Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gay & Lesbian Humanists

Gay & Lesbian Humanists

This is not particularly a gay issue -- but it is an important one, which the BBC have done well to tackle.

"London has to face the illegal consequences of religious practicesthat some migrants bring with them from their countries of origin. We should neither accept them, nor ignore them to appease cultural sensibilities."

The spectre of Ndoki, or witchcraft, being practiced [sic] in London has reared its ugly head again. The Metropolitan police arrested an Angolan pastor who has been ministering in London for the past five years. Kurt Barling looks at the fall out

Although the congregation of the Christ in Mission Church in Tottenham has declined recently, Pastor Dieudonne Tukala who arrived in London from Angola in 1999 still has a significant following.

His word is interpreted by some in his congregation as the word of God. He is accused of inciting cruelty to children.

In an unconnected case back in 2001 a torso was washed up on the banks of the River Thames. The police investigation into who murdered the child they named "Adam" has so far found no perpetrators. What was uncovered though was a gruesome example of a ritual sacrifice. Through his DNA, the boy was identified as coming from Western Nigeria.

Although there is little evidence to show the cases coming to light are directly related, they nevertheless fit a pattern which points to practices still common in parts of Africa finding their way to London with new migrants.

What seems to remain a matter of confusion for a number of emerging churches steeped in African tradition is the difference between cultural practices which are unusual and those which in Britain are illegal.

Lord Laming's inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbie three years ago exposed ambivalence amongst some officials when it came to dealing with migrants. A certain amount of cultural relativism clouded their judgement. The child protection agencies still have work to do to get to grips with the problem.

A preacher at the church attended by Victoria's great-aunt said Victoria was possessed and he had prayed for her to be delivered from witchcraft or wicked spirits. Most people accepted that was whacky, but some emerging churches clearly were having difficulty accepting it as illegal. One consequence of this has been that the torture Victoria Climbie was subjected to has been repeated.

Nearly five years on a minority of deliverance churches still seem to be struggling with the idea that those who lead worship in the name of any faith must not break the law themselves, or incite others to.

If this debate is to have any meaning then it's particularly important that emerging churches are not cut off from the mainstream. There's strong evidence that it is amongst these isolated congregations where children are most vulnerable to "ndoki" practices.

That's not to say it happens in every African centred church. Far from it. The manner in which worship can appear exuberant can be unsettling to those familiar with Christian worship in the host community. That doesn't make it sinister, unless of course you find all Christian worship sinister.

It shouldn't be forgotten that exorcisms, or the excising of bad spirits, are carried out in the Church of England. These are part and parcel of Christian tradition. Every London diocese has its own designated exorcist. Permission must be sought from a Bishop to carry out an exorcism.

It's self-evident though that the more cut off from any form of accountability new churches are, the more difficult it can be to ensure that when things go wrong there is a mechanism to correct them.

Few people within a congregation will stand up to challenge a powerful pastor. If you put into that mix the anxiety of refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom will have been tortured, abused and mistreated in the past you have a recipe for vulnerability. In the French speaking Congolese community this is compounded by a significant language barrier.

When three adults were convicted last year at the Old Bailey of torturing an eight-year-old Angolan orphan known to the court as child B the Met Police decided to take proactive measures to find out how widespread a problem they could be facing.

The evidence had shown that over several months child B was cut with a knife on her chest, beaten, kicked, starved, whipped with a belt and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes when she too was accused of being a witch..

In the wake of the Laming inquiry the Met had already commissioned a report from two people deeply involved in previous child abuse scandals involving African children to investigate this unknown territory.

The report remains unpublished, one must assume because the Met police remain very nervous about revealing its contents. The researchers found that although not widespread, there was a significant incidence of ndoki, or witchcraft, in London. They concluded that the practices did put some children at risk and congregations were burying their heads in the sand. They urged the public authorities not to do the same.

Last autumn, Operation Violet which was set up by the Yard's Child Abuse Investigative Command, got Detective Inspector Bob Pull to actively seek out as many emerging Congolese churches as he could amongst the 11,000 strong Congolese community.

His job was then to ensure a coordinated effort to tackle the risk identified in the report, largely through offering advice and training on child protection issues.

