West Hampstead vicar: ‘Religious leaders legitimise gay hate’
PUBLISHED: 08:05 11 December 2014 | UPDATED: 18:10 11 December 2014
Fr Andrew Foreshew-Cain, vicar of West Hampstead CofE church St James’, married his gay partner in June. He is a vocal critic of his church leaders’ views on gay people. Today, Fr Foreshew-Cain writes in the Ham&High about his reaction to the death of Dr Nazim Mahmood.
At the inquest into the death of Dr Nazim Mahmood (Naz) who died in July, the coroner said: “It seems desperately sad that in 2014 a person should feel that they can’t be accepted because of the way that they live.”
As a young gay Muslim man keeping his sexuality secret from his family, Naz was not alone.
Many gay and lesbian people from conservative religious backgrounds hide their true selves from their families and build a separate life with a new ‘family’ of close and true friends who accept and support them.
Sometimes it works but it can bring intense pressure and, for some, deep unhappiness. I have met many young gay and lesbian people for whom the pressure has been almost unbearable.
The resulting depression, self-harm and a lack of self-respect are then pushed back on the gay community as a sign of something being wrong with being gay and lesbian, rather than a consequence of the relentless negativity and abuse endured.
Religious leaders find their responsibility for this suffering hard to accept – but their words legitimise and encourage the violence and random abuse that many gay and lesbian people report, as well as family distress and conflict.
Within my own tradition our bishops have fought for legal exemptions from treating gay and lesbian people with equality under the law – and then seem surprised when the gay and lesbian community is suspicious of the Church.
Thankfully, outside the narrow world of religious leadership, attitudes are changing and the greater visibility of gay people, the wide and joyful acceptance of marriage equality and new legal protections are helping consolidate those changes.
Surveys show that the attitudes of young religious people are much more liberal and accepting than those of the older generations.
It is to be devoutly hoped that in future young gay and lesbian people such as Naz will be able to find acceptance without the inner turmoil that he endured.