This weekend, a conference took place to discuss ways to combate homophobia inspired by religious institutions. The conference was opened by the Tory, Cllr Brian Coleman, Chair of the Greater London Assembly and Labour’s Lord (Chris) Smith, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport.
The conference was organised by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and was attended by 250 people from over 50 organisations, who ratified the following declaration:
The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.
We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.
Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.
I am vaguely ambivalent about these sorts of faith based anti-homophobia initiatives. Both Old and New Testaments are pretty explicit about the impropriety of homosexual conduct: he suggests that they will not “inherit the kingdom of God”. St Paul is pretty scathing about it. Leviticus decrees that “if a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them”.
Of course, it is possible to explain all this away. Texts are infinitely interpretable. The injunctions in Leviticus only applied to jews, Christ gave us a new covenant, St Paul was talking about pagan temple prostitution. And, in any case – although you wouldn’t know it from the fuss people make about it – only a tiny part of both Old and New Testaments are devoted to beastliness about gays. That sort of thing.
But I’m generally bemused by the intellectual effort that goes into explaining away what seems pretty clear: that the authors of the Bible thought that it was ghastly to be gay, and that these texts have been and remain a significant conduit of anti-gay bigotry and inspiration for anti-gay violence.
Still, if religious groups can be persuaded to support universal human rights and anti-discrimination, that is a good thing. And if religious people who are opposed to homophobia don’t believe that their faith condones it, then fair enough. It is their religion, after all. They can do whatever they want with it.
It is also nice to see both Tory and Labour uniting on this issue.
I’d much rather that Ken Livingstone was giving space to this sort of initiative, than promoting the Muslim Brotherhood, and defending Qaradawi: which want to establish a state which executes homosexuals. But I expect that he wasn’t invited.