Appearing on the BBC’s current affairs programme, Sunday AM, the gay actor Sir Ian McKellen said that he has received many death threats. He also spoke out against homophobia within Christianity.

“There are deaths in public places on the grounds that the victim is gay,” Sir Ian told Andrew Marr.

“There is a violence of language which can be related to violence in action,” he said.

But he added: “My own death threats have declined considerably. I think I’ve become rather boring now to the public at large on this particular issue so I’m thought to be unremarkable.”

The co-founder of the gay rights charity, Stonewall, appeared on the programme with the controversial gay Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson.

He said: “As an atheist it would be tempting to say let the church get on with its internal arguments. But it spreads beyond that. And when the, when the Christian registrar in Islington this week, having refused to witness the civil partnership between two gay men and was sacked and then reinstated by the tribunal we see that there are ramifications.

“Just looking at it from the outside, the church thinks it’s got a particular problem with some articles, perhaps not of faith but of, written in the Bible that they refer to.

“And I can remember the armed forces not that long ago saying they had a particular problem – it was all to do with discipline. Well it’s just been discovered there is no discipline problems when you let gay people into the military. And schools too. Well we’ve got a particular problem.

“The particular problem they’ve all got and share is homophobia. And having it they root around in the Bible to discover the very few passages that seem to be relevant.

“But people like the Bishop, like the Quakers, like many people I marched with in Gay Pride last week, gay Christians, gay Jews, gay Muslims are at ease with their faith and their position in society. And so the argument is one we have to take seriously.”

The full transcript of the interview is below:-
ANDREW MARR: Well Sir Ian and Bishop Robinson are both with me.

Thank you very much indeed for coming in.

What are you going to do Bishop, given that you’re not allowed to actually take part in this conference?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: I really have one goal at the Lambeth Conference.

And of course I’ll be around the fringes of the conference and not a participant. I want the light of Christ to shine forth from me.

I, you know I’ve come to know this God of love in my life who I know beyond any shadow of a doubt loves me, loves me as a gay man and I want to share that joy with whomever wants to sit and talk with me.

You know I think miracles happen when people who are divided by something sit and talk with each other, get to know one another as human beings and as brothers and sisters in Christ and that’s why I’m going to offer myself in that way.

ANDREW MARR: So it’s not going to be a big sort of protest outside for the gatherers?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Absolutely not.

ANDREW MARR: No?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: I, I mean to be there to support the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the other bishops who are there. I think, I think a mistake was made in not including me in those conversations. I was the only openly gay voice that might have been at the table. But I will do what I can from the fringe.

ANDREW MARR: Sir Ian, I was going to say playing Devil’s advocate but that’s probably not the right phrase under these circumstances. But you know there are a lot of people in the church who say that the word of God has been laid down and is absolutely clear on sexual matters and have a legitimate point of view. Isn’t it right that Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to get a negotiated deal of some kind, is trying to hold the church together?

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: Well as an atheist I, I, it would be tempting to say let the church get on with its internal arguments. But it spreads beyond that. And when the, when the Christian registrar in Islington this week, having refused to witness the civil partnership between two gay men and was sacked and then reinstated by the tribunal we see that there are ramifications.

Just looking at it from the outside, the church thinks it’s got a particular problem with some articles, perhaps not of faith but of, written in the Bible that they refer to. And I can remember the armed forces not that long ago saying they had a particular problem – it was all to do with discipline. Well it’s just been discovered there is no discipline problems when you let gay people into the military. And schools too. Well we’ve got a particular problem.

The particular problem they’ve all got and share is homophobia. And having it they root around in the Bible to discover the very few passages that seem to be relevant. But people like the Bishop, like the Quakers, like many people I marched with in Gay Pride last week, gay Christians, gay Jews, gay Muslims are at ease with their faith and their position in society. And so the argument is one we have to ..

ANDREW MARR: I mean ..

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: .. take seriously.

ANDREW MARR: Yes. There are prohibitions on homosexuality in the Bible. You’ve said that the Bible isn’t necessarily big enough to accommodate the Christian faith. What do you mean by that?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Well I, I mean that God didn’t stop revealing God’s self when the canon of scripture was closed at the end of the first century. You know Jesus says this ..

