Are We an Institutionally Homophobic Church?

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News

Jayne Ozanne (3)

In my experience people rarely set out to offend.  However, it is often sadly what people leave unsaid or undone (what I call “Sins of Omission”) which unwittingly cause the greatest offense.  If we’re honest, this is normally due to a deep ingrained prejudice that goes unchecked and un-noticed.

I believe that this is precisely why, during the enquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence , Lord Macpherson chose to define institutional racism as:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.”

Unwitting prejudice, ignorance and thoughtlessness.

Institutional homophobia can and should be defined exactly the same way:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their sexuality.  It can be detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and stereotyping”.

This is why during “Questions” at General Synod last February I asked the Chair of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Human Sexuality, the Rt Revd Graham James: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that led to no co-opted LGBT member on the bishops’ working party?”

Indeed, I believe one could also now ask the Welsh Bench of Bishops: “Was it unwitting prejudice, ignorance or thoughtlessness that left unchecked the reported homophobic comments of the perceived negative impact of appointing Jeffrey John as the next Bishop of Llandaff?”

Bishops and archbishops alike have been quick to publicly state that the Church of England has a “zero tolerance” towards homophobia in all its forms.  Similarly, the Presiding Bishop of the Church in Wales has also been keen to point out that he made it clear that “neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate either nominated or elected”.  But verbal assurances are one thing, and actively ensuring their implementation is another.

I wonder, do those in positions of power within the Church truly understand what “institutional homophobia” really is?  Are they aware of their own “Sins of Omission” when it comes to being “thoughtless” or “ignorant” of how they are treating LGBTI people?  Put another way, are they able to be aware when they “have done those things that they ought not to have been done”, and more importantly “left undone those things that ought to have been done” – such as reprimanding people for inappropriate comments, or brushing off concerns by LGBTI people that their voice is not being adequately heard or represented?

My fear is that we are so utterly submerged in the impenetrable “bubble”called “Church” that we fail to see what is so plain to those who live outside it – that our practices, our thinking, our ways of working are absolutely riddled with institutional homophobia.

You see, institutional homophobia is not just about an “irrational fear, dislike or prejudice against LGBT people” as some would like to think.  It is far more serious than that.  It is the naïve and unintentional thoughtlessness in the way that we are talked about.  For instance, using pronouns “them” instead of “us”.  It is an ignorance of the offense that is so often and needlessly caused by stereotyping “what ‘they’ believe”.  Typical examples are “they just want to pander to the culture” or “they don’t take the bible seriously”.

So let me be crystal clear – any teaching that undermines the intrinsic equal worth of LGBTI people is homophobic.  Any theology that teaches that LGBTI couples in committed same-sex relationships are immoral is homophobic.  Any practice that bars LGBTI Christians from serving in their church is homophobic.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has been both bold and brave in recently asserting in his Presidential Address to his Diocesan Synod:

“As I have said before, I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.”

We have indeed been judged and found wanting by a nation who do not understand or believe our nuanced differentials between having a conservative view on theology and asserting this is different to homophobia.   They – the people we seek to serve and witness to – just see a Church that is homophobic, which fails to treat LGBTI Christians as equals.  No amount of window dressing will get them to perceive this differently.

Notably, Bishop Stephen Cottrell then immediately went on to say:

“And though I am proud to confirm that all of us, whatever our views on this matter, are united in our condemnation of homophobia, we must also acknowledge that it is of little comfort to young gay or lesbian members of our Church to know that while prejudice against them is abhorred, any committed faithful sexual expression of their love for another is forbidden. In fact it is worse than this, our ambivalence and opposition to faithful and permanent same sex relationships can legitimise homophobia in others. None of us are content with this situation.”

It is true – we may be “united in our condemnation of homophobia” but at the same time I would assert we mete it out with alarming ease.  Our processes, our thinking, our decision making are all so steeped in prejudice that we are completely blind to it.

Until the Church starts to openly recognise and formally repent of its institutional homophobia, then no amount of “assurances” or public condemnations will carry any truck with those who have been so maligned, or with their family and friends who smart on their behalf.

Our nation has been shouting to us that “the emperor has no clothes” for years.  They can see the truth plain as day – we are homophobic, and have been for centuries.  We on the other hand continue to pretend that the emperor is wearing beautifully fine clothes with our constant statements that hope to assure people we are not homophobic.

