Christian Concern’s Jamaica Anti-Gay Controversy Grows

Christian Concern has scrubbed from its website an article by Julian Mann defending CEO Andrea Minichiello Williams in the wake of controversy about her recent visit to Jamaica. Williams, who was joined by US anti-gay monomaniac Peter LaBarbera at a conference organised by the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society, reportedly urged Jamaicans to keep homosexuality criminalized and to “speak” about how homosexuality is linked to paedophilia. She also apparently opined that the British Olympic swimmer Tom Daley had entered into a gay relationship because his father had died.

The comments attributed to Williams were published on Buzzfeed by J. Lester Feder, a journalist who specializes in LGBT issues, and the conference received a certain amount of critical attention in the US due to LaBarbera’s involvement. I then referred to the Buzzfeed article on this blog, giving a bit of extra background to Christian Concern’s involvement with US conservatives, and my post was in turn picked up by Changing Attitude, which “works for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Anglican Communion”.

Changing Attitude then produced a press release, including a quote from the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner:

The comments by Andrea Minichiello Williams about the decriminalisation of same sex intercourse in Jamaica have no sanction in the Church of England or the diocese of Chichester. Insofar as such comments incite homophobia, they should be rejected as offensive and unacceptable.

The Christian Church is widely perceived as homophobic and intolerant of those for whom same sex attraction is the foundation of their emotional lives. It is urgent, therefore, that Christians find legitimate ways to affirm and demonstrate the conviction that the glory of God is innate in every human being, and the mercy of God embraces each of us indiscriminately.

From here, the story reached the Independent and other papers, with the Daley angle in particular capturing the media’s imagination. The Independent article also included the detail that:

Christian Concern said Mrs Williams was “unavailable due to a private matter” yesterday.

The Independent’s coverage has come under criticism as having relied too heavily on the press release or for overegging Warner’s statement. Peter Ould made contact with Feder with some questions about the wider context; Feder responded by confirming that he had been present at the conference and  advising him “to speak with others who were there if you have more questions about what took place.”

However, Ould also takes the view that the comments as reported do not reflect well on Williams and that Christian Concern ought to make a response. By contrast, Julian Mann, writing on Virtue Online, defends Williams against Warner’s rebuke:

…Mrs Williams, a committed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, gets a slap on the wrists from her bishop for speaking out against the social and moral dangers of practising homosexuality, a rebuke conveyed in a Changing Attitude press release. It will be a very sad day for the Church of England when Changing Attitude drives episcopal oversight rather than Almighty God’s revealed will in the Holy Scriptures.

This was then republished by Christian Concern under a lead-in:

A Church of England Vicar, Julian Mann, has written a piece commenting on the work of Christian Concern in upholding Biblical truths.  

Below is the text of the article, which supports the stand taken by Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern

This is the only response that Christian Concern has made on the matter, and it gives no indication that “the stand taken” by Williams has been misrepresented by Buzzfeed or the Independent. And there’s no explanation for why the article has now been removed.

Certainly, I too thought the comments attributed to Williams were surprisingly virulent, which was why I maintained some caution when I quoted Buzzfeed myself. But if anything was amiss, why hasn’t Williams sought to set the record straight? I see no reason why Feder needs to defend his journalism when his subject has made no complaint of inaccuracy.

Incidentally, I know from past experience that getting Christian Concern to clarify things is not always easy.