The weaponization of tragedy: Has the story of Lizzie Lowe been told accurately?
Earlier this week the BBC, along with other news outlets, shared the tragic story of Lizzie Lowe, the Manchester teenager who took her life, believing that she would not be accepted as a gay Christian in her church. The story has been presented as the catalyst which caused her church to move from being a theologically conservative one to a more liberal, inclusive one in which sexuality could be discussed openly.
But an article by Peter Ould on the Psephizo blog this week contested that narrative, presenting evidence that the church had already moved away from a conservative position and was discussing sexuality openly, before Lizzie took her life. He believes that the story of this tragedy has been told in such a way as to use it as a weapon in the Church of England’s discussions about sexuality in the church.
The story of how the church, in the Didsbury area of Manchester, adopted a more inclusive stance as a result of Lizzie’s death was aired on Sunday by both the Manchester Evening News and the BBC. The BBC entitled their article, “Didsbury church’s radical change after gay girl’s suicide.”
“The church’s ‘conversion’ to an open, inclusive stance has been mis-narrated, Revd. Ould claims, by omitting certain very material facts — such as the fact that a previous curate of the church had already ‘come out’ as lesbian before Lizzie’s tragic suicide.”
You can find Peter Ould’s article on the Psephizo blog here. In it, he shows that the narrative about the church moving away from a theologically conservative position as a result of Lizzie’s death is a false one, because in fact the church had already moved away from a conservative position. The church’s ‘conversion’ to an open, inclusive stance has been mis-narrated, Revd. Ould claims, by omitting certain very material facts — such as the fact that a previous curate of the church had already ‘come out’ as lesbian before Lizzie’s tragic suicide. This being the case, it seems far-fetched to claim that sexuality wasn’t being discussed in the church.
If what Revd. Ould writes is correct, then it’s an alarming instance of the story of a personal tragedy being used to score polemical points. It is possible, also, that outlets such as the Manchester Evening News and the BBC have effectively been used as propaganda tools for the liberal position within the Church of England.
Since I first became aware of this story via the BBC, I have written to them directly to make them aware of Revd. Ould’s claims about how this narrative has been told, and have asked them to investigate it further and, if necessary, to publish a corrective piece which takes account of the material facts alleged by Revd. Ould.
For the details and the evidence of why this story may have been mis-told, I urge the reader to read Revd. Ould’s article which you can find here.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this story is the untimely death of a girl who didn’t feel she would be accepted. But if her story is to be told, it is vital that what is told is the truth — however uncomfortable that may be, and wherever that truth may lead.
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I wrote to the BBC about this news story, pointing them to Peter Ould’s article and alerting them to the misrepresentation that appears to have gone on in the way the church’s version of events has been told. Here is their reply received today:—
“Thank you for your letter about the BBC News website.
“I understand you feel the AV article ‘Didsbury church’s radical change after gay girl’s suicide’ misrepresents St James church.
“The film doesn’t suggest that the church previously adopted a negative attitude to homosexuality, or excluded LGBT congregants. It’s [sic] simply explained that the church has responded to Lizzie’s death by focussing effort on ensuring that people are aware of the church’s inclusivity, and know that they are welcome. The church’s first ever Pride event is given as an example of the changes being made.
“It’s the church’s rector who, in the film, describes the suicide as a wake-up call. The overall point being made is that Lizzie’s idea that she would be rejected was a misconception, and the church have taken responsibility for ensuring that other vulnerable people do not have the same impression.
“It’s also important to note that this is a short film taken from the BBC programme ‘Inside Out North West’ which examined the case in more detail.
“Please be assured that your comments have been circulated to senior editors at BBC News online on our daily feedback report.
“Many thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.
BBC Complaints Team”
I’m not sure that this response really addresses Peter Ould’s concerns.