Staying equally in the pink

By Simon Barrow
November 19, 2007

Understandably, there have been few in LGBT circles persuaded that the appointment of the head of the Evangelical Alliance to the new Commission on Equalities and Human Rights (CEHR) is anything other than a retrograde step.

Ekklesia takes the view that, whatever you think of the CEHR's move, it provides a positive and historic opportunity to move forward a constituency which has hitherto been an obstacle to progress and justice for lesbian and gay people. We advocate transformation, not just confrontation.

As a follow up, I wrote a piece recently for, entitled Keep the EHRC door open to promote change. The responses are ones which I hope the EA and other evangelicals will read, since they well characterise the sense of alienation, moral outrage and disgust that LGBT persons feel in relation to their treatment by many in the churches. Desmond Tutu is right. Homophobia and discrimination betray the Gospel message and bring shame upon the Christian community.

Meanwhile, Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society has responded with Evangelical has no place on equality commission. It accuses me of "making excuses for the disgraceful behaviour of some of his co-religionists." I doubt that any fair minded person who reads what I have written will recognise that charge, whether they agree with me or not. My brief response is as follows:

Terry Sanderson and I are wholly in agreement that homophobia, discrimination and anti-gay prejudice are intolerable and must be rooted out. So I'm saddened that he feels it necessary to try to portray my article as wishing to ameliorate the stance of anti-gay religious prejudice. The idea that I am making excuses for such behaviour is plainly untruthful. My record and Ekklesia's is demonstrably clear in that regard. However, dismissing those Christians, including evangelicals, who have campaigned against homophobia is prejudice of a different kind and suggests a desire to make enemies more than to make change. Our actual disagreement therefore seems to be over approach. I think that transformation not just confrontation is needed, and that combating discrimination is about changing the hearts and minds of discriminators as well as ensuring legal protection against discrimination. The issue is whether Joel Edwards’ appointment can be employed to positive ends in the struggle against prejudice. I can well understand why many would think not, and my article was very strong in saying that attempts to get previous naysayers on board should not lead to any watering down of the comprehensive equalities agenda. But how things pan out partly depends on how people choose to act. Let’s see rather than pre-judge. After all, that’s what we’re tying to get other people to stop doing!

The NSS e-zine describes this as a "sharp exchange". No sharp instruments were either used or needed by me. Visceral disgust for anything to do with 'religion' seems to overwhelm the judgement of some secularists in areas where there need be no fundamental disagreement (like comprehensive equalities). But thankfully I don't think that's how the majority of non-religious people react, just as the majority of religious persons are not literalists.

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