Holy, holy, holy – who is saintlier this month, the Rev Tony or the Saint William of Hague?
It’s the rush to make a favourable impression on religious voters, our leader and would-be leader are making noises that are very bad news for gay people.
Mr Blair has given in to demands from the Christian Institute that he amend a European employment directive that would have given gay people employment protection for the first time. Now, if the religious lobby have their way, religious organisations (church schools, church charities, church hospitals and care homes) will have the right to deny employment to homosexuals. That’s thousands and thousands of job opportunities fenced off from us, just like that.
At the same time Mr Hague is trying to outdo our pious Prime Minister. As The Times reported: “William Hague has launched an audacious plan for Britain’s religious vote by promising strong support for social work programmes of the churches and other faith communities.”
The article revealed that “Mr Hague’s moves are a carefully co-ordinated attempt to attract the votes of religiously inclined people who tend to be socially and politically aware but not party political. He believes that he can show on issues such as the family, abortion and Section 28, the Conservatives should be their natural home.”
Things came to a head when Mr Hague had a meeting with a far-right American religious ideologue called Marvin Olasky. Mr Olasky sought to advise Mr Hague on how to transfer welfare provision from the state to religious charities.
You might think this is a reasonable thing for a Conservative politician to consider – until, that is, you look a little more closely at Mr Olasky.
Olasky runs a magazine called The World in which he spells out his ideas. He is, naturally, poisonously anti-gay. He’s written in glowing terms about the ex-gay movement – that bunch of crackpots whose homophobia is so extreme they want to eliminate homosexuality by turning gay people straight (with the Lord’s help, of course). “Homosexuality is a practice not only wrong, but not inevitable,” wrote Mr Olasky. “The success of Exodus [an ex-gay group] and other ministries to homosexuals shows that those sunk in this particular sin can change, just as people who have gotten stuck in welfare can change.”
Olasky talks of the “success” of Exodus and other similar outfits. What success is this? I wonder if he saw the Channel 4 Witness documentary last month, which took a close look behind the scenes of one of these gay-cure ministries. In fact, they didn’t “cure” anybody, all they did was make insecure people more confused, and unhappy people even more miserable.
As I watched the programme, it dawned on me what motivates the ex-gay movement. It is not a desire to help homosexuals at all, it is about bringing comfort to religious fundamentalists. It’s about making Mr Olasky and his ilk feel better that they are “doing something” to eliminate the source of their fear and loathing.
Despite the talk of compassion, they are unconcerned about the consequences for the people they are torturing with their madcap “therapies” and Bible-bashing lies. Schemes like Exodus provide a justification for the ceaseless gay-bashing that is emanating from religious sources.
Mr Hague was unrepentant about consulting Olasky, who advocates that faith-based organisations should take over social services. As the Texas Observer noted: “Olasky would prefer that government stop providing social services, such as drug treatment centres and homelessness shelters and for faith-based organisations to take its place.”
Can you imagine our social services – including Aids treatment centres and hostels for homeless young people – falling into the hands of some of the religious organisations that are currently agitating strongly against homosexuality? Let’s not forget that Mr Olasky wants religion to have a free hand to proselytise among the socially deprived and even restrict services only to those who are prepared to embrace religion.
A Guardian editorial was quick to chide Mr Hague on the company he is keeping. “By meeting Marvin Olasky, the ultimate Christian right-wing evangelical from Texas, the Conservative leader signalled a flirtation with the harsher face of religiously-informed politics. Mr Olasky is close to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. He also blames poverty on the poor and describes women as fit for public office only when there are no men available. Mr Olasky’s politics are reactionary and ugly: by sitting on his knee, Mr Hague has cast a shadow over his praise for religion – and made it little more than another move towards the intolerant right.”
In an interview with Rachel Sylvester in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hague says that he believes in tolerance. “I am very tolerant of people living in whatever way they like, so long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of others. I believe in being tolerant about different sexual orientation…”
Regrettably, actions speak louder than words and Mr Hague has forced his party into implacable opposition to the repeal of Section 28 and the lowering of the age of consent. It doesn’t matter what he says, it’s what he does that really counts.”
