In the summer issue of the Pink Humanist I reported on an incredible journey about to be undertaken by gay screenwriter, novelist, actor and humanist Victor Pemberton, 84, who decided earlier this year to drive solo from his home on the Costa Blanca in Spain to the Arctic circle to raise money for the UK-based charity, Help for Heroes.
Several days before his departure, dozens of supporters gathered in Benidorm’s Old Town to give Victor, best known for his involvement in the Doctor Who series, a rousing send-off in the form of a joyful street party and a buffet dinner hosted for him by the proprietors of the Italian Twist restaurant, Flavio Ascione and his partner Nino Peschiera. Hundreds of euros were raised on the night for Help for Heroes.
The charity’s mission is “to deliver an enduring national network of support for our wounded and their families. We will inspire and enable those who have made sacrifices on our behalf to achieve their full potential.”
When I spoke to Victor earlier this month, he said that his trip across central Europe, through Denmark to the Arctic region of Norway, hopefully will have raised more than £4,000.
“Donations are still being counted, and, at a recent wedding I attended, guests were asked to contribute to the charity rather than spend money on gifts for the newly-weds.
During the course of his journey, Victor recorded a number of YouTube videos. In his final video, filmed in France and posted on August 28, he described the trip as “quite an ordeal”, but that he’d seen some stunning sights along the way. “It seems incredible to me – especially at my age – to have travelled to the Arctic circle, and I can hardly believe I’ve actually done so,” he said. “I have done some incredible things in my lifetime, but this was exceptional.”
He said he spent many hours in his car, asking himself “why am I doing this?” His answer: to do his bit to help people who have suffered life-changing injuries, terrible alterations to their their lifestyles and the humiliation of no longer being able to do things as they once could.
“When I get home,” he said, “this will not be the end of my Arctic Adventure, just the beginning. I want it to go on and on.
“These men and women went out to hostile countries to fight loathsome killers on our behalf. Many did not come back, and those that did suffered terrible injuries both physical and mental, and it up to us to continue to support them.”
Victor, as I pointed out in my first article, is very much the party animal, and when I spoke to him he informed me that he was planning on hosting another celebration in Benidorm, his 85 birthday.
For years, Western evangelicals have been ecstatically welcomed into African countries, where they have been allowed to drum up hatred against LGBT communities. They have even succeeded on leaning heavily on governments to enact draconian legislation against homosexuality or to strengthen archaic colonial laws.
But what happened in September this year to Arizona preacher Steven Anderson, above, may be an indication that attitudes are hardening against Christians who promote homophobia.
When South Africans learned that Anderson, of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, was scheduled to embark on a “soul-winning” crusade in their country, pressure was immediately put on the authorities to bar him from entering the country, mainly because the Arizona-based preacher had caused worldwide outrage with remarks that followed the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. He said immediately after the atrocity that “there’s 50 less paedophiles in this world”.
An online petition, calling on the authorities to bar him, attracted 60,000 signatures, and the Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba lost no time in declaring the preacher a “prohibited person”.
“If we find him at any of our ports of entry, we will detain and deport him,” said Gigaba. “We don’t want him in this country.”
South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa that recognises gay rights and the only one that allows same-sex marriages.
Gigaba acted swiftly against Anderon after it was brought to his attention that the preacher had insulted one of South Africa’s most admired figures.
In an interview with a Cape Town radio station, he had attacked Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu. He branded Tutu – a vocal supporter of the gay community whose daughter is lesbian – a “pervert … who goes around in a pink dress”.
As debate raged in South Africa about whether he should be granted entry, Anderson described Gigaba as a “wicked sodomite”, a “joke” and “backward” after he met with gay rights groups over the issue. Gigaba said a dossier handed to him of Anderson’s remarks confirmed that he was guilty of hate speech and “promoting social violence” and should therefore be banned under the Immigration Act.
“These interventions will not be the panacea to our own social shortcomings, of prejudice and discrimination,” he said. “They will however provide us an opportunity to learn, or better unlearn, our own bigoted views and hateful beliefs.
“South Africa has its own mending to do, we do not need more hatred. Steven Anderson will be advised that he is not welcome.”
Responding to his ban in a Facebook post, Anderson said: “I feel sorry for people who live in South Africa.” But he announced that his planned trip to neighbouring Botswana would be going ahead.
That didn’t go well either. Shortly after the preacher and 20 of his flock arrived in Botswana Anderson was slung out of the country.
Bougardt, of the Calvary Hope Ministries in Strandfontein, said he believed the deportation “happened because of an influence from a neighbouring country”.
Bougardt said he asked Anderson if he had really called for homosexuals to be executed after 49 people were gunned down in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June.
“He said that he said he didn’t feel sorry for them dying in the shooting, but that the media turned his words around.”
In another interview, before Anderson was barred from entering the country, Bougardt, said that, although he did not agree with Anderson’s viewpoint that gays should be killed, Anderson was “a man of the cloth and is only preaching the gospel”.
