Bishop Derek Rawcliffe, 1921-2011
An appreciation by Peter Tatchell and Keith Rogers
Funeral service in Leeds this Sunday
London, UK – 11 February 2011
The retired openly gay bishop, Derek Rawcliffe, died in Leeds, England, on 1 February 2011, aged 89.
Sunday 13 February 2011
St Aidan's Church, Elford Place / Roundhay Road, Leeds LS8 5QD
Service conducted by Reverend Canon Alan Taylor
Derek Rawcliffe was born on 8 July 1921, educated at Leeds University and ordained in 1944. After a curacy at Claines St George, Worcester, he was a teacher in the Solomon Islands from 1947 until 1953, when he became Archdeacon of Southern Melanesia and the New Hebrides in the south Pacific. He was the first Bishop of the New Hebrides from 1975 to 1980. He then transferred to become Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. In the 1990s, he became Assistant Bishop of Ripon. For many years, he was a strong advocate and supporter of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who knew Derek Rawcliffe for two decades, recalls:
“Derek was a wonderful, warm-hearted man, whose faith was always kind, gentle and compassionate. I am very proud and honoured to have known him.
“He gave me great personal support and encouragement in the early 1990s when I was being denounced and vilified by politicians, press, police and priests.
“Others may have differing perspectives on Derek’s life. I can only talk about the Derek I knew and appreciated.
“Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Derek Rawcliffe’s Christian humanitarian instincts led him to become a champion for social justice, not only for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people but also against racism and global poverty.
“He came out as gay in 1995, while he was the Assistant Bishop of Ripon – making him at the time the most senior Anglican clergyman to be honest and open about his homosexuality.
“The following year, the then Bishop of Ripon sacked Derek for blessing gay couples.
“Derek read Christ’s gospel as a theology of liberation, and sought to put it into practice.
“Although he was a bishop, Derek was on the radical wing of LGBT politics. As well as endorsing mainstream lobbying for equality, he also saw a role for creative, cathartic protests, in order to overturn homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
“In 1994, Derek defended the LGBT human rights group OutRage! when it named 10 Anglican Bishops and called on them to ‘Tell the Truth’ about their sexuality. He argued that bishops who are gay in private but anti-gay in public are hypocrites.
“Derek deplored the double standards of closeted homophobic gay clerics. He saw no reason to respect their privacy and dishonesty when they refused to respect gay people’s right to privacy and equality.
“According to Derek, priests and bishops who opposed gay human rights were acting in defiance of the Christian ethos of love and compassion.
“In 1996, he backed calls by OutRage! to lower the age of consent to 14 for gay and straight teenagers - not in order to encourage or endorse under-age sex but to reduce the criminalisation of the many young people who have sexual experiences before the age of 16. He also urged earlier, better quality sex and relationship education to help youngsters to make wise, responsible decisions and to ensure that they shared mutually respectful, caring relationships.
“Derek was very remarkable and brave in his open endorsement of OutRage! at a time when we were challenging the homophobia of the Anglican leadership and when we were often reviled as extremists. He encouraged us, prayed for us and blessed many of our campaigns. We treasure and revere his memory and salute his long, commendable witness for universal human rights,” said Mr Tatchell.
Derek Rawcliffe’s closest friend, Keith Rogers, who found him dead from a heart attack on 2 February, remembers:
“He was an absolute rock to me: a friend and counsellor, always there in times of crisis. He, more than anyone, helped me to have a healthy, enlightened Christian faith.
“For Derek, Christianity wasn't about rules and guilt but about love, as in the title of his book: The meaning of it all is Love.
“For Derek, being gay and Christian were easily reconciled because for him - and me - they are both about love.
“Endowed with a brilliant intellect, he was a robust advocate for gay people and gay equality, and a formidable debater with the fundamentalist lobby.
“Derek was the incarnation of Christian love and humanitarianism. He helped everyone he could, including asylum seekers, the poor and disabled. He opposed all oppression and injustice.
“He was a prophetic figure and a powerful voice for social justice.
“He was treated despicably by the then Bishop of Ripon, who dismissed him in 1996 for blessing gay couples,” said Mr Rogers.Click here to return to the Religion Index