Can you imagine if the Church of England gave out a well publicised award for Atheist Bigot of the Year or if the Catholic Church had one for Pro-abortion Bigot of the Year? I suspect there might be one or two complaints.
Now imagine these were given out as part of an annual awards ceremony sponsored by big names such as Google or Barclays. Would we think any differently of these companies for being associated with an award that mocks others whose views disagree with those running the awards ceremony? Well, this Thursday such an event is taking place. Stonewall will be having their annual awards evening to celebrate the ‘outstanding contribution of individuals and groups towards lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, in the past year.’ I don’t have a problem with Stonewall doing this; it’s what they’re about after all, but the bit that gets my back up (and I’m clearly not alone) is the Bigot of the Year award they have been giving out since 2007. They have every right to highlight cases where they feel gay people are being verbally attacked or oppressed. There is however a time and place for these things and an awards ceremony is definitely not the best place to be doing it unless you feel that detracting from others’ achievements is what you are aiming to do.
Christian Concern have made an assault on Twitter today with their #bigotaward campaign to draw attention to the fact that Barclays, PwC, Coutts and other high-profile companies are sponsoring the awards. They want people to contact the different companies asking them to withdraw their support for the event. What Christian Concern haven’t explained fully, is that the companies are sponsoring individual awards and none of them are linked specifically to the Bigot award.
Although I think Christian Concern’s tactics aren’t completely honorable, the thrust of their point is valid. If a company links itself to such an awards ceremony in such a public way, it is endorsing the event and all that goes on in it and that includes all the awards. You can’t really say on the publicity that, ‘Barclays supports this event except for the Bigot bit (which is the one that will get the news headlines). We don’t want to be associated with that, just the nice parts.’ It just doesn’t happen in this way. You’re either in or out.
Within a couple of hours of Christian Concern’s launch of their campaign Barclays and Coutt’s had responded by distancing themselves from the Bigot award:
Coutts & Co said in a statement: “Coutts are sponsors only of Stonewall’s Writer of the Year Award and have in no way been involved in the judging or support of the Bigot of the Year category.
“We have advised Stonewall that we will be withdrawing our support of the awards unless they remove this category.”
Mark McLane, Managing Director and Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays said: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards.
“Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future.
“To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”
One wonders if they were both genuinely that ignorant of what takes place at the awards ceremony or (more likely, I suspect) whether they got twitchy fearing a publicity backlash. Either way Christian Concern are getting the results they hoped to achieve.
There are a few points I’ve drawn from this episode:
- If you go around calling people bigots there is a good chance the label will stick to you too. There is a clear distinction between someone like Simon Lokodo, the Ugandan Minister for Ethics and Integrity whose parliament called for the death penalty earlier in the year for certain homosexual acts (later dropped) and some of the other nominees who have voiced their disagreement with gay marriage publicly. Exercising free speech does not necessarily make you a bigot. Stonewall aren’t renowned for their tolerance of those who disagree with their views and shouldn’t forget that saying about pots and kettles.
- Some companies really need to do their homework better if they want to avoid having to make embarrassing climb-downs.
- Christian Concern are right to criticise Stonewall for their celebration of those they dislike and the pressure has paid off, but how much of Christian Concern’s action is about corporate sponsorship and how much of it is to discredit Stonewall? I wish I could have seen whether their brief campaign would have been just as effective if they had been a bit more open about the details. Do these things have to be spun in order to gain maximum impact? I’m not a big fan at all of manipulating a story to get a reaction and I don’t think it reflects well on the Christian faith. If the story has value surely it should be able to stand on its own two legs without it being puffed up?
- A lot of attention has been placed on an awards ceremony that will affect a small number of people. In the grand scheme of things there are plenty of more pressing issues that Christians should be devoting their energies towards. Christian Concern have been very keen to point out Barclays’ lack of wisdom supporting these awards, but Barclays have done far worse things in the last few years that have affected us all that deserve to be criticised much more heavily.
I’ve written about all of this today, not because I feel it warrants a great deal of attention, but because I got caught up in a row on Twitter this morning which I inadvertently created, so felt the need to present my point of view in more detail for those interested. It has been worth flagging up, but if I spend more time discussing sideshows and secondary issues that affect a small number of people rather than those which I suspect are much more on God’s heart, such as poverty and injustice, then please shout at me and tell me to get off the internet.