To be fair, not all Christian groups or individuals buy into the Hague philosophy. Belinda Shaw of west London wrote to The Times: “I, like many others, watched in sorrow as the ‘new morality’ of the Conservatives brought havoc to British society over two decades, with policies that gave many the impression of ignoring poverty, unemployment, homelessness and the resulting destruction of many families. I am alarmed by the implication that Mr Hague seeks to gain support from the intolerant religious right of whatever faith. The civil rights of many people, and poor women in particular, are threatened by those zealots.”
Mr Blair, meanwhile, his doing his own bit of evangelising among the “faith communities”. He spoke to a gathering of black evangelical churches in Brighton, and it became clear that he is unlikely to want to upset this particular demanding lobby again. And so our rights in the European Directive I mentioned at the beginning are likely to be sacrificed to prove that he really does take religion seriously.
But how can he take it seriously when it throws up nincompoops like Monsignor Michael Buckley, who writes an agony column for the Catholic weekly The Universe. Msgr Buckley was going on recently about “understanding homosexuality” and helpfully explained to his readers the difference between “gay” and “homosexual”.
“Just as every heterosexual, for whatever reason, does not engage in sexual activity, so also there are homosexuals who lead chaste lives. What really hurts them deeply is the assumption that they are sexually active and immoral… Genuine homosexuals are loath to talk of their condition because of the false assumption that this would classify them as perverts who could be other than they were if they really wanted to… Just as we have pilloried homosexuals because of our ignorance and prejudice, so the gay movement has gone on the offensive. It demands that t be recognised as an alternative society with the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals… not all gays are homosexuals and not all homosexuals are gays.”
So, I hope that has made it clear. You’re OK if you keep yourself pure (i.e. don’t touch anything below the belly button – ever), and evil if you follow your instincts and try to find love in the way that makes you happy.
And these are the people Mr Hague wants to take over our welfare provision. And Msgr Buckley is not alone in his opinions within the Catholic Church. He is only repeating the papal party line.
Over in Rome, the Vatican had been crusading fiercely to stop or restrict World Pride. The Guardian reported that the Vatican is receiving support for its efforts from the Italian “fascist community” – (is this a sub-division of the “faith community”?). On the day that the celebrations began, there were noisy demonstrations by neo-Nazi groups – together with further denunciations from the Vatican. It seems they make natural allies.
In Israel, gay pride in Tel Aviv prompted an article in The Independent on Sunday. Once again almost all the aggro is coming from religion. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish “faith community” demands not only rights but privileges for itself. It is organising politically and trying to force its rigorously biblical way of life on to the whole country. Needless to say, there is no room for homosexuals in the Orthodox view of the world.
Israel has, at the moment, a liberal secular majority that is resisting incursions from the religious right. But on the day before the pride parade, the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, had, according to the IoS: “Saved his coalition from collapse by persuading Shas, a party run by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, to remain in government. That followed his two agonising weeks of coaxing and cajoling the rabbis, caving in to one demand after another. In the end he was forced to sacrifice three ministers from the left-wing Meretz party, giving victory to the Shas, a party with a leadership about as sexually enlightened as Saudi Arabia (sentence for cross-dressing: 2,500 lashes). High in the Shas hierarchy is Shlomo Benizi – Israel’s health minister, no less – who has described homosexuality as a sickness and suggested that gays should be committed to mental institutions.”
Just as the Church of England is likely to be torn apart by homosexuality, the issue could also lead to civil war in Israel. The threat to peace is now more pronounced from the Jewish religious right than it is from the PLO.
And just to show that we are slow to learn our lesson, we go to the United States where The Church Times informs us that All Saints Church in Beverly Hills is running an Alpha Course for gay people. A spokesman for the church said that Gay Alpha was a course designed to introduce people to Christianity based on the well-known evangelical material produced by the Holy Trinity Brompton in London.
But isn’t that the same Alpha Course that preaches against homosexuality? Isn’t the Rev Sandy Miller, the man who invented Alpha, the same man who wrote to the heads of local political party associations ahead of the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, urging them to seek as their candidate someone “who is eager to uphold Christian standards”? And wasn’t this a direct attack on Michael Portillo, who had admitted earlier homosexual encounters?
Gay Alpha, unless it abandons the evangelical fervour of the British original, will require its participants to refrain from having sex. And, in that case, is it really any different to the ex-gay movement?
If it arrives in this country, give it a wide berth. It has nothing to offer but unhappiness.