A leading voice in the UK’s gay community has compared anti-gay persecution to the Crucifixion, an analogy religious conservatives, in reacting to the news, have now shown is entirely apt.
It was revealed by conservative media sites on Monday that gay rights campaigner Benjamin Cohen, who founded the iconic news site Pink News, would be part of an Easter broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in which he would make a comparison between the Crucifixion and religion’s historical persecution of gay people, saying that Jesus, like gay people, “was punished for something he couldn’t help.”
Cohen, whose family is Orthodox Jewish, will say in his ‘Lent Talk’ program (excerpt via Pink News):
“I was lucky, my family didn’t abandon me and I haven’t been rejected from my community, despite it being well known that I’m gay.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone, and I’ve been written to by many young people whose families have abandoned them for being honest about who they love. Some parents give them an ultimatum to ignore their feelings or even undergo controversial reparative therapies to turn themselves straight. Shockingly, every year, hundreds of people, mainly teenagers kill themselves because of their family or society’s rejection of them, due to their sexuality.
“In many cases, the reason for this rejection is religion — something that really angers and upsets me. Religion should be about bringing families together, united in devotion and celebration, not tearing them apart.”
Cohen’s is one of six Lent Talks, all from well-known figures from public life, arts and religion. All will focus on different variations of the theme “abandonment.”
Despite this comparison being narrow and fairly innocuous, conservative news sites soon set about manufacturing a controversy.
“BBC Easter message compares treatment of gay people with the crucifixion of Christ,” said the Daily Mail title, while the Telegraph opted for “BBC controversy over Easter message likening treatment of gay people to crucifixion” with a subtitle that again mentioned the “controversy” this was to create. At the time of writing, only the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have really found anything controversial about this message.
That is, of course, with the exception of the now royally riled up Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, whose shrill bleating was reported by the Daily Mail:
“Whilst we have immense compassion for those who feel rejection, to liken those who feel rejection because of behavioural choices they have made to Jesus is blasphemous.’
It’s hard not to choke up at such “compassion,” isn’t it? She went on:
‘Jesus made high demands on how we are to behave particularly when it came to sexual expression, where he was clear that the only place for sexual expression is in the context of marriage between a man and a woman.’
She said that the BBC’s timing of the talk is a ‘serious matter’ and said that the broadcaster should be looking to ‘educate and inform’ a population she claims knows ‘increasingly little about Jesus’.
Christian Concern is, by most standards, a fringe evangelical group that rallies against a number of things — IVF, abortion, “Islam,” — but seems particularly vociferous on gay rights.
What Andrea Williams, Christian Concern and indeed the wider news sites who tried to spin this seem to have proved is that Cohen’s use of the Crucifixion narrative was apt. Sadly for them, you don’t get to own the narrative even (and especially) when it comes to religious stories where liberties are frequently and liberally taken — take as evidence the fact they will profess the depiction of Jesus in the above picture is color authentic — and you certainly cannot dictate how they are used. Furthermore, to invoke the idea of blasphemy is an extremist notion that is used to shut down debate and freedom of thought: that something is simply too sacred to be challenged or reimagined. Well, put bluntly, it isn’t.
Last, had they bothered to understand Cohen’s words they might have seen him giving deference to the notion that religion and religious communities can do some good in welcoming and supporting people — a charitable notion that, in some cases, is becoming hard to support when increasingly it seems religion is being used only as a political tool to justify outmoded prejudice.
Image credit: Thinkstock.