Ian Boyne | Grow up on gay intolerance!
No Jamaican law was violated or disrespected when the United States displayed the rainbow flag of the LGBT community on its own territory in Kingston. And rather than showing disrespect to Jamaica, the act indicated its acknowledgement of the vibrancy of our civil society and of our democratic 'articulate minority'.
Jamaicans have pointed out that the Americans dared not put up a rainbow flag in a country like Saudi Arabia or other Islamic states with Shari'a law. But that is precisely the point: The Americans know we have a strong democratic tradition and that no violent action would follow, despite the vast majority of Jamaicans' strident and visceral opposition to homosexuality (which, strictly, is not criminalised; only anal sex). They knew the dominant voices in media would push back against any popular dissent and that they could, of course, count on the visa-hungry masses to hold their tongues and violent implements in hope of entering paradise!
They were right. The attorney general has never regretted any action of hers as she has those few words proclaimed on Twitter. She has been clobbered internationally and everywhere in cyberspace. But some brave soldiers of the Gospel have come to her defence, though. I admire their courage but am less impressed with their reasoning. Helene Coley-Nicholson, president of Lawyers' Christian Fellowship (LCF), says the flying of the rainbow flag "sends an overt symbol that the United States Embassy in Jamaica is aligned with those who would break our laws".
First, Helene, embodied in the first principle of diplomacy and international relations - mutual respect - is the notion of tolerance for diversity. States do not only have relations with those whose laws, customs and ideologies are compatible with theirs. Jamaica did not break off relations with the United States when it legalised gay marriage, even though we are not aligned with that at all.
America has relations with countries with laws that penalise adultery, alcohol, and pork consumption, homosexuality, and which practise Internet censorship and a host of authoritarian laws. This is what happens every day among states. It is not disrespectful for friends to uphold their beliefs and practices in contradistinction to others. That's what tolerance and respect really mean: That I can freely engage my expression of preferences even when they clash with yours. This is at the heart of the democratic ethos and of respectful relationships.
LCF makes the following statement, which, on the surface, seems benign but which is deeply offensive: Conceding the fact that "the embassy is considered American territory in international law," the Fellowship nevertheless goes on to say in its release that "the LCF asks US Ambassador Luis Moreno to immediately take down the flag and in so doing eliminate potential misunderstanding", and - note this -"barriers to the natural outpouring of sympathy and support for the United States and those who have suffered". This is reprehensible and deplorable. Our people's "natural outpouring of sympathy" would be constrained by the presence of that gay flag? If that is true, we should hang our heads in shame. That is not complimentary and is not something we should broadcast. That is advertising our moral and cultural backwardness.
I submit we have a deeper problem not just in Jamaica but in the world: It is a problem of a deeply illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic spirit. It not only afflicts conservative Christians.It afflicts supposed liberals, leftists and gay activists. The issue is not primarily hate. It is an abhorrence of tolerance, a despising of opposing views, a cherishing of bigotry. It is not only among fundamentalists. Some of these gays activists are among the most arrogant, bigoted, and democracy-averse people you can find. I declare a plague on all the houses.
The Christians in Jamaica who rightly recognise that this issue of gay rights is a political one must know how to fight political battles. They must be intellectually and strategically sharper than they have been and not keep playing into the hands of those who are enemies of the Church.
The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, like its sister organisation which Coley-Nicholson runs, also concedes that "the US Embassy is considered to be on US soil", but goes on to say in its release that "the embassy is still a guest of the Jamaican Government and is expected to conduct its affairs in a respectful manner".
GROW UP, JAMAICA!
No, it is the Jamaican people who must grow up and start respecting people's civil liberties and right to their own way of life. We don't have to force the Americans to agree with us that homosexuality is an abomination worthy of punishment in an eternal hellfire.
They should be free to proclaim their solidarity with fellow citizens who are gay, some of whom lost their lives in the nation's biggest mass-shooting massacre. They chose to grieve by showing haters that they stand in solidarity with a community they see as oppressed and despised. We can disagree and feel those people should repent of their sinful ways. That is our right to believe that. But we can't impose that on our guests, Dr Wayne West. We must show some respect and regard to our guests.
I am a conservative Christian who follows a Bronze Age book written by nomadic tribes who deemed homosexual practice unethical. But I don't believe we have any right to impose the Kingdom of God on anyone in this age. I believe we must maintain this free, pluralistic society, and we have no right to ban non-Christian expressions.
We should strive to penetrate the society with Christian ethics and to convince people that our views are right. Lucien Jones is doing a valiant job in that regard. But we must resist the temptation to theonomy and theocracy. We must learn from the excesses of the fanatical Muslims who are a threat to civilisation everywhere. (Notice I did not say 'Muslims', but 'fanatical Muslims'.)
Pastor Al Miller, in his response, was equally flawed. He pleads in a letter in the Observer on Thursday that "diplomacy requires respect and the art of understanding the customs and beliefs of those with whom one engages. The diplomat makes every effort not to offend".
So a diplomat must show respect and honour to the custom of female circumcision, Indian caste traditions, child brides, Shari'a law? In earlier times, should respect have been shown to foot binding, duelling, etc? Should apartheid have been respected because it was law? Was Mandela immoral to defy it? Al Miller feels that the flying of the rainbow flag "can only be interpreted as a deliberate act of provocation". Provocation to what? You realise what you are saying, Rev? He says it was a "deliberate slap in the face of the Jamaican community". Well, again, we should be ashamed if that is so.
It's no slap in my face if someone wants to affirm his homosexuality or show solidarity with the gay community. As long as I am allowed to have my Stone Age belief that homosexuality is wrong and worship my Invisible Friend in the sky, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, as the New Atheists would say, that's okay. Fly your gay flag anywhere but my premises and I am okay. Problem is that it is not just the Christian fundamentalists who pose a threat to liberal values. Increasingly, so-called liberal societies are free-speech terrorists.
The June 4-10 issue of The Economist has a cover story, 'Free Speech Under Attack', which makes interesting reading. In its editorial, it notes that "the idea has spread that people and groups have a right not to be offended. That may sound innocuous. But if I have a right not to be offended, that means someone must police what you say about me or about things I hold dear such as my ethnic group, my religion." Gays are principal offenders, wanting to insulate themselves against so-called hate speech and offensive language.
Some gays would just as soon shut down all opposition, citing homophobia and hate to mask their own intolerance. An illiberal, intolerant spirit is growing on all sides. It must be firmly resisted. Let a hundred flowers bloom - along with the weeds. Democracy detractors, go home!