Pastor Jules Mahele who has been appointed as spokesman for around 60 of the 80 or so Congolese churches in Britain told me (most are in London and have memberships of anything from a few dozen to a few hundred) that there is a general recognition that there is a problem.

He believes it is particularly an issue in those churches that have so far shown an unwillingness to join forces with similar denominational groups to support each other in ensuring that worship does not conflict with the laws of the land.

In a statement released last Friday the Congolese Pastorship said that: "No church using the Bible as its authority can justify any behaviour that puts children at risk of abuse. The practice of ndoki, or witchcraft, which identifies children as possessed by evil spirits, is not a practice Christians find acceptable."

The message couldn't be clearer. Those who claim to be Christian pastors but endorse these practices cannot hide behind their ethnicity as a defence.

The difficulty is anyone can set up a place of worship in this country. The act of collective worship is in effect a private gathering. If abuse takes place it's often away from the place of worship as a result of "guidance" from a so called pastor. Policing the private domain is notoriously difficult; you only have to look at the problems of tackling domestic violence.

There are simply no easy answers to dealing with this. It requires a cultural shift so that the mores and norms of the broader society are accepted and practiced [sic] by these churches themselves.

This needs public education and unambiguous sanction when wrongdoing comes to light. Last week's arrest is a positive step, because it shows that more people within these churches are becoming vigilant and questioning.

As a world city London has to face the illegal consequences of religious practices that some migrants bring with them from their countries of origin. We should neither accept them, nor ignore them to appease cultural sensibilities.

On the other hand hysterical reactions to individual cases which stigmatise whole communities will do little to reduce the risks to the most vulnerable.

last updated: 15/08/06

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Archbishop's latest move 'spineless' say Gay Humanists

NEWS RELEASE28 August 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury's latest pronouncement in which he tells gays that they are not welcome in his Church unless they "change their ways", was condemned today as "spineless" by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA).

GALHA's Secretary George Broadhead said: "Rowan Williams has now made it clear that he thrown in his lot with the religious right, and confirmed himself to be a kind of Vicar of Bray figure - changing his opinions to fit in with the mood of the times rather than sticking to his principles. If anyone in the Anglican Church was in any doubt about where Williams stood on gay rights, they now know."

Mr Broadhead said that if the suggestions that up to a third of Anglican clergy are gay is true, then there should be a mass exodus from the church. "How anyone with a grain of self-respect would want to serve under a man who has betrayed them so badly is incomprehensible. Gay people should leave the church in their droves."

Mr Broadhead pointed out that the Church of England is established by law and has political power in this country with its bishops sitting in the House of Lords. "This is not just a matter for gay Christians. The Anglican Church's swing to the right affects all of us. There have been increasing examples of the bishops in the House of Lords opposing gay rights. Indeed, they argued strongly that the Church should be exempted from the forthcoming legislation banning discrimination against gay people in the provision of goods and services.

The latest move by this spineless Archbishop should serve as a warning signal to all gay people - religious or not. Religion has declared war on them."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Religion = Honesty?

Religion = Honesty?

By now, even people – like me – with very little interest in sport will have heard about the controversy surrounding the cricket test match between England and Pakistan. Long story short: Pakistan were accused of ‘ball tampering’ and the dispute that followed led to a stand-off between the team and the umpires and Pakistan ultimately forfeited the match.

I’m sure there’s more to it in the detail, but to use an obvious pun, I don’t really give a toss. Let’s face it, in sport, these controversies arise all the time. Hardly a month goes by without some news of an athlete stripped of their medal because they’d been taking some hay fever medication with a banned ingredient, or some Grand Prix driver forced to start from the back for some reason unfathomable to the layperson. And then of course there’s football…

At the end of the day, it all seems rather over-inflated… grown men either whacking balls (or each other) away or chasing after them for whopping great salaries.

But two responses to the England-Pakistan match in the media caught my eye. Both leave unpleasant tastes in the Humanist mouth.

Firstly, The Guardian made it a race/religion issue. In it’s leader on Monday, the paper said:

“The dispute was not between England and Pakistan, which may allow the forthcoming one day series to continue. But it can only fuel the alienation felt by some British Muslims at a time of great strain.”

