British churches still homophobic, says outgoing LGCM leader

By Ecumenical News International
May 6, 2008

The Rev Richard Kirker, an Anglican deacon who steps down during 2008 after three decades leading Britain's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, believes that if the worldwide Anglican communion separates over homosexuality, the onus of responsibility will fall upon "those who walked away" - writes Martin Revis.

"If we are in any way held responsible for a schism, then so be it. But I think the onus should be on those who choose to walk apart. We have never asked those who disagree with us to leave the church," said Kirker, who is to hand over the role of the movement's chief executive to the Rev Sharon Ferguson, on 31 August 2008.

"We have not acted as if we wished there to be a split," Kirker told Ecumenical News International in a recent interview at the movement's headquarters in London. "We have stayed as far as we can, in the face of the rejection which has led so many gay and lesbian people as well as our heterosexual friends leaving the church."

He noted, "If there is some sort of schism or temporary separation, then it will be a healthy reflection of reality, and the truthfulness of what we have been saying will emerge without any reasonable doubt." Kirker added, "It would only show up in stark relief the reality of what we have been saying all along, that the church is a place of much homophobia."

Kirker said the 30 years he had spent leading the movement had been demanding and that many people had tried to destroy the LGGM and to discredit those associated with it. "After 30 years it is time for another person to head the organisation," remarked 56-year-old Kirker. He said he is seeking "a breathing space, away from those Christians full of hate". The campaign over those years would have left few people unaware that the church faces a challenge to its authenticity, said Kirker.

Still, in a recent interview with the New Statesman magazine, Kirker noted, "Life for gay priests is immeasurably worse than when I started doing this job, because of the obsessive scrutiny of those who hate us." He added, "Many people have given up the fight and left the priesthood ... It is now official policy to ensure that gay people who don't give a commitment to celibacy are not selected for ordination."

The campaign's future strategy, he indicated to ENI, will be more concerned with political issues, particularly what he sees as the misuse of national employment equality regulations, introduced four years ago, to discriminate against homosexual people.

Under an exception to the regulations covering religion and belief, employers can claim a "genuine occupational requirement" in situations where faith is directly relevant to an appointment to the post.

Kirker believes that what he calls the baleful influence of those strands of religion that try to hold heterosexuality as the only role to be endorsed is likely to be around for some time to come.

Just as the church had to confront a situation where it had been rightly accused in the past of acting in a racist manner and betraying the Gospel, it will have to move to a position where it can no longer be associated with homophobia, said Kirker.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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