Peter Tatchell: End the Church's war on gay and lesbian people

Taken from an address given at All Hallows church in Leeds by the gay rights campaigner
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The Independent Online

The time has come for Christian leaders to apologise for the church-sponsored persecution of lesbian and gay people. Without this gesture of truth and reconciliation, the homosexual community cannot easily forgive 2,000 years of church homophobia.

The churches last year marked the millennium by celebrating 2,000 years of Christianity. But many lesbians and gay men were not celebrating. We were mourning two millennia of Christian prejudice, which has inflicted terrible pain on homosexual people. Over the last 2,000 years, church-inspired homophobia has led to hundreds of millions of homosexuals worldwide being rejected and reviled by their families, driven to depression and suicide, discriminated against by anti-gay laws, and condemned to death for sodomy.

Christian leaders have never expressed any remorse for the church's oppression of queers. The Pope's 1999 apology for Vatican intolerance made no mention of past Catholic support for murderous anti-homosexual witch-hunts. The Archbishop of Canterbury's millennium sermon in January 2000 was an opportunity to atone for the genocide inflicted on us, but Dr Carey chose to ignore our suffering. When we asked the Archbishop to express his remorse for the church's crimes against queer humanity, he said nothing. In response to our request for an apology to the lesbian and gay community, Dr Carey remained silent and indifferent.

The Christian churches, more than any other institution, have waged almost ceaseless war against homosexual people. Religious homophobia has its roots in Biblical teaching: Leviticus 20:13 demands that homosexuals be put to death. While the church no longer advocates the death penalty for gay lovers, it still preaches sexual apartheid, arguing that homosexuality should not be accorded the same moral or legal status as heterosexuality.

Is not this claim for the moral superiority of heterosexuality analogous to the way the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church defended apartheid in South Africa? The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches a doctrine of straight suprematism, which is used by him to justify the abuse of queers as second-class citizens. He and most of the church hierarchy continue to support discrimination against gay people with regard to the age of consent, marriage, employment, Section 28 and the fostering and adoption of children. While Dr Carey may disclaim it as his intention, his opposition to gay equality gives succour to queer-bashers everywhere.

His intolerance brings shame on the church. I urge Dr Carey to repent his homophobia. If the Archbishop advocated similar discrimination against black or Jewish people, there would be a nationwide outcry. He would be shunned, discredited and forced to resign. Instead, this apostle of intolerance and unreason is invited to advise the government on the school curriculum.

In this atmosphere of ongoing religious bigotry, it is difficult to show forgiveness – all the more so when the church leaders who have authorised our victimisation show no signs of sorrow and regret. Nevertheless, the lesbian and gay community must not stoop to the church's inhumanity. We should loathe the sin of homophobia, but love the sinner and strive to deliver them from prejudice.

We must never give up seeking to win the hearts of homophobes. I want to be able to count Dr Carey as a friend of the gay community and a supporter of gay human rights. Some may find it odd that I call for forgiveness. I have suffered terrible vilification on account of my stand for homosexual rights – hate mail, death threats, attacks on my home and physical assaults.

But I forgive those who are prepared to renounce prejudice and discrimination, and I urge the lesbian and gay community to show the same compassion and forgiveness to those who come over to the side of lesbian and gay liberation.