On September 17, the House of Lords debated a motion
That this House takes note of the treatment of LGBTI citizens worldwide.
The record of the entire debate can be found starting here.
Readers may be most interested in the contribution of crossbencher Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries. His speech starts here. Two extracts follow.
…Some Christians, while not able to accept same-sex marriage as a Christian option, have, however reluctantly—some have been very reluctant indeed—come to accept civil partnerships as a valid option for society as a whole. It is that second kind of change that I believe we have to work to achieve first in relation to conservative religious institutions.
In short, church leaders and institutions in those countries where LGBTI people are criminalised have to be urged to make a distinction between teaching which may be applicable for their own members in their private lives and the basic rights and dignity that need to be accorded to everyone in their society, whatever their religion or belief. Of course, working through secular channels to challenge the laws in those countries is fundamental. But behind those laws is a culture, as the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Paddick, mentioned and stressed—very often, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, a “toxic” culture. That toxic culture is, sadly, intertwined with religion.
It is no secret that the Anglican Communion has become very frayed at the edges on this issue. That is what I wrote in the first draft of this speech, but from what we read on the front page of some papers today, “frayed” is much too weak a word. The churches in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking a very conservative and hard line and see themselves as quite apart from churches in North America. Nor is that the sum of it: the frontier of the culture wars in the USA has moved to Africa, with conservative forces in America lining up with and reinforcing the conservative forces in some African countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly mentioned.
Indeed there is evidence, which the Human Dignity Trust has on film, of some American churches actively proselytising in Uganda with a view to strengthening hard-line attitudes to gay and lesbian people.In those countries, the Christian churches have been and continue to be very strong. In contrast to Europe, they are a major influence in shaping the lives of people. If it is unrealistic to think of changing the minds of those churches on the issue itself in the short term, what can and should be done is to work on getting them to accept the legitimacy of the civil sphere, and, in particular, laws which protect the rights of minorities, not least LGBTI people.
The way that such people are treated in those countries is an affront to any concept of human decency, and the church must be challenged to see that its support for their criminalisation is a direct cause of this. It is an offence against the human person: the unique value and dignity of the individual, whatever their sexuality. It is a violation of everything that the Christian faith is meant to stand for. As a minimum, those states must be urged to act against those who commit acts of violence against LGBTI people…
…Behind those wider discriminatory attitudes there is a strong religious influence because, as I mentioned, most of those Commonwealth countries still have a strong Christian presence and continuing influence. That has to be addressed. I know that the main focus of diplomatic work is Government to Government, but there are opportunities to relate to wider civic society.
My concern, of which I hope that the Government take account, is that all those involved in setting up diplomatic meetings or organising conferences recognise the key role that Christian leaders play in many of the countries which have the most conservative attitudes, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. If they are not to change their church teaching, they might be encouraged at least to acknowledge, and to help their churches to acknowledge, the validity of the civil sphere in its own right as safeguarding the rights and dignity of all human beings, whatever their sexuality.
I recognise that the main responsibility lies with the Christian churches here to help the churches in those countries to acknowledge the validity of this distinction, but I believe that our Government, through our normal diplomatic channels and intergovernmental agencies, also have opportunities to engage with wider civic society. Here, the Christian leaders, especially in the countries I mentioned, the Anglican archbishops and bishops, have an influential role. They themselves need to be decisively influenced to speak out for the human rights of LGBTI people…
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 23 September 2015
What an epic speech in the House of Lords, in support of the U.K. Government’s efforts to encourage the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people around the world!
Lord Harries, one-time Anglican Bishop of Oxford, who supported the election of Fr. Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading (an appointment later denied him by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, under pressure from Anglican Primates of the Global South) is now able to speak out on behalf of the Gay community – not only in the U.K. but in other countries where churches and governments are reluctant to acknowledge their common human rights.
The final paragraph of these excerpts from Lord Harries’ speech – provided by ‘Thinking Anglicans’ host, Simon Sarmiento – states the situation quite clearly. Christian Leaders – mostly in the Global South, and especially those of Anglican provenance in GAFCON – Archbishops who are currently opposed to the granting of human rights to LGBTI people in their Provinces, and who have an influential role in speaking up for common justice in their local situation; need to be persuaded of the reality of those rights for Gay people.
Maybe English Anglican Bishops have to reach retirement before they feel able to speak so decisively on matters of human sexuality in the House of Lords. May this plea on behalf of human rights for Gays be heard by the British Government, and acted upon, for the good of all concerned. Let’s hope for more retirements, in that case.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand