While it’s good in many ways that Tatchell received a standing ovation at the Greenbelt Christian festival, to which he was invited to speak, he’s come in for criticism from George Broadhead, secretary of the PTT, for “putting a gloss” on Jesus’s teachings.
The criticism has gained publicity in the excellent Brighton gay mag Gscene (which for some reason puts all its quotations in both quote marks and italics, which is bizarre – but I won’t). You can see its story here – and read much more in that publication, too.
“Speaking about ‘the struggle for queer freedom in Africa’,” says Gscene, “he attacked church leaders who condone homophobic abuse, but praised the ‘brave, heroic Christians who refuse to go along with the persecution of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual’.”
The magazine’s article – written by Scott Hart – continues:
The turnout of 21,000 suggests that few had heeded a call by the socially conservative group Anglican Mainstream, to boycott Greenbelt because of Tatchell’s presence on the programme.
Tatchell drew enthusiastic applause from parts of the audience, and uncomfortable expressions from others, when he accused the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, of “colluding” with the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Africa.
Mr Tatchell said: “The Anglican Church and Archbishop Rowan Williams have a lot to answer for, because they have put church unity before human rights.”
He outlined the contrasting legal situations facing sexual minorities in various parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world. These range from South Africa, which was the first country in the world to outlaw homophobic discrimination in its constitution, to Uganda, which plans to introduce the death penalty for a repeat “offence” of same-sex relations.
Pointing out that most homophobic laws in Africa date from the colonial era, Tatchell said, “They’re not genuinely African laws. They’re laws that were inspired by a conquering imperial power.”
Gscene says Tatchell was “keen to make a distinction between Christians who oppose homosexuality and those who encourage persecution”, and quotes him as saying, “It’s one thing to say that homosexuality is wrong, and people are entitled to that belief. What they’re not entitled to do is to say that the law of the land should discriminate.”
Tatchell also praised Christians who have stood up against such attitudes, and mentioned South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Ugandan Bishop Christoper Senjyonjo in particular. The latter had “paid a very, very heavy price” and been denied his pension.
He also spoke passionately of LGBT African Christians, including Davis Mac-Iyalla and Jide Macauley, who have risked their lives by being open about their sexuality.
It’s always a hoot when nutjob organisations criticise things and boost said things in so doing. It happened here, as Gscene points out: “Tatchell drew laughter early on in his talk, when he began by ‘paying tribute to Anglican Mainstream, who by their attacks on me and on Greenbelt, have boosted ticket sales and ensured a successful Greenbelt’.”
But George Broadhead said, “It seems that Peter Tatchell has geared his speech very much to his audience and in doing so has put a gloss on the teachings of Jesus. What about Jesus’s puritanical teaching on sex or his horrendous teaching on hell-fire, for instance?
“I wonder what the Greenbelt audience would have made of the statement Tatchell made some years ago in an interview given to the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme and reprinted in Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine,” says Broadhead, referring to an article some years ago in the print edition.
He then quotes Tatchell’s words:
The Church of England is an oppressive, homophobic institution. I think that any lesbian or gay person who is a part of that Church, unless they are overtly, actively campaigning to change things, they are part of the problem. They are helping to sustain that historic oppression of lesbian and gay people. I think ultimately it’s got to be their choice but I would hope they would make a decision not to be part of an institution which has for two thousand years persecuted lesbian and gay people. And I’ve got to say that the Bible is to lesbian and gay people what Mein Kampf is to Jews.
Well, George, you have a point. But Peter is a politician, and politicians gear their words to what they expect their audience will want to hear. Tony Blair (spit!) does it all the time.