Shahriyar Khan or the Pakistand Cricket Board and Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach seemed keen to run with this theory and appeared to accuse Darrel Hare, the umpire, of fomenting WW III.

In a very sensible editorial, The Times took them to task:

Shahriyar Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, appears most confused. “What a wonderful sight it is to see cricket between Pakistan, a Muslim country, and England, where the majority are Christian. Why destroy this over a technicality?” he asked. With respect, Shahriyar does not know his technicalities from his elbow. The rules of cricket are not a technicality; Muslims and Christians, in this context, are. The most stupid, the most catastrophically misguided aspect of this debate is the one that insists on bringing the world of religious politics into a row about cheating in a cricket match.
Hair, we are told, has added to the volatile relationship between East and West. So, presumably, the next time London or Bali goes up, we can attach his decision to the list of liberal hand-wringing explanations for the atrocity. “Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon — and that Aussie bloke who called Pakistan for ball-tampering at the Oval. Well, what did we expect?” It is shocking the way a decision made purely in a sporting arena has been so self-servingly transferred to the political.

“All the Muslim players are sensitive individuals who are very opposed to terrorist activities,” Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, said. “To accuse Pakistan of cheating brings these tensions to the fore. I wonder whether Darrell realises the consequences of his actions.”

What consequences? What tensions? Are we meant to applaud Woolmer’s Pakistan team for their sensitivity in not endorsing mass murder? Are we meant to worry that, having been accused of ball-tampering, they now will?

Pure insanity. Or political opportunism. Either of which, rational people ought to knock for a six.

Secondly – and this is what really got my goat – former cricketer Geoffrey Boycott  writes in The Telegraph:

“Ball-tampering is a sensitive issue for the Pakistanis and that is why they staged their protest yesterday. They wanted to make a statement because the reputation of the team and the integrity of Pakistan cricket had been called into question. You have to remember that the Pakistan players are deeply religious and pray five times a day, so an allegation of cheating hurts them.”


What on earth makes Boycott think that the more religious people are, the more they will be hurt by accusations of cheating or dishonesty? Does he really imagine that non-religious people are any less concerned about being thought of as fair and honest?

Why do we have this knee-jerk assumption in society that religious people are automatically more virtuous than the rest of us? (Let’s face it, the evidence is often quite the reverse.)

Is it not perhaps the very fact that this common assumption exists that religious groups are allowed to get away with so much? If people aren’t apologising for them, they’re cultivating an ever growing blind-spot. Even people who are not religious have some ‘reverence’ for the vicar. Instead of mocking their insane moonbattery, many of tend to think that the pious are more “spiritual” than their neighbours, more “virtuous”…

And of course, it is this tosh that allows religious commentators to tell politicians with a straight face that - even if people don’t believe in a god - religion instills essential ethical and moral concepts in the developing mind. Without our CofE grounding, even Atheists would be morally adrift… or so they say.

No, the fact that the Pakistan team is very religious should in no way be relevant to assessing their propensity to cheat (or not to cheat) or the level of offence they take at the accusation.

The fact is, no one likes being called a cheat.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Summer GHQ now out!

The summer edition of Gay Humanist Quarterly is now available.

It can be downloaded (free) as a PDF... or you can subscribe and receive the print edition.

Issues covered in this edition include: the butchering of gay, lesbian and transgender people at the hands of Islamist militias in Iraq; the on-going persecution of gays in Iran a year after the hanging of two teens in Mashhad; the failure of the High Court challenge of the government's policy of not recognising foreign same-sex marriages; the general uselessness of the Democratic Party in the USA on LGBT issues; the dangers of 'Creationism' entering UK schools and US-style Televangelism coming to the UK; the attacks on the gay communities of Eastern Europe; Dr Qaradawi's insights into why Bush won the election; and more news, views and reviews, including Spielberg's 'Munich'.

See for a detailed content listing (and to download the mag - or subscribe)

Back-issues are also available as PDF downloads.

As the name suggests. GHQ is published four times a year and covers issues around sexuality, politics, humanism, atheism, liberalism and free thought, particularly (but not exclusively) from a gay and lesbian perspective.