INTERVIEW: The “devil incarnate” for fundamentalist Anglicans

Alice Hall July 8, 2008
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The chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is too busy preparing for next month’s Lambeth Conference to dwell on his impending departure from the organisation he helped found more than thirty years ago.

“There are about 300 bishops who clearly detest gay people so much that they don’t even want to come to a conference where we will be present, even if on the margins,” the Reverend Richard Kirker says of the gathering of Anglican leaders which begins on 16th July.

“There’s a lot of rancour and divisiveness in the air because we and people like Gene [Robinson, the only openly gay bishop] have had the temerity not to go away.”

Richard Kirker has an entry on the Internet Movie Database.

His celluloid credentials are modest, but the gay rights campaigner’s appearance on an ITV talk show is one of a countless list of occasions where the charismatic Anglican deacon has spoken about his commitment to fighting homophobia in the church.

His voice is not a popular one in the Anglican community- “they think we are the very devil incarnate”- and the LCGM now faces even more of a battle as conservative factions continue to grow in faith communities.

“There are so many people in very powerful positions in our religions of this country that are so deeply opposed to everything we stand for.

“Many of the challenges remain starkly similar, worryingly, because I don’t think homophobia, despite a lot of people having talked up its imminent demise, presents any less of a threat to most lesbian and gay people, even if there are fewer ways you get away with acting overtly homophobically.

“All the other much more subtle and insidious ways that homophobia can manifest itself inside and outside faith communities still feels a very poisonous canker at the heart of British society.”

Something Kirker finds particularly encouraging is the LGCM has throughout its 32 years eschewed government or religious funding which, he believes, would endanger the charity’s un-tempered voice.

“The fact that we have remained independent for over three decades and have grown over all that time shows that it is possible to form strong, reliable and well-respected organisations within the lesbian and gay community that sources solely from within that community itself.

“There is no more powerful defining moment and no incident which has ensured that we’ve been able to do what we’ve been able to do than the actual coming together of like minded people.”

At its inception, the organisation was the first of its kind and has grown to a membership of more than 1,500 people, both inside and outside the gay and Christian communities.

So where will LGCM go from here?

Far from Kirker’s departure heralding the end of an era of campaigning, when the current assistant chief executive Sharon Ferguson takes the reins the organisation will become more formidable, as its members have asked them to be more focused on lobbying.

“The laws have become very much more adverse and therefore we must campaign to have them removed.

“So the organisation’s focus will change to reflect its members’ wishes to take a more pro-active stance in relation to challenging inequality.

“I’m moderately optimistic, but only if people realise there is a threat and the power of religion in this land is ignored at our peril.”

And where will the man himself go?

“I really need to clear my head because this has been a totally preoccupying and absorbing existence because we’ve had to fight as there are still huge odds and very few resources.

“With all the experience and contacts I’ve built up, I certainly don’t want those to be lost for the benefit of the work which I still remain as committed to.

“I consider it as, if not more, important than it’s ever been.

“I want faith organisations to demonstrate that they understand and are thoroughly committed to promoting equality and don’t just pay casual lip-service to it.”

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