"The struggle for queer emancipation"
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Date: 7 November, 2003


Photo courtesy of www.petertatchell.net

'Right now much of the church hierarchy is the moral equivalent of the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa during apartheid.'




  Peter Tatchell best known for his radical protests against homophobia and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe is often assumed to be anti church and anti
Christian.

Despite frequent bad press, many people were impressed by his integrity and love for humanity at Greenbelt this year.

Charlotte Haines Lyon asked him about his thoughts around the church and homosexuality.

Homosexuality has become a massive issue for the church, why do you think that is?

"Well the church seems obsessed with homosexuality. Of all the momentous issues of our time, the evangelicals have singled out homosexuality as a litmus test of true Christianity. They don't make half the fuss about racism or third world debt, it's a hugely perverse and dare I say unchristian set of moral priorities.

"The traditionalists, including my own parents, tend to see Christianity largely in terms of personal morality and behaviour to the neglect of broader bigger social questions.

"They are people who by instinct fear change and want to interpret their faith as a never changing dogma. For a straight and patriarchal dominated church hierarchy both women's and gay rights are very threatening."

You're known in the church for the outing of ten Bishops in 1994 but you say it was misunderstood. Can you explain more?

"Nearly all the media reported that myself and Outrage named these Bishops because they were gay and closeted. The reality was that we urged them to tell the truth because they were being homophobic and hypocritical.

"Publicly they were condemning homosexuality and supporting anti gay discrimination while privately having secret gay affairs. We outed them because they were not preaching what they practiced."

How do you respond to those with opposing views to you within the church who feel that their very core beliefs are challenged?

"I'm glad that their core beliefs have been challenged and I'm sad that it's taken 2000 years. Homophobia within the church has to be overturned in the same way that anti Semitism and racism were eventually challenged.

"Right now much of the church hierarchy is the moral equivalent of the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa during apartheid. Based on their interpretation of the bible they preached a gospel that white people are superior to black people. Therefore discrimination against black South Africans was theologically justified."

But you have said that you would fight for the right for people to be Christian...

"I accept the right of religious people to live their lives according to their own personal morality. What I object to is when they seek to impose their morality on the rest of society through the law of the land.

"In recent years we've seen Anglican bishops and other Christian leaders campaign openly against the equal age of consent and against the right of same sex couples to be considered as foster and adoptive parents; many have also backed Section 28 and opposed legal rights for same sex partners. They want their theology enshrined in law, that's theocracy not democracy."

A common line within the church is to accept gay people but not homosexual practice. It is denied that this is homophobic. What do you think?

"If anyone said that heterosexual people were ok, but they must never fall in love or have a sexual relationship, most people would regard that as unfair and unreasonable. Some people feel a calling to celibacy but for most people that is a terrible burden. It can also result in people becoming very screwed up sexually much to their own misery and unhappiness of people around them.

"If I believed in God, I don't think that would be God's intention. If someone says that something so central to their character as their emotional and psychological feelings towards someone of the same sex is deemed immoral and sinful, there indicates a profound lack of acceptance and respect."

Many Christians accuse liberals of simply watering down the gospel too pander to society. How do you view this?

"This is exactly what the hardliners said there were attempts to end the church's support for slavery and its opposition to votes for women. Reformers were accused of violating Christian tradition and going against Paul's insistence that governments that exist are ordained by God. That argument was used repeatedly to justify slavery and many other social evils."

What can the wider world offer the church regarding sexuality?

"A healthy dose of honesty and a recognition that heterosexual marriages do not have a monopoly on moral virtue and sexual fulfillment."

Is there anything else you would like to say about this issue?

"I recognise that not all Christians are homophobic and there are some Christians like the Bishop Richard Holloway and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who have been admirable friends and allies of the struggle for queer emancipation."

Note from the Editor: The original aim of this article was to ask Peter Tatchell and someone with opposing views the same set of questions. For a variety of reasons, we were unable to find an equally high profile interviewee to answer these questions, something that we hope to redress in the near future. Should you want to debate Mr. Tatchell's comments, please visit our discussion boards.




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