It is time to speak out and tell the truth – and repent.  We need to put in safeguards so that our “Sins of Omission” no longer go unnoticed and our untruthful stereotyping no longer go unchecked.  To do otherwise would be to continue as a national laughing stock where we have little credibility as we are seen as lacking any truth or honesty on this matter.


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32 Responses to Are We an Institutionally Homophobic Church?

  1. Don Benson says:

    Step back a bit, Jayne, and consider the coercive force which you are trying to unleash in our church; it’s not your church alone, it’s ours too, and if it’s not under the lordship of Christ it’s worth nothing to any of us.

    You represent possibly 1 or 2% of Christians who are altogether (who knows exactly?) 1 or 2% of our nation’s population. Could it be that you are in a pretty small bubble yourself? Yet you claim to speak for a secular nation up in arms about “homophobia” in a church whose existence, for most people, rarely crosses the radar. And you imply, nevertheless, that the church would magically become attractive to them if we say or do exactly what you prescribe regarding your particular interest. Life’s not like that, Jayne; where your ideas have been tried churches have not grown, in fact they’ve declined.

    But it’s not really about numbers or popularity is it? It’s about truth, and I expect you’d say ‘justice’. Well the prophets called for justice and God’s people have generally been very well represented in contending for justice, but they’ve also been pretty clear that justice is a part of God’s character – it is because of him and the way he created us that we understand the concept of justice. And Christians are pretty clear that justice has to serve God’s truth if it is to be the sort of justice that pleases him. And so we need to be clear about what his truth is and we need to stick to it, particularly when it is challenged by those who have no interest in God; it’s pretty obvious that’s sometimes going to be inconvenient isn’t it?

    We Christians all know that without the Bible there would be no Christianity. It’s the witness, written down for all time, to God’s relationship with human beings and his redemptive grace offered to all who repent and follow him. It’s the bedrock of our faith, the touchstone of what is truth and what is error. And any attempt at coercive instruction to Christians, telling them how their churches should behave on the basis of secular society’s whims, is a direct challenge to what we can all read for ourselves in the Bible. And when it turns out that a prescription forced upon a church is in direct conflict with what the Bible actually says, true Christians will always stick with the Bible. But what of the one who took it upon himself or herself to lead the church astray?

    • jayneozanne says:

      A near perfect example of the negative stereotyping of what I talk about in my article – claiming we just want to pander to culture and not take the Bible seriously. Thank you Don for very clearly proving my point.

      • Steve Thomas says:

        The bible is clear. Non-celibate Homosexuality (arsenokoites) is described as an abomination to God – to be avoided at all costs – for the sake of our eternal wellbeing. Practicing this is said to prevent people from inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). This is not phobic – this is loving submission and obedience to our loving heavenly Father. Please please try to realise this is not personal – this is not stereotyping – this is Christian.

      • Pete Jermey says:


        We would differ on theology, but one area where we might find consensus is that all discrimination against LGB *people* is wrong (maybe even evil), sexual behaviour should not be assumed and that celibate LGB people should be treated as well as straight people.

      • RevDave says:

        Dear Jayne, here’s a problem: you assert that “…any teaching that undermines the intrinsic equal worth of LGBTI people is homophobic. Any theology that teaches that LGBTI couples in committed same-sex relationships are immoral is homophobic. Any practice that bars LGBTI Christians from serving in their church is homophobic.” You are simply “winning” by defining any disagreement with you as “homophobic”. But you do not give any reason to justify what your judgement of other people. In reality Christians see Everyone as of intrinsic worth – whoever we are, whatever we’ve done – good or bad, right or wrong – Jesus died to redeem Everyone – if they will repent and follow Him.
        Maybe your argument is based on the hurt and offence felt as someone who identifies as LGBT or I? But other people feel the same – who also have other sexual attractions that are against God’s will. To them we are hurtful and offensive when we call their extramarital love “adultery”, their love for many people “promiscuity”, and love for a sibling “incest”! Do you also condemn Christians who think those attractions are wrong?

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Steve, you are incorrectly translating/interpreting ἀρσενοκοίτης. Scholars can’t say for certain what it means, among many possibilities. Many center on possibility that it refers to temple prostitution (a fertility ritual for pagan gods), That seems possible since the passages do refer to idolatry.

        It certainly is personal when people misuse Holy Scripture to justify homophobia. It is also very difficult to see how including gay people interferes with your salvation? Most of all, given that there are many fantastic gay Christians, it might be best to accept the evidence before you rather than twist the Bible to get it to agree with your prejudice.

