Calling out Homophobia in the Church of England

It is very, very rare that I accuse someone of homophobia. Those who know me in Scotland, who happen to hold different views to me will know that it simply isn’t an accusation that I throw around.

However, I did make that accusation last night, against the Director of Communications of the Church of England.

Here’s the conversation. You need to know that Patrick Strud is the journalist to whom Christian rock musician Vicky Beeching told her coming out story which was printed in the Independent. Rev Arun Arora is the Director of Communications for the Church of England. Andrew Forshew-Cain is a priest in the Church of England.

In responding to a tweet about Vicky Beeching and the future of the Church of England, Arun Arora said that she was welcome in the church because all are broken. This is an entirely inadequate response to someone who has just come out. It is fine to say that all are broken – it isn’t fine to link that brokenness to the identity of groups of people who know prejudice at first hand. It wouldn’t be acceptable to say that black people are welcome in church because everyone is broken and so they are welcome – that would be racist. It is the same with those of us who are gay.

I think that Andrew Forshew-Cain and I might well be regarded as people well qualified to know what church sponsored homophobia looks like.

I’ve woken up today to many posts on facebook and on twitter from people agreeing that this tweet was unacceptable.

I’m absolutely prepared to agree that Arun Arora did not mean to be offensive in his post. However, he needs to learn from the people on facebook and twitter who have found it offensive.


Comments

  1. Personally, I find this talk of “are broken” quite offputting.
    It’s a well-known conversation – “so you’re giving me a solution to a problem you just invented; I’d be just as happy without either”.
    As bad theologies go, it presumes the atonement model and proceeds to live dwelling in Gen.3:, stuck walking up the aisle blind to the efficacy of receiving.

    Assuming all humans are broken is offensive, to say nothing of a terrifyingly unhealthy outlook to have when passing people in the street.

    Assuming all humans *can be* broken is realistic.

    Choosing to call it out in the specific circumstances of someone’s sexuality coming to light is a negative reaction where a simple heartfelt welcome would have sufficed, just as much after as before.

    • Linda Woodhead says

      What an excellent comment. The atonement theology that pretends that it’s about ‘gift’ but is in fact about a gift (of salvation) which is never really given and can never be efficaciously received is a travesty of the ‘gospel’, and psychologically damaging. It’s a nasty power trick to try to keep humans in a state of abject abasement and gratitude forever.

    • Simon says

      I quite agree. Labelling people as broken is terrible. So many Christian seem to leap from “You have done a bad thing” to “You are a bad person” and it is the old trick of telling people they are bad and only if they believe what they believe can they be saved. In the end this is abusive.

    • James Byron says

      Couldn’t agree more, Tim. Far too much harmful theology goes unchallenged in the name of tolerance and unity.

      • Sarah Walters says

        James, I could have been clearer: He should say that he is sorry for having been offensive.

        I agree with you entirely that he ought to have known the implications; but I felt that he didn’t, and I’ll allow for someone to make a genuine mistake (especially when only having 140 characters to work with), which is why I said that he should now learn from the feedback he is receiving.

        However, the longer this is going on without him doing so, the more I am coming to the belief expressed elsewhere in these comments- that he is actually *not* sorry and doesn’t think that he has done anything wrong.

  2. Dan J. Grayson says

    It appears to me that this conversation is indicative of a wider problem within the Church of England – the definition of homophobia. The Church has a pretty clear definition of racism and (well, as of this July at least) sexism. That which demeans the God-given Humanity of a person without white skin is racists. That which renders women as some how less than men is sexist. Yet the Church cannot seem to apply the same definition to homophobia. They refuse to acknowledge the homophobic actions of Bishops and Priests, and insist on remaining in this invented state of “good disagreement.”

    We are not in “good disagreement” about the Humanity of black people. There can be no “good disagreement” about God-given Human existence.

  3. Erika Baker says

    Quite, Dan!
    And mouthing platitudes about everyone being welcome is completely meaningless until you treat everyone the same.
    Impose special burdens on some people’s lives simply because of a group they belong to and you’re not being remotely welcoming.

