By Jaevion Nelson
There are some Christian groups that think their views on any matter, whether casino gambling, horse racing on a Sunday, bus preaching or equal rights for lesbians and gays, for example, should take precedence and be accepted as infallible. Their deafening silence on the social ills we grapple with is queer. Perhaps, they are oblivious, given their seeming preoccupation with sex, orifices, and gays.
The Love March Movement (LMM), Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF) and Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) readily come to mind as groups that have been particularly vocal on the issue of gay rights in Jamaica.
These groups work tirelessly to convince us that our brothers and sisters who are lesbian and gay should not be afforded (certain?) rights. The principle of equality seems trifling in their schema, and, in fact, it would seem that for them this innocuous term is really evidence of a wider secular agenda that will first change the lexicon, then finally obliterate morality. So much so that because of their influence sexual intercourse and rape are still narrowly defined under Jamaican law to solely concern the insertion of a penis into a vagina. Therefore, the law, among other things, precludes males from pressing rape charges, instead having to seek solace in the anachronistic anti-buggery law, which limits the punishment for convicted perpetrators to 10 years' imprisonment. In addition, it 'protects' women from being charged for rape since they presumably do not possess penises (including artificial ones) with which to penetrate the single orifice which comes within the ambit of the law. Apparently, my pendulum has the monopoly on rape. Do they honestly believe that a male cannot be raped despite their incessant warnings of the phantom male paedophiles lurking in the dark awaiting any amendment to the buggery law?
These groups overwhelmingly depend on fallacies and fear-mongering to hoodwink us into believing that the anti-buggery law is the last remaining moral linchpin preventing our society from plunging into a state of anomie. They believe that any curriculum that mentions the existence of diverse family forms, including same-sex families, is representative of tacit moral acceptability and not merely a statement of scientific fact. They often cite outlandish examples of people in other countries being punished for expressing their disapproval of same-sex relationships and gender diversity, never once bearing in mind that in these jurisdictions such speech is criminal and part of the social contract that helps these societies remain peaceful, cohesive, and prosperous. I suppose Christians by virtue of their dogma are so privileged that they are not obliged to follow the law like the rest of us.
NEGATIVE RIPPLE EFFECT
In their world view, encouraging children to respect and appreciate the wonderfully diverse world this generation is so fortunate to live in is treacherous, and any amendment to laws which criminalise persons' inherent human dignity would somehow have a negative ripple effect on freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion. I am yet to fathom what they believe give them this 'right' to hold society hostage to their sophistic views on what is correct and moral. God? The Abrahamic God to the exclusion of all other belief systems (or lack of belief for that matter)?
It is rather uncanny that the JCHS produced a documentary titled Sex, Lies, and Rights - A Seduction of Medicine, Law and Politics when their arguments often run counter to what is true.
Dr Wayne West (consultant radiologist and senior lecturer at UWI) who was featured in the documentary (mis)used data from an article by Chris Beyrer et al (2012) titled The Global Epidemiology of HIV Infection among Men who have Sex with Men. The research found that HIV infection continues to increase among the population, to oppose changes to the 'buggery law'. Admittedly, while the repeal/amendment of the law is crucial in the AIDS response, it is not a panacea to reduce the rates of HIV infection. But Dr West apparently missed when Beyrer, who is professor of epidemiology, International Health and Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said "it has been with real concern and personal sadness" that he and his colleagues' work "on HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) both misunderstood and misused by professionals in Jamaica".
EMBELLISHING THE TRUTH
Even members of the clergy can be found guilty of embellishing the truth. Take, for example, Rev Peter Garth quoting the so-called 'Gay Manifesto'.
Thankfully, Tamara Scott-Williams who was scared after reading the news report did some research and responded eloquently to the ridiculous use of the satire written by Michael Swift in 1987 for a gay community magazine.
LCF has been using the example of a Jamaican born couple in England, Owen and Eunice Johns, whose application to foster a 16th child was withdrawn by the Derby City Council in 2008. What they haven't told us is that the couple said their religious belief prohibits them from talking to a child who might be gay in a way that encourages diversity. In fact, Owen, as reported by BBC, said he would try to "turn the child" to become straight. Clearly, such a couple would be deemed unfit to foster children in a country that eschews intolerance against LGBT people, right?
The judges ruled that "No one is asserting that Christians (or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims) are not 'fit and proper' persons to foster or adopt. No one is seeking to delegitimise Christianity or any other faith or belief. On the contrary, it is fundamental to our law and our way of life that everyone is equal before the law and equal as a human being ... entitled to dignity and respect."
It is undeniable that religion, and Christianity in particular, play a key role in Jamaica's human-rights discourse and socio-economic development. However, we must ensure that we carefully interrogate religious dogma and the effect it has on the welfare of marginalised groups. The Church cannot be the sole arbiters of human rights in a democratic society that claims to respect the rights of all its citizens.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.