      • jayneozanne says:

        Christopher this is a direct warming that I have a zero tolerance attitude to trolls. I have had to remove several of your posts now as they are so offensive. I will therefore remove all further posts from you.

    • Pete Jermey says:

      Surely if the church were following God’s word then it wouldn’t be discriminating against LGBT people (or women or disabled people)?

  2. jayneozanne says:

    Actually Steve your view is the worst kind of homophobia based on your religious belief, which I respect is sincerely held, but still is an example of the most extreme type of homophobia. You need to remember that homophobia is defined by the police by how it affects the LGBT person – and not by what the perpetrator would like it to mean. It is a deep rooted prejudice against LGBTI Christians based on your reading of the texts (which many now disagree with). Your post is another very good example of exactly what I’m challenging the Church to be open and honest about.

    • Steve Thomas says:

      I can assure you I am neither phobic nor extreme – nor prejudiced. This form of judgmentalism is quite unhelpful I feel Jane – and actually, I wonder, is it not a manifestation of a more worrying form of anti-Christian phobia & prejudice? I love God, and seek to live to please him, and encourage others to also. With respect, I think you would do well to engage the biblical theology, rather than make references to ‘police’ etc.

      • Steve Thomas says:

        *Jayne (apologies)

      • jayneozanne says:

        Again you continue to beautifully prove my point, Steve, for which I am grateful. As I state in my article it is the Sins of Ommission (not knowing when one is even causing offence) that are part of the problem.

        I will point you to my book – Journeys in Grace and Truth – regarding an engagement with the theology, but given your offensive statements about being anti-Christian I doubt it will be something that will challenge your stereotypes and preconceptions.

        The reference to police – which you have also chosen to misinterpret – was to show I am not ‘making these definitions up’ as a previous critic has inferred.

        You do seem overly interested in this site given other posts I have had to remove, and I suppose that rather begs the question ‘why?’!

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Steve, do you really think you are pleasing God when in reality you are gay bashing? I suspect that you wouldn’t last long in a real conversation on theology.

    • Shelton Nelinho says:

      You have truth phobia. Because of the people like you, your church in the west is on decline. Soon it will be an African church and it is sad to see it

  3. Pete Jermey says:

    I don’t agree that scripture or God treats women as inferior to men in any sense and likewise I don’t believe LGBTI people (or disabled people) are inferior either. We are all made in the image of God, which includes a need to be in relationship. This need is not a weakness, but part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

    There are lots of ways that the Church of England directly discriminates against LGBTI people, both locally and corporately and few of them have anything to do with sex. The blog post of Jaynes comes immediately on the back of Jeffrey John being subjected to homophobia in a bishops appointment process. Jeffrey John is famously celibate, yet even that is not good enough for him to be tolerated.

    There appears to be broad consensus that in theory celibate gay people (the cofe hasn’t even attempted to understand BTI people) should be treated no worse than straight people, yet we have not even begun to see that happening in any practical sense.

    If the cofe wishes to teach that gay people must be celibate, then I think it also has a responsibility a) to recognise that by removing the prospect of relationship from a person who does not have that calling they are destroying their humanity and have a responsibility to ameliorate the negative impacts of that and b) to ensure that LGBTI people who are behaving within church rules are treated well. Currently neither is happening.

    • Christopher Shell says:

      JJ is ‘not tolerated’, as you put it, not because of what temptations he may or may not feel but because of firstly his teaching which is in line with the destructive sexual revolution that was at full pelt in his formative years and in the college where he studied; and secondly because he does not agree that his sexual relationship was wrong so does not repent of it.

  4. Alan J Williams says:

    Accusing those who disagree with you of prejudice instead of dealing with the actual objections demonstrates bias of a high order and is unworthy of someone who claims to be arguing in harmony with the teaching of Jesus. The use of the word homophobia, indicating an unconscious fear or hatred of homosexuals, to silence opposition also indicates a serious lack of scholarship. It was actually invented in the late 1960s, by a psychiatrist and homosexual activist called George Weinberg, as a political tool to stigmatise those opposed to claims for homosexuals to be treated as if they were a racial group deserving legally protected status. It is not politically neutral. And to use it as if it is betrays either ignorance or bias. If homophobia was legitimately describing a psychological malady it would be to describe someone suffering from an irrational fear of sameness or monotony not homosexuals. And of course they would be deserving of compassion and therapy not vilification.

    • Pete Jermey says:

      But what are the issues beyond people’s irrational fear of gay people?