  4. The “we are all broken” response is only the latest in a series of inappropriate outbursts by the Revd. Arora which would be entirely unacceptable coming from a Comms/PR officer in any other business, public or charitable organisation.

    • My thoughts exactly, Tim, well said. He would be obliged to resign for such comments were he part of any secular organisation. If a gay person says you’re being homophobic, you don’t get to decide that you’re not, unless you want to prove them right of course.

  5. Sarah Walters says

    As I said on Twitter, I’m sure that he didn’t *intend* to imply that being gay=brokenness; but it’s clear that his comment came across that way. Therefore, I think it would be appropriate for him to say that he is sorry to have caused offence, even unintentionally, and to listen to the feedback being offered.

    Also, all of us sometimes say things which come across differently from our intentions; but not all of us are professional communicators. It’s reasonable to be…worried…at least, when a person whose job it is to communicate effectively falls short in that task.

    • James Byron says

      He shouldn’t apologize for causing offense (which implicitly blames the person hurt), but for being negligent in coming out with words like “brokenness” and being “flawed” in response to Vicky Beeching’s bravery.

      Someone as smart and media-savvy as Arun Arora ought to know the implications and baggage those words carry in this context. Just as an innocuous term like “lifestyle” becomes a code-word when applied to LGBT people.

      That he doubled down after this was pointed out to him is inexcusable.

      • Sarah Walters says

        James- I’ve replied to this, but due to my lack of experience with the format, it’s in the wrong place- linked to another of your comments. Sorry!

  6. Stella Bailey says

    All are broken – yes
    Being Gay is a “symptom” of this brokenness – no
    What Arun misses is that his tweet implied that it is in a way that being straight is not a symptom and therefore one expression of sexuality is blessed by God over another. Safely due to the lens with which he approaches the subject due to his gender sexuality and circumstances of his up bringing etc he will to fully understand how his tweet and the implications it expressed was wrong. If we say something is broken then the knock on is that through the grace of God it can be made whole and healed. This implies that those who are gay need healing and we have gone full circle to the very homophobic and offensive shadow that has kept people like Vicky from owning their sexuality to those who they know and love for years , and causes harm beyond understanding both psychologicaly and spiritually. You were right to call him out on it and it is a shame that in his confidence that he was right he was unable to hear or understand what you were trying to get him to see.

  7. Richard says

    Kelvin’s open tackling of the C of E Press Officer takes courage and is commendable, especially given the myopic debating tactics that homophobes adopt.
    It is so tiresome to read the patronising tones of those in some sort of authority use the “good disagreement” principle to maintain a traditionalist viewpoint.
    I think I understand the need for a united church (“we are all broken = we are all in this together to keep Christ’s church alive) but the current debates are like dry rot- destroying the institution from within. The longer they go on for, the less likelihood there will be for a cure.
    “Good disagreement” that results in an inequality of human rights is hollow and cruel, and those outside the church looking in are no fools. They see clever use of language used in legalistic ways to pursue a particular agenda as duplicitous, at least they would if they cared. Who wants to buy into a house that is visibly crumbling as the dry rot advances?
    To define being gay per se within the meaning of brokenness is truly offensive. Society left this debate behind years ago. If traditional theology can’t, will there ever come a time to build new foundations?

  8. Since Arun Arora said plainly that is that Vicky Beeching is broken because she is lesbian, how can “good disagreement” follow? Where is the hope for coming together with those who label you flawed because of who you are? You and others were exactly right to call out Arora for his patronizing judgmentalism.

    Pathetic, but not surprising, to find such an attitude in the head of PR for the Church of England. No wonder the church so often comes off looking bad. The people in charge simply don’t get it because of a certain mindset. I don’t know what it will take to open their minds and hearts to what they do. If people call them out on their homophobia time and again, perhaps one day the light will dawn.

  9. My first sentence is mangled. I meant to say, “Since Arun Arora said plainly that Vicky Beeching is broken because she is lesbian…”

  10. David Gillett says

    Surely any responsible press officer would now put out a clarifying statement on the issue. Arun’s silence may suggest he is carefully thinking through the words of an apology or a clear statement about what he means. If his silence continues one may begin to think that he does believe that to be gay is a manifestation of brokenness whereas to be straight is part of the goodness of God’s creation. And for our senior press officer to promote such a view is, well …..

