GAY TIMES September 1999

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

The Archbishop of Canterbury held a “top secret” meeting with gay Christians and their opponents a couple of months ago. It was so secret, in fact, that it was only reported in nine out of ten newspapers, on TV and radio and in Gay Times. And yet, it wasn’t until last month that The Observer caught up and reported the meeting on its front page as though it had uncovered a great sensational exclusive.

The only thing it included that we hadn’t already read elsewhere was a quote from an unnamed evangelical priest, who said that the meeting was “appalling, like sitting down to eat with people who have sex with animals.”

Perhaps the quote was included to shock the liberal readership of The Observer. It certainly shocked me to read such a comment on the front page of a paper I’d assumed was above the inclusion of crude abuse in its pages.

The gay-bashing jamboree that emanated from religious sources last month started with what might have been considered a positive announcement — that the Anglican Children’s Society had lifted its ban on gay couples adopting children. Not surprisingly, that little titbit provoked a deluge of hatred from the true believers.

The Director of the Evangelical Church Society, for instance, called on “ordinary church members who raise funds for the Children’s Society” to stop doing so and to “redirect their efforts and giving until the policy is reversed.”

Then came Martin Hallett, who describes himself as “a charity worker and self-confessed homosexual”. He was given a large amount of space in The Daily Mail to condemn the Children’s Society. “The decision fills me — a homosexual — with anxiety,” he wrote. “For a leading Anglican charity to suggest, by implication, that homosexual activity is a good example to set before impressionable youngsters is to make mock of long-established and deeply-held beliefs.” He then went on to spout all the usual stuff about children needing “domestic role models of father and mother” and how damaged children will be if they are raised in confusion by two mummies or two daddies.

The fact that numerous studies have shown that these fears are groundless doesn’t stop them being perpetuated by those with an axe to grind. In fact, a great deal of research has shown that children exhibit no confusion in these situations — all they want is someone who is concerned about them and who will love and support them. But Hallett insists that “Adoption societies and local authorities can afford to be picky. They can hold out for the `ideal’ family to come along looking for a child to bring up.”

But they can’t. The children we are talking about here are the damaged ones, those with disabilities, those with emotional and behavioural problems, the tearaways and delinquents. They often aren’t cute, they aren’t adorable and they can be extremely demanding.

The ‘ideal’ (i.e. heterosexual) couples that Martin Hallett seems to think are queuing up at the Children’s Society’s doors wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. “Holding out” as he suggests will simply result in these children spending the bulk of their formative years in institutions, and however good such establishments are, they cannot be a substitute for a home and a family of your own. Even if it is headed by two men or two women.

By the way, the charity that Martin Hallett works for is The True Freedom Trust, which seeks to “cure” homosexuality through prayer and Bible study. I am not alone in thinking that what the TFT actually does is further damage people who are already deeply disturbed about their sexuality. Hardly the right man to be talking about what’s best for others.

In The Independent, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, probably the only liberal Muslim columnist in captivity, wrote of her own feelings about gay and lesbian adopters. At first she went along with the crowd who, despite convincing evidence to the contrary, feel in their guts that it’s “wrong”. But, after some thought, she changed her mind.

“The many cases of torture and abuse of children by heterosexual fathers and mothers should, by now, have cured us of the myth that these are ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ parents. Where is the justice in applying such prohibitive standards to gay parents?” she said.

She was also helped along the goad of enlightenment by “an unpleasantly triumphant call” from a Muslim acquaintance, who said that Christians are now surely assured a “place in hell” because of the Children’s Society decision.

This annoyed Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, who wrote to The Independent: “It was much the same fear of the reaction from Muslims in their own countries that motivated much of the willingness by so many bishops of the Anglican Church worldwide to adopt a formally anti-gay policy at last year’s Lambeth Conference. This is a clear case of a Christian church allowing its theology to be determined out of deference to Islamic sensibilities. This is a very curious state of affairs, bearing in mind the widespread prevalence of homosexual behaviour in Islamic countries, a fact which some Muslims in Britain are beginning to face up to.”

But he wasn’t going to be allowed to get away with that. Shahid Amin quickly retorted in the same paper: “Homosexuality is not widespread in Islam. Islam was perfected as a religion in the seventh century. Homosexuality was made illegal at that point. You cannot be a Muslim and gay.”

And neither, it seems, can a Catholic be even gay-friendly. The Catholic magazine The Tablet reported that “An American priest and a religious sister whose ministry to homosexuals has brought them a following around the world have been forbidden to continue by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). They have been ‘permanently prohibited’ from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.”

The priest and nun in question are Father Bob Nugent and Sister Jeannine Grammick. The CDF, a Gestapo-like department of the Vatican that seeks out and destroys dissenters, said that Nugent and Grammick’s position on “the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination” was doctrinally unacceptable, and “harmed the community of the church”.