      • Alan J Williams says:

        It is too easy to posit subconscious irrational prejudice as the motivation for all objections to homosexual practices as expressions of love acceptable to God. It assumes being able to see into people’s souls on the basis of mere disagreement. I’m afraid it won’t do, especially as ‘homophobia’ is a word deliberately coined to stigmatise objectors with no therapeutic value or psychological legitimacy.

    • Pete Jermey says:


      “Won’t do” is as subjective as what you accuse the term “homophobia” of.

      I think there are two separate overlapping issues here

      1. Theology of sexuality

      2. How people are treated in and by the church.

      They are overlapping because they influence one another.

      You haven’t given me much to go on in terms of answering my question.

      When someone is not allowed to play in a church worship band because he is gay, but his friend who is sleeping with his girlfriend is – what are the issues beyond homophobia?

      JJ has been told that the reason he wasn’t elected bishop was due to fears about his celibate civil partnership- what are the issues beyond homophobia, here?

      • Christopher Shell says:

        What are the issues? Just don’t let the one sleeping with his girlfriend play in the band. That’s not an ‘issue’ for ‘discussion’, it’s an easy call.

  5. jd2387 says:

    Clearly this entire debate has long been a politicised one, but that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as an ‘unconscious fear or hatred of homosexuals.’ And I don’t think anybody is suggesting that homophobia ought to be described as a ‘malady’, any more than racism should be.

  6. Steve Thomas says:

    => Acts 5:29  Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

    • Pete Jermey says:

      The problem is we are in profound disagreement over what God is calling us to…and not only that we are in profound disagreement over what the details of the circumstance are.

      • Christopher Shell says:

        The disagreement stems from the fact that some follow ideology and preference (so that, dishonestly, they will never take up a position that is personally uncongenial to them, even though by the law of averages the research will not be congenial to our preferences much of the time), whereas others attempt to follow objective research. And we live in a culture where both these extremely different things are merged together under the name ‘views’.

  7. jayneozanne says:

    I’ve had to remove various comments because they are so offensive – although sadly I believe that the commentators have no idea how offensive they actually are. Yet more examples of the homophobia and prejudice that is endemic amongst certain conservatives who believe their version of ‘truth” should be stated without any humility or grace.

    • Christopher Shell says:

      Many things that are true are offensive; but the issue of truth is the foundational one.

      Otherwise we can call anything that hinders our preferred lifestyle ‘offensive’. That is not proper debate.

      Where one side is emotions-centred and the other is rational, it is not hard to see which is the more mature.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Well Christopher, we agree on this post. Only I would say the intolerant position is the irrational one. The truth is that God made us all in God’s image, gay or straight, male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free. It is so odd to me that folks believe in a hateful God who hates the same people they happen to hate. And I wonder why anyone believes that God needs a gate keeper (and then appoints oneself to be the gate keeper).

        Revelation continues. Sometimes it’s in scholarship that realizes that the Bible has been mistranslated and that some of the words are actually not so clear. Sometimes the revelation comes from the Spirit who reminds us that Jesus called us to love all people. Judging is not loving. And claiming to totally know the mind of God is really amazing.

  8. pvcann says:

    Kate thank you. As Meister Eckart showed there is division between head and heart that needs healing especially in institutional religion. He’s not alone. The moralisms and shibboleths of institutionalised hermeneutic has been abusive and crippling. Slavery, apartheid, colonialist justifications for hegemony, complementarity, submission, racism, rape in marriage, child abuse, while not exclusively a church province, yet spurred on or supported by canon law, regulation, statute, and of course ‘the bible.’ Every generation has to fight for some freedom. Andrew Solomon speaks powerfully of the many groups who have had to fight for freedom in society, and in the church (Andrew Solomon, ‘Far From the Tree’) among other institutions. Solomon left a deep impression on me with the chapter on how in the west it wasn’t until after WW2 that Down Syndrome people were actually recognised in law as human. The LGBTIQ are people waiting to be recognised as human while the church runs around justifying its blind prejudice and preference for tradition. I sincerely doubt Jesus would get into many of our churches we’d stone him, we’d crucify him, rather than learn about the Way.

  9. José Ribeiro says:

    I came here by chance.
    What a futile discussion!
    Nowadays, Church is irrelevant (thanks God!). Of course, she is homophobic and transphobic – it’s in her DNA. But, why worry? Let her be so, fade and dy!

Any thoughts?