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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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The Truth about Benefits

I’m really disappointed with my country right now. I’ve been on the official Government Petitions website, and looked up benefits as I feel strongly about the cuts, caps and workfare mentality being introduced.

There are many petitions there about benefits, and most of them do not say what I thought they would. I was actually disgusted by the attitude of the petitions’ authors, so much so that I am posting on it immediately.

There is a myth being fuelled that people on benefits won’t work. We are told to hate these claimants because these lazy scroungers are sucking out resources from the hardworking rest of us, contributing to the recessional shortages and cuts. If only we could get rid of these clingons, we’d have more public money to go round the rest of us. Ministers tell us of a large annual welfare bill to be incendiary to those whose image of a claimant is the feckless thick drug using jobcentre loiterer.

In my experience, people who claim benefits don’t enjoy doing so. If they could manage another way, they would. They are desperate to be able to have their own income. I think people who think otherwise have never been to a jobcentre or housing benefit call centre. They’ve not had to fill in a huge Incapacity benefit form or attend an invasive medical to see if they are fit for work. They’ve not had to bring in all their wage slips and bank statements for a stranger to peruse and copy. They’ve not had someone aggressively ask why they were unable to actively seek work at the time of their parents’ death. They’ve not felt the powerlessness of sitting in that chair across a corporate desk with security gaurds lurking, while jobs are suggested which show utter ignorance of the signing clerk who doesn’t understand many qualifications or careers. They’ve not spend hours on a phone trying to get through to rude, impervious staff, or had to queue up amongst the ‘feckless’ to get a giro for their hungry family. They’ve not had the dark parrot on their shoulder, asking them was their something else they could have done to get work – even as they lay in bed, or watch a film; asking them to justify why they are going out, fearing what the DWP will say on their next visit, or if they might ring and demand you attend an unsuitable interview or lose your money. It’s not even nice meeting people, being asked that inevitable question, what do you do – only to answer (however elusively or euphemistically) that you’re on benefits. Friends greet with the same sad ‘Any luck this week?’ as if they are an extension of government staff. To claim, you are meant to declare all your activities which really means you justify the interests you have – being treasurer at the sports club, the church, or making cuppas for your local theatre company – all of which might cost you your benefit.

So strangely, most of us are keen not to be in that system.

I consider it something to be proud of that one’s country recognises that their citizens need support sometimes and as a society that we want to help each other out. ‘Society’ and ‘community’ get used regularly, but our neighbourliness is not meant to extend to the undeserving – which often is those the government think are undeserving and so use the media to get the people to agree with them.

Those anti benefits prophets are subscribers to capitalism, for they are propounding the belief that one’s worth is through money – not a very spiritual belief and not a very evolved one. Our worth is not through earning and certainly not how much. I love the many spiritual writers who remind us that  we are ‘human BEINGs’. Money is human created – animal and plants exist without it, as do some human societies. We have made it a necessity and also a shame if we do not have enough of it so that we have to borrow, beg or default on our debts. That’s an unhealthy and corrupt value system.

Our society is also saying: some work is better than none. A right wing minster said that there is greater worth in earning than in not, in any job. As a well paid man doing the job he wants (if he isn’t, he shouldn’t be a servant of the people), this is a hollow speech. Doing a job you hate is more than the 40 hours a week you spend at it – it’s the focus of your life. Why do we expect work to be hard and unpleasant, a grind necessary to exist and have status? I recently spoke with a business counsellor who said that for her – work you want is the only kind there is. It doesn’t make sense, from even the right wing Functionalist sociological perspective, to put ill matched people into work they hate. It benefits no one – for then the employers are getting the wrong staff, staff are ill and depressed, and society is full of sick leave bills – or even hospitals and suicides.

What perhaps the government hates most is those who live outside their system. Perhaps many of us hate that too – and I think it is partly about wishing people to conform and partly resentment that others have the courage and freedom to do what we are not.

I’m also disturbed by the amount of petitions asking foreigners to be repatriated and benefits to be withdrawn from them. My pride in my nationality is not in ostracising others, especially if this might cause them poverty or even harm.

We do need a reform of benefits but we need a system which helps those who need it, and does not penalise for working (as often this makes you worse off), or not having a career path that isn’t on a drop down menu on a civil service computer. The fear, bullying, intrusion and humiliation of the current system with whipped up frenzy about lazy bleeders needs to end. We need this recession as a value reassessment, and to see that the world we’ve created in many countries is about as far from our souls’ calling as it is possible to be. And yes, souls do come into policies and statecraft. Why else would we be here?

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