MORE than 370 religious leaders around the world have signed a new declaration that seeks forgiveness for religious teachings that have harmed LGBT people, calls for an end to the criminalisation of people on the grounds of sexual orientation, and urges a ban on so-called “conversion therapy”.
The declaration “Declaring the Sanctity of Life and the Dignity of All” was due to be launched on Wednesday at a one-day conference at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), by a new group, the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives. After it was announced that London would moved to Tier 3 restrictions on Wednesday, the conference was moved online.
The Commission’s director is Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the General Synod, and its co-chairs are the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, a former Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism.
The declaration says that people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions “are a precious part of creation and are part of the natural order”; it also affirms that, since “all are equal under God”, all should be “treated equally under the law”.
The declaration goes on to say that “certain religious teachings” cause “deep pain and offence” to LGBT people. They have, furthermore, “created, and continue to create, oppressive systems that fuel intolerance, perpetuate injustice, and result in violence. This has led, and continues to lead, to the rejection and alienation of many by their families, their religious groups and cultural communities.”
The declaration asks for forgiveness from those “whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching”. It also calls for an end to criminalisation on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and for violence against LGBT people to be condemned; and it calls for “all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — commonly known as ‘conversion therapy’ — to end, and for these harmful practices to be banned”.
The declaration has so far been signed by more than 60 Anglican archbishops and bishops from around the Communion, and 20 deans. They include the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange; the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies; the Primate of Canada, Dr Linda Nicholls; and the Bishops of Liverpool, Worcester, Reading, Llandaff, Monmouth, and Edinburgh.
Stuart BermanJayne Ozanne presents the declaration at an event which was broadcast online from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, on Wednesday. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is also pictured
At a media briefing last week, Bishop Bayes said that the Commission and Declaration would provide “a platform on which many of us from different faiths can stand across the world in order to give dignity to LGBTI lives”.
He acknowledged that there was “diversity in the faith communities about what should be done in terms of blessing or withholding blessing for LGBTI couples and LGBTI practice”, and that there was “an ongoing conversation” in the Church of England, through the Living in Love and Faith process. “But everyone in the Church of England is committed, or say they’re committed, to standing against homophobia and standing against the oppression and marginalisation of LGBTI people.”
Bishop Bayes noted that the General Synod had “voted overwhelmingly” in 2017 to invite the Government to ban conversion therapy (News, 14 July 2017).
Asked about the wider Anglican Communion, some of whose members are in countries that criminalise LGBT people, Bishop Bayes said: “Lambeth Conferences over the last 30 years, whenever they’ve addressed these matters, have condemned homophobia.” He expected to forge a coalition of people, whatever their views on the blessing of same-sex relationships, who would “stand and . . . lift their heads above the parapet and . . . say that they, together with members of all the other faiths, are prepared to take a stand on this platform”.
Rabbi Janner-Klausner, speaking at the same briefing, said: “Conversion therapy is really important for religious leaders specifically to call out because we, as religious leaders, have often incited hatred against LGBT people through certain religious teachers, and therefore we are responsible for holding our hands up and saying ‘We were wrong.’
“This is what we need to do about it: we need to end conversion therapy at the hands of anyone, but particularly at the hands of religious people using, or I would say misusing, religious teaching in it.”
Dilwar Hussain, who chairs the group New Horizons in British Islam, and is a founding member of the Commission, said at the briefing that Muslim communities had been “for so long behind the curve on issues of LGBTQI justice”.
“There’s a lot of talk in Muslim communities of equality, of prejudice, of discrimination,” he continued. “Often that’s quite communitarian; often that’s about them, about us. And I think if we’re going to be serious about addressing issues of justice and injustice in our society, we’ve got to have an argument that’s morally consistent; we can’t have an argument that’s just partial and sectarian. That’s just not going to work. It’s not religious to think in that way.
“If we’re going to be serious about living our faith in this modern British context, we’ve got to look at this with the full breadth of equality that we see around us.”
Mary McAleese, a former President of Ireland, who is also a founding member of the Commission, said at the briefing that she had campaigned for gay rights since the mid-1970s, when she was involved in setting up the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform.
She had joined this Commission, because, as a Roman Catholic, she wanted to take “responsibility for the role played historically by my faith system, but also other faith systems, in embedding in our cultures and in our societies this wall, this almost impregnable . . . wall of attitudes, perceptions, prejudices, and presumptions around LGBTI people”.
Ireland had been the first country to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage, in 2015, “which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people”, she said. “I’m very proud of that, because it led our LGBTI citizens to understand that, while many of them were Catholic, and their Church’s laws and attitudes are highly oppressive, that among ordinary, everyday people of faith, the people of God, there was great love.”
The online conference on Wednesday, which was funded by the FCDO, featured 20 speakers, including Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, whose father, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has signed the declaration.
Canon Tutu van Furth said before the conference: “I know from personal experience the deep pain that can be caused by certain religious teachings. There are many LGBT+ people who suffer emotional hurt and physical violence to the point of death in countries across the world. For this reason, we are joining forces as faith leaders to say that we are all beloved children of God.”
Other speakers included the Minister for Africa, James Duddridge; and the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz.
At the end of the conference, delegates attended a private service of celebration at Westminster Abbey, led by the Dean, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle. The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, spoke.
Read the full declaration at globalinterfaith.lgbt
Watch a video about the Declaration here