Welby warns over 'faith homophobia'

The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Christian faith should never be used as a justification for homophobic bullying.

The Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledges that church schools face "particular challenges" when it came to tackling homophobia
The Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledges that church schools face "particular challenges" when it came to tackling homophobia

The Most Rev Justin Welby said bullying was "invariably unacceptable and totally wrong" regardless of a person's view on gay relationships.

"No sense of something being right or wrong justifies another wrong," he said.

"So there is never a point in which because you say that a particular form of behaviour, whether it is this, or any other, is wrong, that that justifies you saying that it is ok to bully someone.

"Bullying someone is always invariably unacceptable and totally wrong."

The Archbishop was speaking as he launched new guidance which states homophobia must not be tolerated in Church of England schools.

Schools can be among the most homophobic of places and the Church's schools need to do as much as they can to ensure that they are not turning a "convenient blind eye" to institutional homophobia, the new advice - published by the Church of England - warns.

But it goes on to say that while homophobic language and behaviour is unacceptable in Church of England schools, pupils, parents and staff who believe that homosexual acts are "less than God's ideal" should be allowed to express the view without being subjected to discrimination themselves.

The new guidance is part of fresh measures aimed at stamping out homophobic bullying in Church of England schools.

Archbishop Welby announced plans to draw up new advice on the issue less than a year ago, after expressing concerns about the impact of homophobic bullying on the lives of young people.

The new document, Valuing All God's Children, acknowledges that within the Anglican community there is a wide range of beliefs about homosexuality and that it is a "very divisive issue" for the Church.

But it adds that the purpose of schools is to educate, and they should be a safe and welcoming place for all children.

The guidance lists 10 recommendations for Church of England schools to help them deal with homophobic bullying, including ensuring that all staff are trained to recognise and deal with all types of bullying.

It goes on to say: "Schools should ensure that their behaviour policies include clear expectations that homophobic behaviour and language will not be tolerated and that there can be no justification for this negative behaviour based on the Christian faith or the Bible."

Research suggests that half of those who commit homophobic hate crimes are under 25 years of age, the document says, which indicates that young people are leaving education with attitudes that are "hateful and illegal".

The guidance warns: "Schools can be among the most homophobic social spaces. Studies in a range of countries show that young people are more likely to experience homophobic bullying at school than in the home or community.

"As far as possible we need to ask questions within our church schools to ensure that we are not turning a convenient blind-eye to institutional homophobia and allowing an unwelcoming social space for pupils to go unchallenged."

The advice does say that within a school, there can be many different views about human sexuality, adding that it needs to be acknowledged that this is a sensitive topic.

Further on, the document says that religious freedom can appear to be at odds with preventing discrimination.

"It can be, and has been, perceived that to hold the view that 'God, through nature, has indicated that heterosexual sexuality is the divinely ordained norm' is to be discriminatory against same-sex orientated people," it says.

"Yet thinking, believing or verbally expressing that belief is not in itself discriminatory. Church of England schools need to ensure that, whilst clearly working to be inclusive spaces where homophobic language, actions and behaviours are unacceptable, those pupils, parents and staff who believe that homosexual acts are 'less than God's ideal' are given the safe space to express those views without being subject to another form of discrimination."

It adds: "It is also equally important to communicate clearly to pupils and families that holding traditional faith perspectives on sexuality is not counter to the school's aims and ethos, but that expressing hatred, negativity and hostility to another is unacceptable."