It affords me no pleasure to have to write yet again about religion and gay rights. Indeed, I hold that religion should be restricted to consenting adults in private. But, when religious leaders, especially the monotheistic ones, won't shut up about it, peddling prejudiced myths about how gay rights, especially equal marriage, threaten religious rights, I am compelled to respond, not as a gay man, but as someone who can simply think for himself.
Lord Carey has lashed out, yet again, against the current coalition's one sensible policy: letting gay people get married. Predictably, his words appear in that beacon of intellect and tolerance, the Daily Mail. At certain points, one is not sure whether he wrote the article himself or parts of it were dictated by Paul Dacre, the foul-mouthed proprietor of the Mail. Expressions like 'persecuted minority,' 'aggressive secularism,' '[moral] relativism,' excessive 'political correctness,' have all crept their way into the article.
But then, I'm being carried away by my own prejudice. I expected better from a former Archbishop of Canterbury, that his words would carry some degree of theological humility and political restraint. After all, this was the man who once said legalising marriage for same-sex couples would turn Britain into Nazi Germany, shamelessly and egregiously insulting the tens of thousands of gay men who were sent to death in Dachau and other concentration camps. But, he went further, by comparing Christians in present day Britain to the Jews under Nazi Germany. That besmirched the memory of what happened to six million Jews across Europe from Kristallnacht to the end of the Second World War.
To his credit, in his piece, Lord Carey has admitted that few are actually persecuted in this country. (Though the treatment of Lucy Meadows at the hands of the Richard Littlejohn and the Mail should give him some clues about who is still persecuted in Britain.) But, he says, according to a poll by ComRes, that great ally of anti-equality coalition, two-thirds of 'regular church-goers' feel that they are part of a 'persecuted minority.' Dramatic, indeed. But, the devil is in the detail. Given the precipitous fall in church attendance, to argue that they represent Christianity at large is highly problematic. Equally, the fall in the number of people calling themselves Christian, according to the recent census, further complicates the picture.
The Mail, however, in a supposedly objective news report, concludes: 'The march of secularism means that if trends continue, Britain will no longer be a Christian country by 2030 when the number of non-believers will have overtaken the number of Christians.' It adds: 'In the past six years the number of Muslims has surged by 37 per cent to 2.6 million, Hindus by 43 per cent and Buddhists by a massive 74 per cent.'
Herein lies the problem. The myth that Christianity, or any religion for that matter, is persecuted, is a concoction of vile tabloids like the Sun and the Daily Mail, something that people who oppose gay rights feed on with delight. Persecution is a highly sensitive word that cannot be used casually. The 4,000 gay men and women killed in Iran between 1979 and 2009, that's persecution. The sensationalist headlines, and the increasingly harsh policies to which immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe and outside the EU, are subjected in this country, that's persecution. The plight of asylum seekers all across Europe, that's persecution. It must be a very stupid person indeed, who argues that introducing equal marriage for gay couples somehow threatens freedom of religion. The logical equivalent is to say that inter-racial or inter-faith marriage are somehow a threat to both religion and the races.
Mr Carey makes many more silly claims in his article. For example, he believes that allowing the Westminster Chapel to conduct same-sex ceremonies would 'fundamentally change' the nature of the Chapel, and is the first step towards disestablishment of the Church of England. It is hard to see how allowing gay people to get married in a Chapel, or even welcoming people of other faiths is a threat to its Christian heritage. Indeed, I would have thought the Bible would actively encourage both.
Similarly, he seems to suggest that a large number of Christian volunteers and public servants, who contribute immensely to society, are adversely affected by extending equality to gay people. Again, I don't see how. If it does, it must be a very narrow faith indeed which compels them to their good work. Is he suggesting that were it not for their faith, their contributions would be meaningless, or any the less welcome?
It is very disingenuous, not to mention illogical, to cite Christian heritage and contributions to society as grounds against gay rights. It is a clever concatenation of unrelated facts that subtly sows fear and anxiety into people's hearts: something worthy of the Mail, for sure, but not a fomer Archbishop of Canterbury.
Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are not the province of Christianity or any other religion for that matter. Mr Carey is suggesting that the right to marry is somehow the province of religion, not the state. That, by definition, is 'relativism,' which the former archbishop seems unwilling to recognise, despite rushing to condemn it.
In the beginning of his article, Lord Carey calls out Mr Cameron's apparent hypocrisy in supporting Christian rights, while furthering in public equal rights for gay people. But, he is unaware of his own hypocrisy. This opposition, between gay rights and religion, exists only in the minds of certain small-minded sections of the Christian population, and of other faiths. As the Quakers, the Unitarians, and many liberal Anglicans point out, it is in fact very Christian of Mr Cameron to extend marriage to same-sex couples. The great pity is in fact that gay members of the Church of England are explicitly forbidden by this government to get married within their faith.
Furthermore, Mr Carey is wilfully ignoring the fact that fully one-third of the House of Lords is occupied by members of the Church of England. And, as the National Secular Society has been quick to point out, a daily act of Christian worship is a compulsory requirement in every state school in England and Wales. Is this the face of persecution?
Lord Carey, I hate to break this to you, but Britain has moved on. The majority support equal marriage, and many are losing their faith. These are the facts of life. But, correlation is not causation, and one does not cause the other. In fact, I think it is the outdated and homophobic attitudes like yours that drive people away from the Church. So, if you do want to protect Christianity from 'aggressive secularism,' I suggest you get back to the 'love and charity' bit of your scripture, help the poor and the needy, and stop interfering in the affairs of the state and its secular citizens. These sensationalist claims and dramatic pronouncements do you no favour.Suggest a correction