UK: BBC controversy over Easter message likening treatment of gay people to crucifixion
The BBC is facing controversy over an Easter message which likens the treatment of gay people in Britain to the crucifixion of Christ.
Benjamin Cohen, the founder of a the gay publisher PinkNews, will tell Radio 4 listeners in a talk to be broadcast this week that, just like homosexual people, Jesus was punished “for something he couldn't help”.
He will directly compare the sense of “abandonment” felt by people who come out as gay to being on a cross and speaks about how much gay men have in common with Jesus.
And in a commentary ahead of the broadcast, he also likens the treatment of young gay people by some churches and religious groups to Jesus’s trial in front of the High Priest when he was condemned to death and handed over to the Romans.
Mr Cohen, a former Channel 4 News correspondent and founder and the online gay marriage campaign Out4Marriage, makes the comparison in one of Radio 4’s “Lent talk” slots.
It is part of a series of talks in the run up to Easter dealing with the theme of “abandonment”. Other speakers include the author Alexander McCall Smith, discussing the experience of ageing and Loretta Minghella, Director of Christian Aid, speaking about the self.
In his talk, Mr Cohen speaks about the experience of growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family but educated in a church school and having mixed emotions about the figure of Jesus.
But he explains that since coming out as gay he has appreciated Christianity and Jesus from a "new perspective".
Quoting the words of Jesus on the cross, he explains: “The feeling of abandonment by God in some ways has a resonance with the words of Christ in both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, where he says, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”.
He goes on to argue that religion has been “tearing families apart” and driving young people to suicide in cases where parents have rejected their children’s sexuality because it goes against their beliefs.
“Of course, I understand that for the very religious, it is difficult - an orthodox Jew really does believe the Torah is the literal word of God and a devout Catholic believes the Pope is infallible,” he says.
“But do people of faith really want to reject their children for something which I believe they can't help? Just as, the Jewish authorities rejected Christ - for something he considered he couldn't help- being the son of God?”
He also speaks of the fact that there is a large crucifix, from a neighbouring church, overlooking his garden, where his circle of gay friends often gather.
“Having feared such abandonment myself, every time I look up at Christ, I’m happy that both our stories are ultimately about embracing love, rather than fear,” he says.
In a separate commentary for telegraph.co.uk, he described the trial of Jesus before the High Priest, where he was accused of blasphemy for saying he was the son of God.
“How different a situation is this to the questions and ultimatums given by some parents and some faiths to young gay people?” he writes.
“Could Jesus have escaped his crucifixion by denying who he believed he really was?
Andrea Williams, director Christian Concern, said: “To link this experience to that of Christ is to misunderstand the biggest event in history - it is blasphemous.
“To say that lack of acceptance of homosexual practice which we are told to flee in the Bible equates with the experience and suffering of Christ is to have totally misunderstood his message.
“Jesus loves everyone but his message to homosexual community is to turn away from their previous path.”
She added: “The BBC panders to a liberal, politically correct agenda and fails to take the opportunity to explore and educate its listeners about the true meaning of Lent and Easter.”
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, the retired Bishop of Rochester, said: “Of course people, whoever they are, should be treated with respect and dignity.
“But I think to confuse Christ’s identity as the son of God with your sexual preferences is firstly not understanding who Christ is and secondly not understanding who God wants us to be.
He added: “Of course there are things about us that we feel we can’t help but by God’s grace he can help us to live in a way that is obedient to him and his word.”
Mr Cohen said: “I felt that the comparison to the trial and abandonment of Christ is an apt one.
“From a Christian perspective, Jesus didn't choose to be born the son of God. It was a decision made by God the father.
“Just like gay people didn't choose to be attracted to people of the same sex.
“Being proud to be gay, to me, equates to being proud of how God made me.”
A BBC spokesman said: "The theme of this year's Lent Talks is abandonment and features six well-known figures from public life, arts and religion.
"In this programme Benjamin Cohen talks about his personal fear of being abandoned by his own Jewish community for being gay."