Culture clash: LGBT meets CICCU

By Sarah Smith and Hayley Edwards 25 January 2008

This week sees the advent of two notoriously different focal weeks in Cambridge. With the launch of LBGT Awareness Week, and preparations being made for CICCU’s ‘Life’ Week, The Cambridge Student (TCS) looks at various religious societies and their attitudes to alternative sexualities.

Support is available for those LBGT students that regard their religion as an integral component of their identity. 2003 saw the establishment of Revelate, a group for Cambridge students who are both religious and homosexual. On a national level, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) strives for an inclusive church, aiming “to encourage fellowship, friendship, and support among individual lesbian and gay Christians through prayer, study and action,” and works to “support those lesbian and gay Christians subjected to discrimination.” Great variety exists within the major religious denominations. So, in which religious groups is homosexuality accepted?

Conservation Judaism welcomes homosexual Jews, and actively campaigns against their discrimination, although they do prohibit sexual acts. Since January 2007, homosexual men and women have been permitted to become rabbis or cantors, marking an important milestone for homosexuals in the Jewish faith. JSoc told us, “CUJS is a non-denominational organisation and completely open to all Jewish students in Cambridge (as well as anyone else who’s interested)”, and said they provide an “extremely welcoming atmosphere, not just for LBGT students, but for everyone”. The society has its own LBGT rep, who stressed that, “I would certainly hope that no-one would be put off from coming to JSoc just because they were L,G,B or T.”

The United Church of Christ has endorsed gay marriage since 2005, and Quakers too have supported homosexuality for two decades, sanctioning the official blessing of homosexual relationships. Robert Card, of the Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship announced: “There aren’t many religious lesbian and gay groups which can cheerfully endorse their faith group’s position. Quakers can.”

Fraser Watts is chaplain of St. Edward’s Church. “We have no problem with homosexuality as an issue,” he says. “We are delighted to be more inclusive in catering to those who may feel alienated from other churches. On the whole Cambridge is a very accepting atmosphere, although we are perhaps more explicit about our acceptance than some.” When asked for his views on the act of homosexuality itself, and the problem many churches and religious groups have with it, Rev. Watts said, “I think there is a tendency in some denominations to over-interpret certain parts of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. I have no problem with the act itself, as a natural expression of love and commitment. Obviously it should be in an appropriate context of a stable and loving relationship, not manipulative in any way.” St. Edwards Church will be holding several talks on religion and sexuality, beginning on 27th January with ‘Christian and Gay?’ at 6.30pm, and continuing on 10th Feb with ‘What is a Gay Relationship?’

Jeremy Caddick, Dean of Emmanuel Chapel, has supported blessing gay couples. “Cambridge chapels are not under the jurisdiction of a bishop, and as places for intelligent, forward-thinking individuals this sort of thing should be debated. The issue of homosexuality is widely accepted, which makes the Church’s stance on the subject even more odd. I would like to assert strongly that there is much more complexity to the Bible than outright disapproval and while the opposition, where it does exist in Cambridge, is very visible, it is not representative.”

However, despite the liberal views espoused by these religious groups, there are many which traditionally reject homosexuality. Some branches of Judaism still reject homosexuality as an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). The Catholic Church similarly teaches that sexual acts between members of the same sex are violations of divine and natural law. Indeed, the Vatican requires that “homosexual orientations” be overcome at least three years before ordination.

Christianity is notably divided between churches. Toby Scott, a spokesman for the Methodist Church, argues in favour of civil partnerships – but not marriage: “Civil partnerships give stability to people who’ve chosen to be together. We welcome the rights they confer. We don’t see the legal creation of civil partnerships as the equivalent to marriage. The Church sees marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman.”

Similarly, most branches of Islam do not condone homosexuality, regarding homosexual acts as unnatural. Sodomy is an offence punishable by execution in the Muslim nations of Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania, and similarly carries the death penalty in Afghanistan. In Pakistan and Malaysia, homosexual acts are punishable with prison sentences and fines. Homosexual relationships are permitted, however, as long as sexual intercourse does not form a part of that relationship.

Islam does not officially acknowledge the concept of homosexuality. Similarly, Hindu society seems not to discuss sexuality at all, although in 2005, the highest Sikh religious authority proclaimed homosexuality to be “against the laws of nature”.

Yet Hinduism does acknowledge a “third gender”, which is a term used to describe those born with unaligned male and female natures. Taoism positions itself against homosexuality on the grounds that it disrupts the harmony between ‘yin’ and ‘yang’.

The Cambridge University Faiths Forum (CUFF) prefers to focus on individuality and respect for personal choice: “We believe that any discussion on this topic ought to be held on positive terms with respect for the beliefs of the individual involved, be they beliefs of a religious nature or those of lifestyle choices.” They suggest we should “look beyond the surface, as the views of individuals may not represent the traditional views of their religion as a whole”. Shreyas Mukund claims: “The current problem is that extremists, radicals and hyper-conservatives are disproportionately loud voices – they don’t speak on behalf of their religion, but their hateful message can be well reported.”

CUSU LBGT Week begins on 26th January with a launch party at Kings. CICCU’s Main Event ‘Life’ Week is a series of talks, starting on the 4th Feb with a talk by Nathan Buttery.

By Sarah Smith and Hayley Edwards