Evangelical leader's stance makes him unfit for equality post, say gay Christians

By staff writers
22 Jan 2008

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) has compiled a dossier highlighting and criticising the record of one of the UK's newly appointed equality commissioners, Evangelical Alliance director Joel Edwards.

LGCM says that Dr Edwards has a history of "agitating against the full inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community under equality law" and is concerned that his stance should not hinder the equality struggle.

The 10-page document on the appointment of Dr Edwards to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) uses information from the Evangelical Alliance website, and concludes that Edwards "in his own words and actions is unfit to be an equality commissioner".

In February 2007, for example, LGCM says Edwards wrote to the government asking for exemptions from equality legislation in the provision of goods and services for lesbian and gay people - specifically, he asked that Christian agencies be allowed to opt out of dealing with gay couples.

The LGCM chief executive the Rev Richard Kirker, said the dossier would be sent to the EHRC chair, Trevor Phillips, Edwards, other commissioners and Harriet Harman, the secretary of state for equality.

He declared: "It's a prerequisite that anyone chosen should be chosen on the basis that they've not disparaged other strands. It's mystifying, unless he has quietly and privately altered his views. The appointment brings the commission into disrepute and Edwards should resign."

The Evangelical Alliance has said its focus is not "on human beings who experience same-sex attraction but on homosexual practice which we regard as a behaviour choice, together with associated attempts to normalise it."

In a 1998 statement, entitled Faith, Hope and Homosexuality, the EA called on congregations to welcome and accept lesbians and gays in the expectation that "they will come in due course to see the need to change their lifestyle in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teaching".

"We urge gentleness and patience in this process, and ongoing care even after a homosexual person renounces same-sex sexual relations."

Other Christians, including a growing number of evangelicals - including Courage and Accepting Evangelicals - argue that homosexuality is not incompatible with traditional, biblical faith.

It also commended the work of organisations seeking to help homosexual Christians live a celibate life and those which "responsibly assist homosexuals who wish to reorient to a heterosexual lifestyle". A May 2006 event featured True Freedom Trust, a group offering to "cure" people of homosexuality, reports the Guardian newspaper.

Dr Edwards told the Guardian that he welcomed and supported the presence of lesbian and gay people on the Equalities Commission.

He continued: "I therefore find it a shame that the LGCM considers my belief system less equal than others and a barrier to my serving the British public.

"The faith community is actively working for equality and justice in many different areas and I would be disappointed if my contribution to this commission is only seen in the light of issues around sexuality."

An EHRC spokesman said Edwards had the full support of the secretary of state: "He is well qualified as leader of the Evangelical Alliance and brings expertise both as a faith leader and a senior figure in the black community.

"As regards the issue of his views on a particular piece of legislation, no two commissioners share the same views on every matter. However, the views of the commission on the sexual orientation regulations remain unchanged."

When Dr Edwards was appointed, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which supports full equality for lesbian and gay people inside and outside the church, said that whether one approved or disapproved of the appointment, the inclusion of a leading evangelical on a Commission with a categorical commitment to universal equality could be a "historic opportunity" for that sector of the church to change its overall stance.

Ekklesia pointed out that some evangelicals were already changing their attitude, and said that bridge-building was needed, as well as campaigning.

The overwhelming response to Dr Edwards' appointment from Christian and secular organisations favouring gay equality has been negative, though some have adopted a "wait and see" approach.

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