ANDREW MARR: So it was approp.. appropriate then but there’s lots of developments in society and human life since then which you think should be ..

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Not only developments in human life but development, development in God’s life with us. Jesus says this amazing thing on, at the last supper. He says to his disciples “There is more that I would teach you but you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth”.

I think we’ve seen the Holy Spirit leading us in terms of the full inclusion of people of colour and of women and of people who are physically challenged and now God is leading us to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

ANDREW MARR: And yet a lot of very, very decent and long term Christians find this incredibly hard to cope with. Would it be such a terrible thing if the church went different ways, if there were parts of the church which couldn’t accept this, couldn’t accept the ordination of women and went off and the Anglican communion split?

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: I’m doing everything I can to hold the Anglican communion together. We need each other. We need the voices from Africa and Asia and South America to tell those of us in the so called first world the ramifications of our racism, our colonialism and so on. We need each other really for our mutual salvation. It’s not of surprise to me that, that there is resistance to this.

After all it’s the church that has been teaching them what they’re, they’re thinking for these two thousand years. But now the church is coming to a different mind, much as it has come to a different mind about divorce and other things that we thought were once settled and then as we get to know God’s will for us better we decide we need to take a new look at it.

ANDREW MARR: It couldn’t be said that you were trying to make Rowan Williams’ life particularly easier at the moment I suppose. Do you have sympathy for his predicament? Because he is trying to hold together a pretty disparate ..

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Absolutely. He, he’s in an almost untenable position. No matter what he does he makes someone mad and, and sometimes everyone mad. And there is no doubt in my mind that his intention is to hold our beloved church together. And, and I believe that we ought not to be fearful about the church. The church is not ours to win or lose. The church is God’s. And God’s, God will take care of the church. We’re going to be just fine.

ANDREW MARR: Bishop Robinson had to wear – I think I’m right in saying – a bullet proof vest when you were ordained as a bishop.

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: That’s right.

ANDREW MARR: And you’ve had a lot of death threats. Sir Ian, is that the kind of thing that would no longer happen in this country? I mean we know that there are parts of the Christian and other communities in America who are violently hostile to this kind of thing. But Britain perhaps has become rather more relaxed.

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: Dear. No. There, there ..

ANDREW MARR: You think not?

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: .. there are deaths in public places on the grounds that the victim is gay. There is a violence of language which can be related to violence in action. My own death threats have declined considerably, I think ..

ANDREW MARR: You’ve had – I didn’t know you’d had death threats.

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: Yes. I think I’ve become rather boring now to, to, to the public at large on this particular issue so I’m thought to be unremarkable. But with regard to what Gene was just saying, there’s a wonderful quote by your countryman Thomas Jefferson, and it’s on his memorial in Washington DC.

And he’s talking about whether the Constitution should ever be changed, whether it’s absolute in the sense… in the way that people think that parts of the Bible are absolute, fixed for ever more. And he said “One might as well require a man to wear still this jacket which fitted him when a boy as for civilised society to suffer under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors”.

And you know we do have barbarous ancestors, in politics, in religion, in the military, in every part of our lives. And argument between the twenty first century and those old prejudices that’s been played out here in this man. And that he should be in the eye of the storm as his autobiography puts it is a, an enormous weight on his shoulders. And I do wish you well on behalf of us all.

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: You know I, I chaired a group of conversation for twelve to twenty one year old kids who were questioning their sexuality. Now one of them was a person of faith. But every single one of them could quote me Leviticus and that God thought they were an abomination.

They couldn’t have found Leviticus in a Bible if their lives had depended on it. But they knew that word and they thought they knew what God thought of them. And the Church is responsible for that. Its religious people, Muslim, Jews, Christians. We are responsible for that. And it’s going to take religious voices to undo the hatred that comes from those words.

ANDREW MARR: Right. Well we’re going to be hearing I think a lot more about this in the days ahead. But for now both of you thank you very much indeed for joining us.

BISHOP GENE ROBINSON: Thank you.