Comment: The Church should beg society’s forgiveness for its treatment of gay people
In 1992, when I was 17, two years before Attitude magazine was started, a vicar came to give a talk on sexual morality to our small Christian Union lunchtime club at my school in South London.
I went along with my only gay friend – a chap in the year below me who had turned up at the dodgy local youth group run in a man’s bedsit, a few months after me. We weren’t out at school (we didn’t want to have our heads kicked in), so we acted as if we were just interested in theological debate. At the end my friend asked what the Church would say to young people who were gay.
“We’d recommend they have counselling”, was the reply. As we stormed out to the tuck shop, my friend dropped his disguise by yelping, “Can you believe that?! He said we should have counselling!”
Well, irony of ironies, that vicar was right. Both my friend and I have ended up having counselling in the years since – not to try to turn us straight as was suggested, but to deal with the aftermath of the horrific messages that we, and every LGBT person of our generation, were bombarded with as we grew up. You know, the usual: it’s unnatural, immoral, evil, causes AIDS, would mean we would be lonely and could never have relationships, etc. All that nice stuff.
Years later, despite all the advances of the past 20 years, it is the Christian Church that still cannot give up its perverse obsession with gay sex. Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently denounced the governments proposals to allow same-sex couples to marry as grotesque; last week the Archbishop of Canterbury described gay rights as a threat to society, and on Newsnight last month Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Sharon Jones suggested that birth rates dip in the countries that allow same-sex marriage. Its website claims we could see a threat to jobs, to the adoption of children, virtually to the future of all humanity. I wouldn’t be surprised if they blame us for the price of petrol next week. Sounds crazy but Stephen Green of Christian Voice, a charming man whose ex-wife claims he beat her, also said last week that the infestation of mice that recently shut a branch of Tesco was because of its occasional support of gay causes. (Church mice, one gay website suggested). They do, if I may so, talk like crazy people.
I am an adult now and the Church’s words bounce off me. I have no respect for them whatsoever. But I find myself more enraged than ever before about its irresponsibility in spouting the same old nonsense into the ears of young people growing up and realising through no choice of their own, that they may be gay, bisexual or transgender. It’s not an easy time and what these kids need is understanding, love and support. Instead, they get condemnation of biblical proportions. And it does have an effect. It may sound brushoffable, but you try growing up being told that you may be a threat to society. For many, the words do sink in.
We know that adult gay people have higher rates of depression, suicide and anxiety – not all, but significantly higher numbers – and it is because of the damning cultural atmosphere whipped up by these leaders, who are truthfully leaders in nothing but hypocrisy, and in the Catholic Church’s case, the massive global sexual abuse of children. Really, enough is enough. Of all the countless lives ruined, these repressed, sexually dysfunctional people should not be allowed to determine the course of anyone else’s future. Even in this past week, we have seen reports of a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland accidentally projecting (gay) porn images into a classroom wall in front of kids from a parish memory stick, and news was reported that boys in the care of the Dutch Catholic Church in the 1950’s were surgically castrated if they were suspected of being homosexual.
In our new, 18th birthday issue of Attitude we show the reality of our apparently Armageddon-inducing relationships – public servants such as soldiers, fire fighters, two 21-year-olds recently engaged and one couple in their late forties who have been together for more than 20 years. One was a trainee priest, the other played in the choir. Both of them were committed Church goers who were embraced by the local parish and community but ultimately driven away from the Church by its obsession with attacking gays. And it is not just driving away gay congregations. After O’Brien’s letter of condemnation was read out in mass two weeks ago, I have heard of mothers of gay kids being reduced to tears and reasonable straight folk who refused to sign their petition getting into rows with their priests. The sad thing is that there are a huge amount of gay people who do have a faith and wish to play an active part. The Church has no idea how much damage it is doing to itself before an entirely new generation that is too young to remember the explicit hatred I and my generation lived through.
Like David Cameron’s rebranding of the Conservative Party with ‘the gay issue’, the same is being done in reverse for the Church. It should be begging forgiveness from society because of the LGBT people whose lives it has diminished over the millennia. It should be doing all it can to nurture and help all young people into becoming the upstanding, caring citizens they can be, unfettered from sexual shame and dogma, and it should be taking pride in an inclusive, embracing attitude that celebrates all loving relationships, which are the fundamental essence of God. Instead in 2012, as the social fabric of this country is feeling more and more unstable, the Church has created a fierce battle over something that will not harm, hurt or even affect anyone except the couples who wish to marry. In doing so it has again shown itself as being run by sexually obsessive, hard hearted, fear mongers. I pray their God forgives them. A generation will not.
Matthew Todd is the editor of Attitude Magazine and Stonewall’s Journalist of the Year 2011.
This article first appeared on Huffingtonpost.co.uk.