Saturday, February 24, 2007

First signs of spring

Can't you tell I have a new camera?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights Conference

I was at this conference last weekend. It was organised by LGCM and supported by over 50 organisations, including the Unitarian General Assembly, (I think) the only actual denomination to support the conference.

The conference was initiated because of a report by the Gay Police Association that there had been a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the primary motivating factor was the religion of the perpetrator. When the Gay Police Association released this information they were themselves attacked virulently by conservative religious organisations. I blogged about that here.

The workshops I attended were on the 'Religion and gay friendliness' and one on lobbying againist the religious right by someone from the British Humanist Association. The most powerful speaker by far was Ali Hilli from Iraq, who spoke about how BGLT Iraqis are under constant persecution, often in the form of torture and murder by religious militias in Iraq, including elements that have infiltrated the police. He spoke of an organised and systematic campaign of ‘sexual cleansing’ – execution of BGLT people. There is an underground network of activists working to record homophobic attacks. This comes closer to home when BGLT asylum seekers from Iraq come here to the UK to avoid such persecution. There is a great need for us to support such asylum seekers.

The main thing I took from the conference was the need to build coalitions. We Unitarians are a tiny group and passing resolutions at General Assembly in reality does very little to change the world. What are needed are coalitions around issues that we care about, such as the elimination of homophobia. We should more actively build coalitions with natural partners such as humanist organisations, Quakers, and liberal Jews to lobby parliament and Whitehall and give messages to the press. Alone we do not have the clout, resources and money to do so, but together it may be possible. I had a long conversation with someone from the British Humanist Association which got me excited about building coalitions around agitating for same-sex marriage and the separation of church and state. Podcasts and pictures can be found here.

Giles Fraser of Inclusive Church
Vic Codling of the Gay Police Association

Chris Smith

Malcolm Duncan of Faithworks

Me and Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association

The conference declaration in full is below:

The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.

We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.

Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blood diamond

I'd really recommend this film. It's gruesome and violent but not in a glorifying way. It tells the story of a fisherman who's family gets caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. It's fictional but based on the real situation in Africa, where the diamond industry profits from conflict.

I come back to the conviction that a Unitarian theology of interconnection has to be more than a vague ecological doctrine, but also a doctrine about economics. What we buy is interconnected to poverty and conflict. It's this that we need to be aware of.

I found it a very Christian film in that it convinced me of the evil of violence and materialism. There's also a lot of stuff about whether people are inherently good or evil. A lot to theologically chew on.

Blood Diamond Action

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

For all you readers (no idea how many readers I have) who don't know me, and have wondered about the sound of my voice and the look of my face, now you can see me in glorious technicolor. I did an interview for the BBC Staffordshire digital television service (now just website) many months ago, and it's now available to watch online.

So click here to see my video.

The visuals aren't very good on my computer at the moment. I might need to download a better RealPlayer or something.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BUYAN's Winter Conference London

Last weekend was the second official BUYAN conference held at Essex Unitarian Church in London. Although it was quite a low attendance it became a really fruitful time for us invsioning the future of the British Isles Unitarian Young Adult Network and develping leadership structures.

Even though these conferences are physically tiring I feel really spiritually recharged by the BUYAN community. It becomes a spiritual home for me, not made up of a place, but of people. The work of BUYAN is so incredibly important for the future of the Unitarian community. I feel really optimistic about BUYAN fulfilling a mission of building young adult community within Unitarianism as well as offering a prophetic witness to Unitarianism in engaging in social justice and spiritual renewal. We should grow from strength to strength.