Beyond Identity Politics

17/04/2012 13:39 BST | Updated 16/06/2012 10:12 BST

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, threw down a gauntlet recently, challenging some of the roots of identity politics just as activists from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities, more than ever before, are engaging in global struggles for their human rights, and particularly challenging faith-based homophobia and transphobia. World Pride 2012, in London, will have a strong political element as it draws attention to the fact that within the Commonwealth alone there are still 41 countries where homosexuality is illegal with punishments ranging from imprisonment to the death penalty.

The UK's Cutting Edge Consortium (CEC) maintains that by adopting a radical, common-good strategy we can undermine the rhetoric of those faith leaders and institutions who seek to denigrate our claims by pitching our demands against the common good. CEC promotes equality and human rights across faith, unites people and groups of all faiths and none to promote equality and human rights, and challenges faith-based homophobia and transphobia.

The Cutting Edge Consortium Statement believes: "Full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths, religions, or beliefs, including non-religious world-views; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good." It affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.

These are the principles which underlie the Cutting Edge Consortium's forthcoming National Conference: LGBT LIVES: Achieving Our Equality - challenging faith-based homophobia & transphobia, on 21 April 2012. While recent UK governments have pressed forward with LGBT-friendly legislation, there is concern that the present Coalition Government is running scared of mainstream religious bodies and their leaders, whether on proposals for Equal Marriage in particular, or on a weakening of the impact of the UK's Human Rights and Equality Acts.

The CEC refuses to allow unelected religious leadership to present itself as the sole voice of the common good. Indeed, for example, some faith-leaders have shown a volte-face on the value of civil partnerships. In 2003, the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales, strongly prompted by the Vatican's Doctrine Congregation, suggested that same-sex civil unions would be contrary to the common good. In 2011, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales, said: "We would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship (and) a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision. Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship."

The common good is not simply an abstract ideal yet to be achieved. It is realised, here and now, wherever mutuality in social and personal relationships is promoted and respected. It is what transforms the cold face of 'society' into a community of communities. It is where individuals and groups are in solidarity, one with another; where what is bad for one is bad for another, and what is good for one is good for another.

The common good pushes against managerial and functionalist approaches to human beings, as Rowan Williams suggests: "taking responsibility for one another, assumes that the 'other' for whom you're taking responsibility is a three-dimensional person - not an item, not an abstraction; but somebody with a particular history, with a particular set of strengths and weaknesses, with particular gifts to give. Reduce that three dimensionality to something else and you are reducing the chances of a vital and healthy community life." That is precisely what LGBT people bring to the common good in the transformation of society not as some kind of Trojan horse, undermining human, social or family values.

So CEC, in bringing together a rich variety of perspectives, reflects the African term, Ubuntu, an age-old term for humaneness - for caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation. It promotes co-operation between individuals, cultures and nations, not just as an ideal but as a liberating exercise. That is what the Cutting Edge Consortium Conference will make concrete.

Martin Pendergast is Secretary of the Cutting Edge Consortium