The Christian Institute has become the latest group to criticise PinkNews founder Benjamin Cohen and the BBC for a talk the former will give tonight, which includes a segment on the Gospel’s description of Jesus’ abandonment by society “for something he couldn’t help”, and how he believes this reflects the fears and experiences of many LGBT people.
In a talk to be broadcast at 8.45pm tonight Mr Cohen will tell Radio 4 listeners that Jesus’ trial, in which he could not deny his conviction that he was the son of God, and his subsequent persecution reflects the scenarios faced by some LGBT children.
The Gospel describes Jesus as saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” while on the cross, which Mr Cohen will say echoes the fear of abandonment experienced by gay people.
Evangelical pressure group The Christian Institute has criticised Mr Cohen and the BBC for writing and broadcasting the talk, arguing that it is a “slap in the face” to Christians and a sign that the BBC is pushing a “gay rights agenda”.
A spokesperson for the Christian Institute said: “This is typical of the BBC’s socially liberal bias which tries to distort the Christian message at every turn.
“Using the crucifixion to push a gay rights agenda is a new low, even for the BBC. It’s yet another slap in the face to every Christian who pays the licence fee.”
Earlier this week Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, told the Telegraph that to draw upon the story of Christ and to link it with the experiences of gay people is “blasphemous”.
“To say that lack of acceptance of homosexual practice which we are told to flee in the Bible equates with the experience and suffering of Christ is to have totally misunderstood his message.
“Jesus loves everyone but his message to homosexual community is to turn away from their previous path.”
She added: “The BBC panders to a liberal, politically correct agenda and fails to take the opportunity to explore and educate its listeners about the true meaning of Lent and Easter.”
Speaking to PinkNews tonight, Benjamin Cohen said: “I am surprised that the Christian Institute has decided to condemn my programme before it has even been broadcast. Like the rest of the talks in the series, mine focuses on the theme of abandonment in the story of Jesus and relates it to something familiar to me.
“What the Christian Institute will discover if its members tune in is that as well as talking about homosexuality, I also talk about the impact of being taught at school that I as a Jew was responsible for the abandonment and crucifixion of Christ in the Gospel. It also equates the abandonment described in the text to the fear of abandonment that some LGBT experience before coming out.”
Mr Cohen, who studied Theology at King’s College, University of London added: “The only thing I directly criticise about Christianity and indeed any religion in my talk is that religion is often used as the basis for parents rejecting their LGBT children, something that I say is wrong and that it is terrible that this has in some cases led to young people committing suicide. I’m not sure what is blasphemous or offensive in this message at all.”
In his talk, Mr Cohen speaks about the experience of growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family but educated in a Church of England school and having mixed emotions about the figure of Jesus.
In the programme he explains he was taught that, as a Jew, he was responsible for the death of the saviour.
When discussing his own coming out, Mr Cohen said his own fears of being abandoned like Christ were not justified.
“I was lucky, my family didn’t abandon me and I haven’t been rejected from my community, despite it being well known that I’m gay,” he says.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone, and I’ve been written to by many young people whose families have abandoned them for being honest about who they love. Some parents give them an ultimatum to ignore their feelings or even undergo controversial reparative therapies to turn themselves straight. Shockingly, every year, hundreds of people, mainly teenagers kill themselves because of their family or society’s rejection of them, due to their sexuality.
“In many cases, the reason for this rejection is religion – something that really angers and upsets me. Religion should be about bringing families together, united in devotion and celebration, not tearing them apart.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The theme of this year’s Lent Talks is abandonment and features six well-known figures from public life, arts and religion.
“In this programme Benjamin Cohen talks about his personal fear of being abandoned by his own Jewish community for being gay.”
You can hear Benjamin Cohen’s Lent Talks programme on BBC Radio 4 tonight, Wednesday 6 March, at 8:45 pm.