The Gay Police Association has caused offence among Christians with an advert linking the Bible to homophobic violence. Kate Hilpern reports

An advert placed by the Gay Police Association (GPA) that claimed a 74 per cent rise in homophobic incidents due to religious belief has caused widespread offence among Christians. The advert, depicting a Bible beside a pool of blood under the heading "In the name of the father", appeared in this newspaper's Diversity supplement in June, to coincide with London's Europride event.

The GPA advert has also prompted a police investigation. The Metropolitan Police says the inquiry "centres on whether the advert constitutes a faith crime".

"The suggestion is that if you get rid of faith, you get rid of homophobic attacks," believes the Reverend George Hargreaves, leader of the Christian Party, who also sits on a number of Metropolitan Police committees and steering groups. "I believe this whole matter has left us with evidence that the Gay Police Association is Christianaphobic, and I therefore think an investigation is the right course of action. I also believe that the chairman of the Gay Police Association, Paul Cahill, should resign."

The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship (LCF) is among the faith-based organisations that are questioning the rise in incidents that the advert refers to. The organisation says the advert does not explain what is considered a "homophobic incident", which makes the statistic of 74 per cent "misleading". "The incidents need not be criminal offences and may be lawful expressions of opinion, such as an opinion that adoption by gay couples constitutes a risk to the welfare of children."

The LCF expresses "deep concern" about the advert for other reasons. They think that the advertisement is designed to convey the impression that the Bible incites attacks against gay and lesbian people. "Associating the Bible with a pool of blood implies that the Bible requires violence against homosexuals and/or that Christians are physically violent toward homosexuals."

Writing in the Daily Express, Ann Widdecombe has also revealed her outrage. "By choosing that very famous line of Christian worship, the advertisement suggests that Christianity is almost uniquely responsible for hate crime. Can anyone imagine the Koran rather than the Bible being featured? Yet the teaching of both faiths (and, indeed, others) is against homosexual acts. Why pick on Christianity?"

But far from backing down, Paul Cahill of the GPA says the association originally had plans to create a second advert depicting the Koran. "The vast majority of incidents where faith was an integral factor, came from Christians - as you might expect from a Christian country - but a disproportionately high number of faith hate incidents were also from Muslims who take objection to gay lifestyles. I mean disproportionate to the number of Muslims in the country."

Cahill says the purpose of the advert was not to cause offence, but to raise awareness. "For a very long time now, we have known of, and have been recording details of, very serious homophobic incidents on the grounds and justification of religious belief."

He claims that because the police service and its associated organisations have not responded adequately to the problem, "it left us having to represent our members and the wider gay community by taking the action we did."

Cahill says the figure of 74 per cent was calculated by comparing the number of incidents that were reported to the GPA in 2004 - which were either exclusively or primarily faith based - with those reported in 2005. He says that the number of such calls received last year was "approximately 250" and that they were all "serious". "Incidents are not necessarily violent and might not be a criminal offence, but they would otherwise be something like discrimination at work. For example, we have had cases where people work in a Christian organisation and they come to us seeking advice because they know that their employer is trying to get rid of them."

He cites other incidents including a gay man whose neighbour burned a cross into his front door, and a 16-year-old who was beaten and thrown out of his house by his Christian parents because he was gay.

The Christian Police Association's executive director, Don Axcell, says that he is "saddened" by the content of the advert. He stresses that while he wishes to say nothing against the GPA - with whom he says they have good working relationships - "we are getting to a position where, to state any position contrary to the GPA position, is homophobic."

Among other people who were offended by the advert was Dr John Dubbey of Norwich, who believes proof is required to back up the GPA's statistics. "Who is responsible for compiling them, and how accurate are they?" he asks.

Meanwhile, J Hale of Sutton says: "We were horrified when we saw a copy of the advert. It does not take into consideration my human rights to religious freedom and to freedom of conscience as a Christian. It is an affront to what I believe in to see the mockery behind the portrayal of the Holy Bible and, presumably, the blood of Jesus Christ, and the words that accompany it."

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