Nugent and Grammick, who “ministered” to homosexuals by providing counselling and trying to reconcile gay Catholics with their religion, have been under investigation by the Vatican since 1977. But it has taken until now for the CDF to make what it considers a strong enough case to destroy the two.

The Vatican seems not to care that it is seen to be acting like some kind of malignant dictatorship, and simply remains indifferent to the storm of protest which greeted its decision. Father Joseph Gallagher of Baltimore wrote to The Tablet: “At a time when persons are being penalised and even killed on the mere suspicion of being gay, it is sad indeed that spokesmen for the Church which teaches that love is the greatest commandment can issue statements which hate-filled people can easily twist to endorse their warped use of the Bible and Christianity.”

Dr Bernard Ratigan, a psychotherapist at University of Nottingham Medical School, chided the churches (also in The Tablet) for the damage they do to people: “Religions like Catholicism, Judaism and Islam reach deep inside people. They can, therefore, bring about severe psychological problems when there is a mismatch between what the religion teaches about the ‘correct’ nature of sexual orientation and gender identity, and what individuals subjectively experience as their own internal reality.”

So far, I would go along with Dr Ratigan, but I part company with him when he says: “Besides clinical intervention for those most seriously affected, there needs to be an extensive network of parish and diocesan pastoral care for gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics and their families.”

The extraordinary message seems to be: religion damages your brain, so why not go back for more? It’s like saying, “Oh, you’re an alcoholic, why not go on a wine-tasting course?”

Wouldn’t it be better to set up a clinic that can help us get religion out of our lives once and for all? Wouldn’t we all be happier if we could just look at the Pope or the Archbishop, the Ayatollah or the Rabbi and say: “I don’t believe a word you say. You’re emperors with no clothes.”?

In The Guardian, Gordon Urquhart, author of The Pope’s Armada, wrote about the Vatican’s use of lesbians and gay men as scapegoats: “The brutality of both the sentences (against Nugent and Grammick) and the language is hardly surprising given the political crusade that the Holy See has waged against lesbians and gay men in recent years.

“They have become the prime targets in Rome’s struggle against what it terms the ‘culture of death’, in other words, modern understanding of such diverse questions as contraception, abortion, extramarital sex, divorce and, of course, homosexuality. The Vatican and its political allies have implacably opposed moves throughout Europe to give legal recognition to gay relationships. In France, the struggle against the law supporting civil unions was led by Deputy Christine Boutin, a member of the Vatican’s Council for the Family.”

Mr Urquhart noted that “It is surely significant that the Vatican’s condemnation of Nugent and Grammick came in the wake of atrocities such as the Soho bombing and the murder of Matthew Shepard in the US. Curial officials cannot be unaware that their anti-gay rhetoric fans the flames of prejudice among the extreme right in Europe and America.”

He makes the point that, throughout its dark and bloody history, it has been the habit of Christianity to pin the ills of society onto a scapegoat: “In the past, Jews and women have fulfilled this role. Is it now the turn of gays and lesbians?”

Gay Christians will argue that these are just the last thrashes of a dying dinosaur’s tail. The churches are changing, they will say, slowly but surely the walls of holy homo-hatred are crumbling.

Is that true, or is it just another of the delusions that believers seem happy to saddle themselves with? Is it maybe truer to say that the churches need an enemy around which to rally their troops? Are we to be the next victims of crusading Christians, exploiting homophobia in order to revive their own flagging fortunes?

This exploitation has certainly been apparent in the USA over the past decade, where homophobia has become the main plank of the religious Right’s platform. The endless hate-mongering amongst these religio-political groups has created an ethos of antipathy towards gay people there, sometimes culminating in murder.

Last, month, the Christian Action Network called for the chairman of the Disney Corporation to resign, saying that Disney’s annual “Gay Day” had turned the Magic Kingdom into Sodom and Gomorrah. The Church of England Newspaper (which, incidentally, is edited by George Carey’s son) reported: “The campaign is the first such effort since an evangelical boycott of the entertainment conglomerate, which they say is showing signs of rapidly declining moral and family values. Disney has been attacked for ‘blatantly endorsing and promoting a dangerous and destructive lifestyle to millions of American children and their families’.”

The boycott has been joined by The Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family, the Assemblies of God, Concerned Women for God and so on and so on.

By instigating these campaigns and encouraging their congregations to take active parts in them, these organisations know that they create feelings of moral superiority in their flocks. This may boost their congregations, and fill the coffers, but it stimulates a climate of hate and fear for those of us on the receiving end.

Maybe that’s why, whenever I think of “gay Christians”, the word oxymoron springs to mind.

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