  11. Hayley says

    God love him, he is just showing us what it’s like to have a blind spot. But there’s no need to worry, God heals the blind and the lame… all are welcome 😉

  12. Ann Memmott says

    Lost track of how many times I’ve asked some in the CofE to welcome folks like me as equally loved before God – born disabled and LGBT. “We are all broken” certainly has an extra punch to it when said by a straight non-disabled Bishop or communications supremo to someone who is disabled and gay. It’s not received as a statement of equality; it’s a statement of not being heard and of our needs and pain being dismissed. Anyone failing to understand this is being a real challenge to equality in our churches. Thank goodness for those who do indeed manage to understand and to welcome.

  13. I suspect Arun subscribes to the “We were not worthy even to pick up the crumbs under your table” drivel that we’re all too often expected to repeat mindlessly as part of the eucharistic liturgy. I for one refuse to say it thus. I say, “We were but worthy to pick up the crumbs…” which to me fits in better with the gospel story it comes from. Whether or not we’re all “broken” is a moot point in my book: the thing that counts is Jesus picks up the pieces (pieces scattered largely by other people as well as life in general) and puts us back together; and so far I don’t see him putting any LGBTI people back together according to a supposedly straight blueprint. On the contrary, as I’ve said many times, I see him blessing LGBTI people just as he blesses straight people. If Vicky and other LGBTI people are broken, it’s time to admit that it’s the church that broke them. So come on, Rev Arun, if you’re reading: repent and become part of the solution instead of the problem!
    [cross-posted from the CA facebook thread]

  14. Bro David says

    It feels much like the “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” mantra often thrown about in US evangelical circles.

  15. Rosemary Hannah says

    Those tweets were not about general brokenness at all. And Vicky Beeching was demonstrating great strength in the interviews she gave and not any kind of brokenness at all. I was gobsmacked, reading them, that ANYBODY could imagine that was an appropriate thing to write or say another living person. It was just so offensive.

    I was deeply moved, as anybody must be, at reading Vicky Beeching’s account of her heartbreaking attempt change her sexuality and the terrible accounts of how others tried to ‘help’ her. What comes over is that despite what she was put through, she is not at all a broken person in any way we would read broken.

    Now Rev. Arora may indeed wish to argue that we are all sinners, and I would agree. It is totally plain to me that there is a lot of sinful action in this story – the attempted exorcism of Miss Beeching strikes me as a very sinful thing. There is plenty of brokenness -especially in the attitudes of some of those around her to her sexuality. Miss Beeching herself doubtless has many sins, and, if Rev. Arora wants to make a nice distinction, also her fair share of sin, but I suggest this does not include her being attracted to women, any more than an desire for one’s own sex is some kind of brokenness.

  16. Rosemary W says

    This was the rubbish spouted at me every Sunday when I used to attend Church (CofE): That we are all bad, born bad, nothing we do can redeem us or make us good, except obeying their rules and believing their mantra. That Jesus died for our sins, in place of us, so we owe him big time, and if we don’t acknowledge his sacrifice then we’re going somewhere very unpleasant and very hot for all of eternity. And who sends us there? Oh, our ‘loving father’! Yes, you can imagine my confusion and bewilderment and anxiety. Am I thankful enough? Have I prayed enough? I’ll never be good enough.

    So, there is a sign outside the Church which says “all are welcome”. There should be an asterisk *(terms and conditions apply), because people are ‘welcome’ so long as they are prepared to be ‘problems to be solved’. So, LGBTQ people are only ‘welcomed’ if they are ashamed of their ‘lifestyle choices’, and are guilt-ridden messes in need of being put right and thus ‘saved’ from themselves. Such damaging nonsense as this contributed to my severe depression, from which thankfully, now church-free, I am recovering.

