On 28th October, the Church of England Newspaper ran an article by Alan Craig of the Christian People’s Alliance entitled “Confronting the Gaystapo”. In it, he explicitly and at length compares gay activists to Nazis. On this basis, he argues that the gay-rights agenda has conquered the media, education, the police and various branches of government, and is poised to undermine society and civilisation as a whole through establishing legal rights to Same Sex Marriage. Such an hour, he argues, calls for courageous, Churchill-like people who will confront this and stand up for traditional values.
Since being published this has, predictably, caused waves. Even more so after the paper’s editor (despite acknowledging that he hadn’t seen it prior to publication and would have toned the language down a little if he had) seemed unapologetic about having published it. There are so many things that really should be said about this fiasco, and better people than me have already said several of them. Alan Wilson has pointed out the inherent offensiveness of the analogy – both in that in reality gays were some of the principal victims of the Nazis, and that using the analogy of the rise of Nazism simply to add a sense of alarm cheapens the sacrifices made by those who suffered at their hands. Nick Baines has made a plea that it is really time that we as a culture moved on from drawing on a Nazi German demonology whenever we need one. He also makes the very sensible point that something as far out of touch and offensive as this really should be ridiculed rather than argued with. Part of me agrees. However, part of me doesn’t. Because the problem here is not actually just that the analogy is ridiculous and offensive (though it is) or that it perpetuates stereotypes that we all need to move on from (though it does). The problem is that what is being argued here – that gay rights groups are working to undermine our society as a whole and that gay marriage would shatter Western civilisation – is believed so passionately by some people that they feel the need to reach for the most extreme of language to shake others out of their slumber to fight it.
Peter Ould offers a not unsympathetic critique, noting that Alan Craig’s essential argument should not shock or surprise anyone: it has been raised by many conservative evangelicals before. It was his decision to reach for the Nazi analogy that not only prevented his argument from being heard, but actually did more damage to his cause. Which Ould is concerned about because he finds at least parts of the actual argument convincing.
The fact is that for many years now a group of conservative evangelicals and fellow-travellers have felt increasingly threatened by changes in our society. It is this that lies behind talk of persecution of Christians in the West and concern about the freedom of Christians to publicly hold to their beliefs. For years now there have been a succession of news stories about doctors or nurses unable to pray with patients, employees unable to wear crosses, teachers unable to speak of their Christian belief in the classroom, B&B owners unable to ban a gay couple from sharing a bed in their establishment, or city councils banning the word ‘Christmas’. Whatever the degree of truth or spin in the stories or the rights and wrongs of individual cases, what all of these have in common is that they seem to be milestones in the unravelling of a notion of Christendom.
The idea of Christendom is that as a society we share a set of Christian values and beliefs. Some of the news stories that stick in the mind may be more spin than substance, but it is undeniable that the drift is all in one direction. Britain is a far less Christian society than it was before the sixties, measured in almost any way you care to attempt it. This is the context in which Alan Craig’s article must be set: of the decline and threatened dissolution of a certain sort of idea of British society. And the progress of gay rights acts as a particularly acute inverse index of that history. In the first half of the Twentieth Century, when Christendom seemed so much more present, homosexuality was criminalized. As gay people have won greater freedoms and protection under law, some evangelical Christians feel they have correspondingly lost them. The analogy is not exact (there is little prospect of Christianity becoming criminalised, and even now violence against gays is a well-documented present reality in a way that evangelical Christians who think of themselves as ‘persecuted’ in the West have never experienced) and there is no necessary causal relationship between the two (though the Church has a poor record in regard to gay rights, so that a decline in its institutional authority could be seen as a partial explanation for increased freedom for gays) but for some, gays and the gay-rights movement have become symbolic of the cultural forces determined to undo Christendom. If Christendom is understood as by definition a good thing, and gay rights as symbolic of the cultural forces ranged against it, then the fear and hate behind Alan Craig’s article becomes more comprehensible.
It is the fear and hate, ultimately, that is the problem. (And I use ‘fear and hate’ here deliberately. Whether or not Alan Craig intended it, calling Outrage ‘the gaystapo’ is expressing a fear and hatred of Peter Tatchell and his fellow campaigners). Christendom may or may not be disappearing, and this may or may not be a good thing. But these arguments can and must be made without giving way to fear and hate (particularly of those who have patently been amongst the victims of Christendom). Peter Ould, perceptively, writes: “The problem with such an analogy is that it carries with it exactly the level of emotional engagement that we have seen translated into a furious condemnation of the column.” Fear and hate breeds fear and hate, more so when it is not recognised and acknowledged. And seeking to express contemptuous mockery and ridicule of it is not the way forward either. Like it or not, we have to try to understand why those who are not like us think the way they do. Otherwise we end up so out of touch that we feel comparing our opponents to the Nazis is an acceptable way forward.