Giles Fraser calls for the Church to act on homophobia
During the launch of the Windsor report, Dr Robin Eames left his audience in no doubt that homophobia is totally unacceptable within the Anglican Communion. Given this, much rides on the question whether opposing the consecration of the Rt Revd Gene Robinson is homophobic. If it is, then the logical conclusion emerges that those who would deny the Bishop of New Hampshire his mitre have no place in the Communion.
Prima facie, those who oppose gay bishops appear homophobic. It would be racist for the police to deny the job of Chief Constable to a black man because of his colour. Isn't it much the same? The fact that someone might couch his or her prejudice in the language of principle or religion doesn't make things better. It surely makes it worse.
Some argue that this comparison is misplaced. They say that the suffix -phobia links the term homophobia to the Greek word for fear. This allows some to deny they are homophobic because they don't fear gay people. But this just plays tricks with words. Homophobia is not a word that functions like, for example, arachnophobia - the fear of spiders. Homophobes are not frightened of homosexuals in the way my daughter is of creepy-crawlies.
Another strategy is to say that real homophobia contains abusive language. When the TV evangelist Jerry Falwell describes homosexuals as part of a vile and satanic system that will be utterly annihilated - that's real homophobia, they say we don't sound like that. Passing over the similarities between Mr Falwell's comments and the language of the Primate of Nigeria, it doesn't seem to be any justification of one's position to say that it represents a lighter (as it were, a more Anglican) version of something otherwise disgusting. Softly spoken prejudice is still prejudice.
No, the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus regards Bishop Robinson's opponents as homophobes. It will not do to trot out the But-I-have-a-lot-of-gay-friends baloney, as if it provides any sort of inoculation against this change.
If the Church is serious about ridding itself of homophobia, as distinct from condemning it simply as a way of buying off an inclusive press and public, then it ought to be seen to be doing something about it. Yet, despite the rhetoric, I cannot think of a single thing that the Anglican Church has done to rid itself of it - not even calling on homophobes to express regret at having strained the bonds of affection.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.
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This article first appeared in the Church Times on 29th October 2004.