by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News
In my experience people rarely set out to offend. However, it is often sadly what people leave unsaid or undone (what I call “Sins of Omission”) which unwittingly cause the greatest offense. If we’re honest, this is normally due to a deep ingrained prejudice that goes unchecked and un-noticed.
I believe that this is precisely why, during the enquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence , Lord Macpherson chose to define institutional racism as:
“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.”
Unwitting prejudice, ignorance and thoughtlessness.
Institutional homophobia can and should be defined exactly the same way:
“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their sexuality. It can be detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and stereotyping”.
This is why during “Questions” at General Synod last February I asked the Chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality, the Rt Revd Graham James: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that led to no co-opted LGBT member on the bishops’ working party?”
Indeed, I believe one could also now ask the Welsh Bench of Bishops: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that left unchecked the reported homophobic comments of the perceived negative impact of appointing Jeffrey John as the next Bishop of Llandaff?”
Bishops and archbishops alike have been quick to publicly state that the Church of England has a “zero tolerance” towards homophobia in all its forms. Similarly, the Presiding Bishop of the Church in Wales has also been keen to point out that he made it clear that “neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate either nominated or elected”. But verbal assurances are one thing, and actively ensuring their implementation is another.
I wonder, do those in positions of power within the Church truly understand what “institutional homophobia” really is? Are they aware of their own “Sins of Omission” when it comes to being “thoughtless” or “ignorant” of how they are treating LGBTI people? Put another way, are they able to be aware when they “have done those things that they ought not to have been done”, and more importantly “left undone those things that ought to have been done” – such as reprimanding people for inappropriate comments, or brushing off concerns by LGBTI people that their voice is not being adequately heard or represented?
My fear is that we are so utterly submerged in the impenetrable “bubble”called “Church” that we fail to see what is so plain to those who live outside it – that our practices, our thinking, our ways of working are absolutely riddled with institutional homophobia.
You see, institutional homophobia is not just about an “irrational fear, dislike or prejudice against LGBT people” as some would like to think. It is far more serious than that. It is the naïve and unintentional thoughtlessness in the way that we are talked about. For instance, using pronouns “them” instead of “us”. It is an ignorance of the offense that is so often and needlessly caused by stereotyping “what ‘they’ believe”. Typical examples are “they just want to pander to the culture” or “they don’t take the bible seriously”.
So let me be crystal clear – any teaching that undermines the intrinsic equal worth of LGBTI people is homophobic. Any theology that teaches that LGBTI couples in committed same-sex relationships are immoral is homophobic. Any practice that bars LGBTI Christians from serving in their church is homophobic.
The Bishop of Chelmsford has been both bold and brave in recently asserting in his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod:
“As I have said before, I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.”
We have indeed been judged and found wanting by a nation who do not understand or believe our nuanced differentials between having a conservative view on theology and asserting this is different to homophobia. They – the people we seek to serve and witness to – just see a Church that is homophobic, which fails to treat LGBTI Christians as equals. No amount of window dressing will get them to perceive this differently.
Notably, Bishop Stephen Cottrell then immediately went on to say:
“And though I am proud to confirm that all of us, whatever our views on this matter, are united in our condemnation of homophobia, we must also acknowledge that it is of little comfort to young gay or lesbian members of our Church to know that while prejudice against them is abhorred, any committed faithful sexual expression of their love for another is forbidden. In fact it is worse than this, our ambivalence and opposition to faithful and permanent same sex relationships can legitimise homophobia in others. None of us are content with this situation.”
It is true – we may be “united in our condemnation of homophobia” but at the same time I would assert we mete it out with alarming ease. Our processes, our thinking, our decision making are all so steeped in prejudice that we are completely blind to it.
Until the Church starts to openly recognise and formally repent of its institutional homophobia, then no amount of “assurances” or public condemnations will carry any truck with those who have been so maligned, or with their family and friends who smart on their behalf.
Our nation has been shouting to us that “the emperor has no clothes” for years. They can see the truth plain as day – we are homophobic, and have been for centuries. We on the other hand continue to pretend that the emperor is wearing beautifully fine clothes with our constant statements that hope to assure people we are not homophobic.
It is time to speak out and tell the truth – and repent. We need to put in safeguards so that our “Sins of Omission” no longer go unnoticed and our untruthful stereotyping no longer go unchecked. To do otherwise would be to continue as a national laughing stock where we have little credibility as we are seen as lacking any truth or honesty on this matter.