Time for the Church of England to distance itself from these bigots

Opinion by Adrian Tippetts

It is nearly half a century since this country stopped treating gay people as criminals, but the seething undercurrent of homophobic hatred is still present.

True, gay people are gaining acceptance, but there is a sizeable minority who find the very existence of the gay community offensive. While LGBT people have been making immense gains in legal equality in recent years, a network of well-funded Christian fundamentalists has been organising, lobbying and using the media to drive a homophobic rhetoric that is becoming more extreme by the month.

Just last month, for instance, Alan Craig, leader of the Christian People’s Alliance, hit a new low in defamation by comparing the fight for gay equality to the rise of Nazism in the Church of England Newspaper, in a comment laden with references to jackboots and Stormtroopers. The editor’s reaction when challenged was to claim that the comments were ‘pertinent’.

No sooner had the controversy died down than a Daily Mail headline furiously reported ‘Outrage as Tesco supports Gay Pride, but drops Cancer Research’. It only takes a quick internet search to discover that the retailer’s support of gay pride is just £30,000 for a family tent – one twentieth of one percent of its £64 million budget for charities and causes ranging from football workshops to the Alzheimer’s Society.

Quoted extensively in the article is a David Skinner from a lobbying group of Anglican hardliners, Anglican Mainstream, which is organising a boycott and a mass mailing campaign to Tesco board members. Readers of the LGBT and conservative blogosphere will have come across the name David Skinner, who has carelessly left a trail of vitriol on discussion fora over the years.

“If I had been a kid fighting on the beaches of Guamin WW2 and I discovered that what I was really fight (sic) for was for queers to have the licence to smash the rules underlying any civilised society – the freedom get AIDS, be promiscuous and destroy marriage and the family – I would have joined the Japs.”

In January 2010, in a quote echoing that of an Iranian Ayatollah, he told the Church of England Newspaper: “There is no such thing as homophobia, because there are no such things as homosexuals.”

Anglican Mainstream presents a veneer of respectability when it is called on to debate equality legislation, but the undercurrent of hatred is not restricted to Skinner. The group’s media spokesman, Canon Chris Sugden, co-edited God Gays and the Church, a series of screeds by quack therapists, ministers and self-styled ex-gays who lined up to link the acceptance of LGBT civil liberties to encouraging acceptance of paedophilia, bestiality, incest and marital unfaithfulness and portray gay people as nothing but sex, porn and drug-addicted sluts.

Also, news updates on its website give a taste of their ultimate aims: gleeful reports about African states determined to keep homosexuality an imprisonable offence; American pastors seething at allowing gays to serve in the US military; links to ex-gay groups and dominionists, like the American Family Association, which support the recriminalisation of homosexuality and absolute bans on abortion, even in the case of rape.

This is the kind of rabble-rousing, innuendo-laden rhetoric that one actually does find in writings of neo-Nazi splinter groups like the National Front’s now deceased John Tyndall and Colin Vernon. Yet it is being promoted and endorsed by high-ranking members of the Church of England. On Anglican Mainstream’s advisory board and steering committee are a number of senior Anglican clergymen, including Dr Philip Giddings, chair of the Church of England’s public affairs committee and Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes. (One might have thought that Anglican Mainstream would at least tone down lies about links between paedophilia and homosexuality, given that Benn is facing allegations of covering up child-abuse in his diocese).

Sugden and Skinner’s campaign is particularly nasty because it is attempting to make any support for the gay community seem controversial, precisely at a time when homophobic hate crime is on the rise and bullying rife in schools.

They get away with it, because the media rewards almost anyone who calls themselves ‘a person of faith’ with unquestioning respect and obsequiousness. The bigotry and hate is simply sanitised under the euphemism ‘church traditionalist’. It is high time pious interfering busybodies like this were shown the contempt they deserve and that the Church of England distance itself from such fanatics.