A week has now passed since the Guardian published the following snippet commenting on the twitter exchange that I had with the Director of Communications for the Church of England after Vicky Beeching came out.
The Church of England’s director of communications communicated himself into a corner last week, after a well-meaning but homophobic tweet about Vicky Beeching, the gospel singer who’s just come out as gay. The Rev Arun Arora tweeted that Vicky was welcome in church because “we are all broken”. In a cringe-inducing exchange with Kelvin Holdsworth, provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, @RevArun defended his comparison of Vicky’s sexuality to the brokenness of humanity. Holdsworth tweeted: “It would be racist to say that black people are welcome in church because all are broken. It is homophobic to suggest same re LGBT.” The the reverend went strangely quiet.
Now that the dust has settled a little bit it seems to me to be worthwhile just reflecting on what happened.
It strikes me first of all that the phrase “well-meaning but homophobic” is perfectly judged. I’ve always said that I knew that Arun Arora had no intention of causing the offense that he caused. The trouble is, that lack of awareness seems these days to be rather culpable for anyone, never mind someone who is in charge of communications for a large and supposedly caring institution. Not knowing how offensive it was is worse in a way than being fully aware.
“Well-meaning but homophobic” – doesn’t just capture last week’s unfortunate tweet though. It perfectly captures the way that the Church of England in particular and the churches in general might be viewed by the general public. Well, actually, many people think that the churches are not even well-meaning these days but there’s still many in society who would acknowledge Christianity as a force for good. Many of those people are bewildered at how the churches seem to find themselves so badly led on this issue. “Well-meaning but homophobic” seems to me to describe something that is more complex than a simple lack of awareness of what can be said by an individual in polite society these days. It seems to me to describe something more systemic – more institutional than merely personal.
I was trying to explain the complexity of the situation in the church to someone the other night. After listening to me talk for some time about why some churches are progressive on the issue and some positively harmful, after listening to theological explanations, after listening to sociological explanations he simply shrugged and said, “Yes, but it is still us who get queerbashed in the end”.
And he was right.
Let’s just focus on the piece from the Guardian for a moment again. The Guardian reports that I compared a particular situation involving someone coming out as gay to a situation dealing with race.
Let me just do that again. What do you think would have happened if the Church of England had been reported by a national newspaper as having a Director of Communications who was tweeting things that were “well meaning but racist”?
I hope that a week later there would have been clear statements that such behaviour was unacceptable. I hope that there would have been an apology. I might also hope that there would be an advert for a new Director of Communications being hastily written for the Church Times. I hope that it would have been completely unacceptable.
I ask these questions fully aware that things are not all sweetness and light for those who do happen to be black and in the church.
But I ask, respectfully and persistently why things are different when the issue is sexuality to when the issue is race? I don’t forget that people have used the bible plenty of times to justify racist behaviour, so I know it isn’t just that the bible says it should be so.
Well-meaning and homophobic.
The Director of Communications of the Church of England was described last week in a national newspaper as tweeting something that was well-meaning and homophobic and of course, nothing has happened since.
There has been no statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury. None from the Archbishops’ Council. Nothing from those who run the national institutions of the Church of England. Nothing at all.
And what’s more, most people wouldn’t expect there to be any reaction at all.
And that’s why I find myself wondering whether another analogy between race and LGBT issues might continue to be helpful.
Very many gay people would say that “well-meaning but homophobic” behaviour from individuals and corporate bodies contributes to getting people dead.
Remember when the Metropolitan Police accepted that their behaviour over Stephen Lawrence amounted to “institutional racism”.
Why do I find myself thinking that “well-meaning but homophobic” behaviour on the part of whole denominations amounts to nothing less than institutional homophobia?