When he learned that a number of hotels were refusing to accommodate Anderson, Bougardt promised his fellow preacher that he would help him find places to stay. Spur in Festive Mall, Kempton Park, Wimpy and the Premier Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport – all venues Anderson had made bookings with – had banned Anderson after learning of his hate-preaching.
Bougardt himself has been in trouble with the authorities over his anti-gay preaching. He had been reported to the SA Human Rights Commission several times for hate speech, including for statements including: “Bishop Desmond Tutu is mentally sick who has his own religious beliefs that says it is OK to be homosexual.
“He is… leading all homosexuals straight to hell.”
However, the Strandfontein preacher insisted he would “cut myself off” from Anderson if he starts preaching that gays should be killed.
During a radio interview. Anderson insisted his journey to South Africa was not about preaching against homosexuality, despite calling gay people “abominations”, “filthy” and “violent” in interviews.
Bougardt said: “His idea is not to preach about homosexuality, he is going to do a sermon, a crusade on spreading the gospel. He is like me, when we open our mouths people think we are going to preach about homosexuality.”
“Let me be honest, the word of God says homosexuality is an abomination. If he comes here, and preaches the gospel, I will stand by him.
“If he says homosexuals must be killed, I will not stand by him.”
He said he was also ready to help Anderson establish a branch of his church in South Africa.
“He has indicated he wishes to open a church in Johannesburg, but I have told him Cape Town is better.
“I would also like to visit his church in America.”
In Cape Town, gay celebrities, former Mr and Miss Gay Cape Town, Errol Stroebel and his partner Kat Gilardi, slammed Bougardt for backing Anderson.
Stroebel said: “What pastor spreads hate instead of God’s love? Bougard’s licence needs to be revoked.”
Gilardi added that the gay community was united against Anderson: “By allowing Anderson to come here is to spread the hate, which can lead to other things, like what happened in Orlando.”
Gay Rights group Triangle Project say they are “not surprised that Mr Bougardt has embraced the hateful and distorted message of Steven Anderson”.
Spokesperson Matthew Clayton said: “Mr Anderson and Mr Bougardt must be afforded both their right to freedom of expression and freedom of religious belief, but neither of these rights should allow them to spew hate, especially where it places lives in danger.”
For the first time since its founding in 2009, Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU) the organisation has a computer and printer in its pre-school and vocational training centre – thanks to the latest donation it has received from the UK LGBT charity The Pink Triangle Trust,
In September, HELU reported on its Facebook page that the new equipment will help ease its office work “which was always a problem.” A power invertor is also in place to help protect the equipment, powered by solar energy. HELU said: “This has been made possible through the generosity of The Pink Triangle trust, thank you so much PTT members.”
HELU is a Humanist community-based group established in 2009 to “promote Humanism, a life stance with human beings playing a central role in their own lives without depending on religion, culture and tradition but rather having compassion and upholding human rights.”
It is a member of the International Humanist & Ethical Union.
HELU’s programme has several activities that include: training in human rights and Humanism, teaching skilled crafts, hair styling, tailoring baking and confectionery and farming, especially animal husbandry that the beneficiaries use to create incomes to support their families, and a free nursery school promoting reason and science.
Here HELU’s Publicity Secretary Ayella Collins describes the organisation, its aims and activities:
Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU) is a programme established in 2009.
Its first project was to empower vulnerable girls, including rape victims and child mothers. The programme operates in Gulu, a district in Northern Uganda.
Gulu experienced war between government forces and a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army for two decades, and since 2007 Gulu has been a post-conflict zone.
Post-conflict zone status birthed an idea to start up a humanist organisation in 2009. This was made possible through funding from a Norwegian humanist group.
The Empowering Vulnerable Girls project serves to teach girls skills that include tailoring, hairdressing, baking and confectionery, basic farming, training in business management and income-generating activities. “A vocational training centre and a demonstration farm are in place to provide training and alternative shelters for those denied rights to own land. It also provides temporary shelter for any LGBTI discrimination victims and for those accused of witchcraft.
Most of the beneficiaries have children. To keep the kids busy while the mothers attended classes a pre-school was established.
In January 2015 an American charity KidsHeartKids provided funding for two classrooms. A third classroom in now being constructed with funding from the UK gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust.
We also undertake the following activities:
• Human rights and advocacy training. • Training/workshops on Humanism. • Training for business management and income-generating activities. • Basic farming. • Counselling and guidance and corporate social responsibilities.
The PTT’s first donation was made in 2015 to build a classroom for its nursery school and provide equipment for it.
Now it has funded the purchase of a variety of items for the school including the compuper equipment, play swings, goal posts. soccer balls, an open air feeding shelter for the children and office stationery. In all the PTT has donated £3,600 to HELU.
