Sir Brian Souter Stagecoach
Society and Social Structures

Sir Brian Souter barred as sponsor of Turner Prize for being a morally orthodox Christian

Sir Brian Souter is a Christian. He also happens to be a wealthy Scottish businessman, philanthropist, and supporter of the SNP, but he is a Christian first and foremost: his faith guides his work ethic, permeates his politics, and informs his charitable interests, which assist humanitarian projects in the UK and overseas. His mission is the relief of human suffering – irrespective of faith, ethnicity, politics or sexuality – such as feeding starving Africans or combating malaria. His trust has donated more than £32million to this work over the past five years. He was knighted in 2011 for services to transport and the voluntary sector.

His principal company is Stagecoach which runs lots of buses all over the place. It is worth £billions, and Sir Brian Souter receives bonuses of £millions and gives away many of those £millions to his charitable concerns and interests. He said in 2009: “It was felt that in the present economic climate it would not be right for any individual to pocket a bonus package of £1.6million”, so he gave £900,000 to charity and put the rest into his staff pension fund. To him much has been given, so he gives much away.

Stagecoach South-East was keen to sponsor the Turner Prize:

Victoria Pomery, the director of Turner Contemporary, said Stagecoach South East was involved in many community projects in Margate and provided a good service to the local community. “We are not in a major conurbation and we are constantly trying to bring new partnerships in to play so we thought Stagecoach could achieve that.”

But Sir Brian Souter is a Christian who happens to believe that the institution of marriage is a union of one man and one woman, which, as we know, is bigoted and homophobic. He also supported the retention of Section 28 when the matter was put to a referendum in Scotland, which, as we know, is ultra-bigoted and mega-homophobic. The Clause prohibited local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality, and he donated £1million of his own money to the mission because he believes this isn’t what local authorities should be doing with taxpayers’ money. A spokesman explained: “He is not in this for personal glory. He is fighting this battle because he is a father and committed Christian.”

Stagecoach South East has now been dropped as a sponsor of the Turner Prize, because, as Peter Tatchell explains, the Arts are inclusive and Sir Brian Souter is a bigoted homophobe. “Surely there must be other less tainted potential sponsors?” he pleaded. “The arts is a LGBT-friendly profession and should not be colluding with companies whose bosses support homophobic discrimination.” In a statement Stagecoach said it did not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind:

Our Stagecoach culture values transparency, diversity, and respect. We expect our employees to commit to doing the right thing, to respect other individuals at all times and treat them with dignity, and thoughtfulness, and we are committed to providing equal opportunities for all.

It might be observed that the Souter Charitable Trust sponsors the Oasis Trust, founded by the Rev’d Canon Steve Chalke, who robustly opposes the abuse of Scripture in the oppression of LGBT people, even to the extent of supporting same-sex marriage. It might further be observed that Sir Brian has given an awful lot of money to the SNP, who aren’t exactly renowned for their anti-LGBT policies. Perhaps Sir Brian Souter isn’t as bigoted and homophobic as the directors of the Turner Prize and Peter Tatchell believe him to be.

Would the Turner Prize accept sponsorship from a Muslim organisation or one founded by Orthodox Jews, or is it only morally-orthodox Christians who are barred from sponsoring the Prize? Isn’t the belief that marriage is a union of male and female a foundational precept of all major world religions; a sacred covenant of love for the procreation and nurturing of children? Certainly, the institution has evolved over the centuries, and it may be destined for further evolution, but if one demurs at such ‘progress’, should one be barred from participation in those organisations which are dedicated to the flourishing the Arts simply because the Arts is a more inclusive profession than one’s conscience admits? Should the Royal Shakespeare Company reject sponsorship from a Roman Catholic philanthropist who believes that the sacrament of marriage as a union of one man and one woman for life; that is, he opposes divorce, opposes same-sex marriage (which he believes isn’t marriage at all), and, further, opposes abortion in all circumstances except where the life of the mother is in danger? What anti-feminist, anti-equality, misogynistic discriminatory bigotry is this?

And what would his personal religious beliefs have to do with his love of the Arts? What is so abhorrent about Sir Brian Souter’s belief that marriage – heterosexual union – is a sacred vocation underpinned by natural law ordained by God in the order of creation, and that those who are married must live in the ways of marriage – faithfully, mutually, with honesty and integrity – witnessing to the goodness of the created order?

The LORD who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.
(TS Eliot, ‘The Rock‘)

Sir Brian Souter is more than just buses and trains: he, too, is an artist and creative because the whole of humanity is made in God’s image, and, just as His impulse was to create, so is it ours. The vocation of Christians is to dedicate all that they create to the glory of God; the whole of life is a sacrifice of worship to the one who created us. What kind of artistic organisation seeks to limit the involvement of artists based on the political or religious beliefs of the artist? If Sir Brian may not sponsor the Turner Prize, are all religious people who believe marriage to be a union of man and woman barred from entering? Or is it only Evangelical Christians?

Would the Turner Prize accept sponsorship from the Church of England? Oh, its values are as unimpeachable as those of Stagecoach – transparency, diversity, respect, dignity, equality, etc., etc, – but the Archbishop of Canterbury has just reiterated his belief that when it comes to same-sex marriage, he is “a conservative”: that is to say, he believes marriage to be a union of one man and one woman; he opposes the marital union of two men or two women, for that, as he has previously explained, is not marriage. To be clear, Justin Welby loves LGBT people, but opposes same-sex marriage, or gay marriage or equal marriage or whatever you want to call it. Moreover, he has excluded the spouses of bishops in same-sex unions from the Lambeth 2020 Conference, which is rather discriminatory and manifestly anti-equality, and he’s getting quite a lot of stick for it. Being such a manifest bigot and homophobe, would the Turner Prize bar him and the organisation he leads – the Established Church – from sponsoring its promotion of contemporary art?

Or is it just Sir Brian Souter?