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Power and Exclusion: The UK Church Failing the LGBTQ+ Community

Revd Joe Haward reflects on how hardliners in the Church are stifling progress on LGBTQ+ rights – but homophobia and transphobia are not confined to evangelical congregations

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby talks to Christian LGBTQ+ campaigner Jayne Ozanne at a January protest about equal marriage. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

Power & ExclusionThe UK Church Failing the LGBTQ+ Community

Revd Joe Haward reflects on how hardliners in the Church are stifling progress on LGBTQ+ rights – but homophobia and transphobia are not confined to evangelical congregations

The rejection of same-sex marriage by Church of England bishops, refusing clergy the right to perform weddings for same-sex couples, highlights the continued inequality that exists for the LGBTQ+ community.

Further, it reveals how the UK church in all its variations – but most especially the evangelical wing – continues to be out of step with justice issues, holding onto belief systems that directly harm vulnerable groups. 

Some may see such decisions by the UK church as painful, but ultimately irrelevant considering how the church continues to shrink in size. But there are reasons to be concerned by what is happening.

Recent census data confirmed the ongoing overall decline of Christianity within the UK, a trend that is common throughout the Western world. Depending upon your position, this may be a cause of celebration or lament.

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Such diminishing of institutions or belief systems, however, can bring with it reactionary beliefs and ideological pursuits in the name of rescuing a fading practice. In other words, ideology can become more hardline, drifting further to the right in a bid to reclaim belief ‘purity’ in the hope such belief will stem the decline.

This may well be the case for the UK church, as anti-LGBTQ+ positions are increasingly pursued among more conservative and evangelical members. 

These ideas, steeped in Christian language and ideas as they may be, are, however, not exclusive to those who belong to such groups. Misogynistic, transphobic, and homophobic speech has increased within the public sphere, often cloaked in ‘Christian’ language.

Donald Trump’s alignment with the right-wing evangelical movements, Nigel Farage recently claiming that the biggest threat the West faced was “Judeo-Christian” culture being “destroyed,” and social media influencers arguing that Christianity needs to be more violent and hardline against its critics, are all examples of how such beliefs are gaining traction.

As these examples show, such trends do not belong merely to fringe Christian groups, whose influence is minimal within our politics and communities.

Influence and Power

There are churches up and down the country which believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, and continue to resist any movement towards full inclusion and equality for the LGBTQ+ community. These churches help run food banks, provide debt relief support, run toddler groups, and work within communities up and down the UK.

Such community support is obviously welcome, especially in times such as this. Yet it can never be right to provide an open hand to some people, and a closed fist to the LGBTQ+ community.  

It is important to understand why some Christians are so opposed to same-sex marriage.

Firstly, it is a power issue. As Trump and Bolsanaro have shown, if you gather the right-wing evangelical movements under your influence, then power can be claimed and maintained. The ideology and pursuit of a Christian nation is a significant driver for these groups. 


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Secondly, there is a genuine belief that same-sex marriage will lead to a literal eternal hell. As absurd as that sounds, certain Christian groups actively pursue resistance to LGBTQ+ equality, and engage in types of ‘conversion therapy’ to “save” people from eternal hellfire. 

Aside from the overtly damaging practices of conversion therapy, there is also an insidious subtleness, by often praying for an LGBTQ+ individual that God would ‘guide’ them to the ‘truth’. 

Thirdly, a lot of Christians, and those who want some kind of ‘Christian’ nation, see it entirely as a social issue: the belief that the family ‘ideal’ needs to be reclaimed. Very often sermons, and general interactions within the church, will emphasise the belief that there is a model of relationship to strive for; and that model is hetrosexual couple who have children.

This in itself further dehumanises and excludes same-sex couples, and reaffirms within the church anti-LGBTQ+ messaging, not only as an ‘eternal’ issue, but also as a social issue.

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The social impact such language has upon listeners cannot be ignored, even when it comes from a dying institution like the Western church. Indeed, it is in these times of decline where we must be ever more vigilant. Notice how commentators speak of British culture being ‘eroded’ because of multiculturalism, or lament the fading influence of Christian family values within the West.

These commentators are seeking to stir the nostalgic hearts of the disenfranchised, stoking fear, and creating pain about all that has been lost or threatened to be forever forgotten. 

Out of such emotive propaganda, scapegoats are sought, those upon whom the supposed ills of the nation are laid. In times like this we need to be aware of the narratives forming, the hatred and exclusion that follows, and the way others are dehumanised. 

Only by naming the hate, speaking against it, and pursuing equality and justice for all, can we counter these corrosive messages.

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