ALL of us will have seen TV news stories logging the massive national demonstrations of support for the victims of the Orlando shootings. But how many of us were checking to see how more local vigils were organised, by whom, and how appropriate they were? Or, as in the example I outline below, how inappropriate, opportunistic and dominated by those whose views lead to such events in the first place?
A few days after the Orlando shootings, the local gay group sent supporters a picture of a rainbow flag at half-mast in the cathedral gardens, along with an invitation to a Saturday night Orlando vigil at the cathedral. How nice to see professional Christians– for once – trying to do the right thing.
Or was it? And were they? I had my doubts, and forwarded the picture to my humanist group’s Facebook page with the quip “business as usual the other 364?”
Some discussion followed, in which the church worker who’d posted the original invitation (who turned out to be a pleasant, if naïve, bisexual activist) joined in, with some saying that we should give churches credit for doing something. I disagreed, passionately, citing the way the Anglicans, along with every other local religious organisation, had responded to a 2014 government consultation on equal marriage with bile that went way beyond the usual quoting of Leviticus and on to worries about spreading AIDS and paedophilia.
Incidentally, the following Monday, Robert Paterson, the bishop who presides over that cathedral, was at a General Synod held behind closed doors in York to sort out Anglican divisions over sexuality. It was held in such secrecy that only other participants know for sure what he said. But as one of three bishops appointed in 2011 to review the wording of the C of E “pastoral statement” on civil partnerships ( a little matter this usually voluble church leader completely forgot to share with his flock ), and a known opponent of same sex marriage, it is a safe bet that whatever he said would bring no comfort to the gay community. In addition, this was a clergyman who earlier in his career, according to a thread on the liberal Thinking Anglicans website, once sacked a celibate gay curate and was one of only two bishops in the C of E Synod to vote against extending pension rights of civil partnered clergy.
Knowing this, the sudden concern for the wholesale slaughter of gay people, while commendable, seemed a little dubious, and the knowledge that an openly gay person was now employed by an institution which had never been anything but homophobic was puzzling.
How could all this be?
Not being a “person of faith” I have not the foggiest how their funny little minds somehow reconcile the many outright contradictions of their church teachings. But if I worked for the organisation which campaigned for people of my sexual orientation in African countries to be executed (then condemned as “un-Christian” the presidents of those countries for blocking such legislation) I would think twice about organising an event to mourn the victims of some religious freelancer who couldn’t wait for a government to do the job.
But it has always been my contention that to understand any policy of any religious organisation then the last thing to do is trawl through their tortured, cod-philosophical public statements. All you have to do is follow the money and, as in this case, a more likely explanation reveals itself.
For a few years now the major Christian denominations have sought to deal with the loss of direct income from their dwindling customer base by jumping on the heritage bandwagon. They do have a lot of historically significant –possibly irreplaceable – buildings, which has allowed them to claim public funds to maintain them. A similar cash cow was the legal loophole which allowed churches to reclaim taxes on church repairs. But these funding sources can only be tapped once, and in addition there is growing public resentment at government money being used to prop up increasingly irrelevant, impractical and unused relics.
A newer solution has been to “re-invent” the church as a community hub. The official Anglican website even devotes considerable space to encouraging clergy and church parish councils to put in bids to run public or community amenities which are being privatised or closed. For example, there have been projects to run village post offices and shops – even pubs.
Governments have also positively encouraged religious groups to dominate the so-called “third sector” as social services facilities collapse. In my area the Methodist church now has a local government monopoly over support services for older people – with disastrous results. In effect, the only older people living at home with access to professional help are those referred by a fellow church-goer. Meanwhile, pensioners who do not go to church (ie the vast majority) have simply vanished from social service databases.
Similarly, having tapped every public fund going to be maintained as a “historic building”, the cathedral had the bright idea of simultaneously addressing cash flow problems and any public perception of it as the last bastion of social prejudice by rebranding itself as a 21st century local human rights education project. The plan was to create permanent and temporary exhibitions around themes like the Holocaust, which would become the focus of school trips.
Given the firm’s policies on human rights elsewhere, it seems to me the last place local kids might be bussed in for warnings about the dangers of genocide. Though unlike most locals, I actually research and worry about such things, so maybe I’m just biased.
For me, finally, this was opportunists treating a mass murder – inspired by their very belief system – as yet another chance to attract new members (and their wallets).
We are not monitoring the subtle ways in which churches slide their insidious views back onto the agenda under the pretence of “responding” to tragedies caused by prejudices rooted in their core beliefs and “helping communities to heal”. However hard professional Christians try to portray themselves as the “victims” of some wild-eyed international atheist conspiracy, however hard they try to misrepresent the term “secularism” as “anti-religious”, the fact remains that churches are still too close to governments, and use such contact to “suggest” new ways in which they can dominate (though they like to use the word “serve”) the communities who involuntarily fund them. This is a major problem.
We cannot wait for national campaigns to develop. We cannot even wait for national humanist groups to respond or give us a lead. We have to act ourselves, locally, continuously, here and now.