A front-row view of lesbian foot-washing
Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist
Last Sunday, I had one of the best seats in the house at a historic event. I watched a man go down on two lesbians ... to wash their feet.
Father Sean Major-Campbell, an Anglican priest and friend of mine, invited me to perform my poem 'Justice' at a church service at Christ Church in Vineyard Town.
I arrived at the church and was led to the front row, where I sat. While reading the programme, I observed that the theme of the service was 'In Celebration of Human Rights', and, under the heading 'Expression of Love and Christian Service', I saw where Father Sean was to wash the feet of two lesbians and a sex worker, and that a transgender person was to speak to the congregation.
When I saw this, tears came to my eyes. I was touched. It moved me because I know that many Jamaicans, including church folk, consider sex workers and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to be the scum and dregs of the society.
The sex worker did not show up, so when the time came to actually wash feet, only the two lesbians were involved. Again, I was moved to tears because I felt the love and compassion that this man was showing to these women, fellow Jamaicans, from a community that has been scorned, shunned and despised.
I totally understood what Father Sean was doing, and he confirmed it during a conversation with me afterwards. He told me that he knew that these people have been rejected and marginalised by the society, and he was merely demonstrating that, according to his belief system, Jesus Christ wants us to show love and compassion to everyone, even society's outcasts. He was making a statement and leading by example.
The firestorm that ensued was disappointing, but not surprising.
When I used to attend Sunday school, I was taught that God and Jesus represented love, but as I grew up I found that some of the most bigoted and intolerant people were Christians, and the behaviour of some churchgoers present was devoid of 'God's love'.
Some members of the congregation walked out during the service, some vowed never to return, and there was the suggestion that the gays should form their own church. Change the location, date and participants, and this script would describe the situation of blacks in a white church during the height of the civil-rights movement in the United States of America.
Some suggest that Father Sean was encouraging homosexuality. He was not. At no point did he say that homosexuality was good or that it was right.
Some people give the impression that the service was all about homosexuality. It was not. It was about human rights. In his sermon, Father Sean spoke about persons dying while in state custody, domestic violence, incest, child abuse, political corruption, and marital rape. In addition, my poem was about unarmed civilians being killed by members of the security forces.
Some persons speak of the 'choices' that these women made, suggesting that they chose their sexual orientation. They did not. I have been in touch with both women since the incident and they have been very open with me about their lives. As one of them asked me, "Why would I choose to be something that 90 per cent of the population hates?"
One member of the congregation was quoted as saying, "I don't know how suddenly gay rights become human rights.” But gay rights do fall under the umbrella of human rights, as do children's, women's and other rights.
There were suggestions that the priest should have told them to repent of their lifestyles. The fact is, however, that a person's sexual orientation does not dictate their lifestyle. There is no such thing as a 'gay lifestyle'. Being gay is about a person's sexual orientation, not about their sexual activity. A person can be gay and celibate, gay and in a monogamous relationship, gay and dating, gay and polygamous, or gay and married to a member of the opposite sex.
One of my lesbian friends told me that she has had no intimate encounter for more than one year. One of my heterosexual female friends, on the other hand, is an unwed mother of two, the second child being for a married man that she is currently in a relationship with. She has also had an abortion, and recently asked another female friend to join her in a threesome with the married man.
Had Father Sean presented these two women to the congregation as merely a lesbian and a heterosexual woman, and then proceeded to wash their feet, several church members would have immediately and unfairly judged and rejected the lesbian and displayed a more favourable attitude towards the straight female without knowing anything about the lifestyles of the two women.
What Father Sean did was demonstrate the love, compassion, empathy and humility of Jesus Christ. Christians follow a religion named after a man who defended an adulteress and healed the ear of someone who was taking him away to have him killed. If people calling themselves Christians have a problem with what Father Sean did, they need to seriously examine themselves or find another religion.
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.