    What the CofE really needs to do is what most of us do during the course of our lives: grow up. Mature. Evolve. It’s a natural process and it surprises me that the hierarchy seems to be so resistant. The creator God surely endowed us all with complex brains and the power of reasoning because he hoped or planned that we would use these amazing organs for the good of ourselves and thus humanity. In this 21st century through science and philosophy and psychology we are so much more knowledgeable about humanity and the planet on which we live, and yet the CofE wishes us to live by a rule book written by, and for, primitive people who did not have this knowledge and awareness.

    The people who limit God are the very ones who I assume should be extolling his omnipotence and awesome power. But no. These ignorant (and I mean *wilfully* ignorant) people dressed in lurex dresses and silly hats are the naysayers. No, God couldn’t do that. No, God couldn’t possibly want that, mean that, love that. They demean the very being they claim to worship. And by denying the validity of the lives of other human beings, such as lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender and queer people, by denying their right to exist the way they were made, then these ridiculous officials in their fancy dress actually deny God’s very creation.

    • Kes Grant says

      Wow. Very powerfully written. Thank you for writing this.
      As a priest and therefore “representative” of the church I want to apologise for the hurt caused to you in the past.
      I wish I could get others not to judge God by the behaviour if some Christians in the way you have.

  17. Neal Terry says

    “Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.”

    The defence of ambiguity is not the most appealing skill in a Director of Communications.

  18. Kes Grant says

    “We are all broken” sounds much like “I’m not racist I have a black friend” I say to my grandchildren they need to put their listening ears on sometimes. When oh when will the people in power of the CofE put their listening ears on. If I say something that is taken the wrong way and upsets someone the first thing I say is sorry. There is very little contrition from the powers that be for the institutional homophobia they either collude with or peddle. It is so frustrating. All we can do is keep standing up for love until all the fear is past. I hope Vicky’s courage is contagious and more and more respected members of the CofE come out and bring the Church to its knees.

  19. Interesting. Have been perusing the conversations and discovered this tweet from Rev Arun that everyone seems to have missed:

    being gay is not broke or flawed. Bring human is. The church is we all are.

    http://twitter.com/RevArun/status/500019502709755905

    • Neal Terry says

      Indeed, as I don’t Twit. But now I can be pedantic too; what price punctuation?

    • The Church is indeed broken and flawed. Never more so than when its Director of Communications demonstrates such an unwillingness to be educated.

      It seems to be his belief that we are all broken. That isn’t my theology, but I can accept that it is a view of God and the world that some people have. What I cannot accept is someone who wilfully refuses to get — and ignorance is one thing, but he is past that now and into the territory of sticking his fingers in his ears — that when a person says, “I’m gay,” and he responds by saying, “We are all broken,” what he is saying is that her being gay is the thing that makes her broken.

    • There’s also the unspoken subtext that being gay is perfectly alright so long as you don’t in any way act on it. Like, say, wanting to fall in love and marry the person you love.

  20. Neal Terry says

    “We are all broken”
    I’m not. It’s a crap word to describe human beings. It dehumanises and is a reductive label that should be reserved for things, not people. True, there are bits of me that have dropped off and/or don’t function any more, but is that the whole of me? There are emotions that feel unhelpful or inadequate or despairing, but are they the whole of me? There are relationships that hurt and are failing, but is there not hope and future in the whole of me? Is that my definitive state? God created and declared it good, Christ came that I may have that fullness. Incomplete is not broken, unfinished is not broken. I will not accept a theology of limitations. I refuse to be limited by others application of adjectives. My fullness is not constrained by your closets.

  21. Aleks says

    “I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m not going to listen to you b/c I’m right and you’re wrong.”

    In a nutshell, that’s what he’s saying…right?

    I have a very hard time stomaching that level of arrogance. It’s unbelievable off-putting, and the antithesis of what being Christ-like is about, IMHO>

  22. Mark Chilcott says

    Thanks very much indeed Kelvin, Andrew and others too in challenging the homophobic statements, and with such clarity and courage. I’m really grateful and completely in support of all you’ve said. I will light a candle in Manchester Cathedral in the morning and pray that the Light may scatter the darkness of homophobia in The Church, be it wrapped in fear, hatred, superiority, suspicion or just plain old caution to accept change

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