twice applauded by the congregation: as she took her seat, and after Bill Clinton singled her out in his eulogy. It is, however, much more than the symbolic gesture it might appear.

Last month’s election, which saw the DUP lose 10 seats and unionist parties lose their Stormont majority for the first time in nearly a century, proved Foster to be damaged goods. She was – and remains – tarnished by the RHI scandal but also by her crass behaviour towards the nationalist community, particularly on Irish language issues.

Her carelessly won reputation as a truculent bigot will therefore not be easily lost. Her departure remains a red line for Sinn Fein. But with just four days until the deadline for a new devolution settlement, Foster’s presence at McGuinness’ funeral is the clearest indication yet of the DUP’s carefully calculated strategy. It isn’t quite a resignation, but is nonetheless indicative of the new manner in which Foster has carried herself since her party’s chastening collapse.

She has demonstrated some contrition and offered tacit acknowledgement that her election shtick was misjudged and incendiary. Her statement on McGuinness’ death was delicately pitched and made only oblique reference to his IRA past. In the absence of a willingness to allow Foster to step down, the decision instead has been taken to detoxify her brand.

The conciliatory Foster the DUP will nominate for First Minister on Monday will as such at least appear to be apart from the dogwhistling Foster who fought the election – and her attendance today is the superlative indication of that careful transition. There has been talk that this increases the chance of a deal on a new executive. This is premature – not least because the onus is now almost entirely on Sinn Fein.

Theirs is just as much a mandate to reject Stormont as we know it as it is to return and right the DUP’s wrongs. Gerry Adams, the last member of the Armalite generation standing, has made this abundantly clear – and has hardened his line just as Foster has made sure to be seen magnanimously softening hers. He said last night that he would not tolerate any extension of power-sharing talks beyond Monday’s deadline, and called on Dublin to prevent the UK government from re-instating direct rule.

Though Adams also maintained a deal was still possible in the coming days, his statement augurs badly. As the former UUP leader Lord Empey told me on the day McGuinness died, the Sinn Fein president – the ideologue to McGuinness’ Stormont pragmatist – is now entirely without equal within his party. Though he has set the transition to a new generation of female leaders in train, he remains in total control.

The demand for Dublin’s involvement is also telling: as the leader of the third-biggest party in the Dail, his is an all-Ireland long game. Enda Kenny will soon depart, offering Fianna Fail – riding high in the polls – a useful pretext to renegotiate or scrap their confidence and supply arrangement with his minority government. Sinn Fein are on course to make gains, but implementing Brexit and austerity as partners in a Stormont executive would undermine their populist anti-austerity platform.

As such, Empey predicted McGuinness’ death would allow Adams to exert a disruptive influence on the talks to come. “I don’t think it’ll be positive because for all his faults, Martin was actually committed to making the institutions work,” he said. “I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed – and it was obvious from the latter part of last year that Gerry was reinstating his significant influence in the party. For that reason I think it will make matters more difficult.  I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my sense.”

He is not alone. There was, earlier this week, growing confidence in Westminster that some fudge could be reached on the most contentious issues. It isn't impossible - but Adams’ renewed dominance and rejection of the extended timeframe such negotiations would undoubtedly require suggests a new executive is as unlikely a prospect as it has ever been. With Foster quietly reinventing herself, the DUP could be the big winners come the next election (which could come this year and reinstate a unionist majority) – and the resurgent republicans might well rue the day they squandered their big chance.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.