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