Former Bishop of Oxford: Religion has fuelled hostility to gay people

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The Former Bishop of Oxford has spoken candidly about the link between homophobia and religion.

Speaking in the House of Lords during a debate on global LGBTI rights, former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries spoke out against homophobia around the world

The retired clergyman served as Bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006 – but became a member of the Lords in his own right following his retirement, when he was appointed as a crossbench peer, Baron Harries of Pentregarth.

Speaking yesterday, he was clear: “There is no avoiding the fact that hostility to same-sex relationships is shaped and fuelled by the teaching of most religions.

“We cannot sensibly address this challenge without facing the uncomfortable truth head-on.

“In the Middle East, the dominant religion is obviously Islam, [but in others] it is Christianity.

He said: “Religious institutions, while remaining true to their foundational principles, have to unfold and develop in response to the new insights of each generation.

“Inevitably, in every age there will be turbulence caused by disputes about what is an authentic development and what leads people astray. This process of discernment is not any easy one.

“Change can take a long time but it can take place: we know it has happened in at least some churches.”

He continued: “Church leaders and institutions in those countries where LGBTI people are criminalised have to be urged to make a distinction between teaching which may be applicable for their own members in their private lives and the basic rights and dignity that need to be accorded to everyone in their society, whatever their religion or belief.

“Of course, working through secular channels to challenge the laws in those countries is fundamental.

“But behind those laws is, as [Telegraph boss Lord Black] stressed, a “toxic” culture. That toxic culture is, sadly, intertwined with religion.”

He added: “The way that such people are treated in those countries is an affront to any concept of human decency, and the church must be challenged to see that its support for their criminalisation is a direct cause of this.

“It is an offence against the human person: the unique value and dignity of the individual, whatever their sexuality. It is a violation of everything that the Christian faith is meant to stand for.

“As a minimum, those states must be urged to act against those who commit acts of violence against LGBTI people.”

The former Bishop is a long-time supporter of LGBT rights.