Editorial | Archbishop Gregory’s new mission
Howard Gregory’s election as Archbishop of the Anglican Church in the West Indies will, rightly, be hailed in Jamaica for the elevation of a son to higher ecclesiastical office. What this newspaper sees, and hopes is the case, is that he now has a large platform from which to make significant interventions on important issues and to pursue progressive causes.
Among the most immediate of the subjects to which we expect Archbishop Gregory to give his attention is persuading his church to the logic, and potential efficacy, of the consecration of female bishops. But issues such as the removal of the repulsive buggery laws from the statutes of the region, and the continued criminalisation of abortion, should also be high on his agenda. These are matters to which the new archbishop has, in the past, been sympathetic.
Archbishop Gregory is the fourth bishop of Jamaica and the second Jamaica-born priest, after Orland Lindsay, who, as bishop of the North East Caribbean and Aruba, led the congregation from 1986 to 1996 to be head of the church in the Province of the West Indies.
We don’t know if Archbishop Gregory, 68, and a priest for 45 years, defines his theology. But he is obviously a man who doesn’t believe that God manifests Himself in only the spiritual realm and is removed from political causes. Scripture isn’t literal and he, it appeared, saw parallels in, and opportunities for, the application of Jesus’ works to modern society. He came of age during a period of intellectual foment in Jamaica and the Caribbean, and a dramatic change in perspective of the region’s place in a post-colonial world.
It is not surprising, therefore, given his commitment to social and gender equality, that Archbishop Gregory supported the ordination of female priests, allowed in the province a quarter-century ago. It could have happened earlier in Jamaica but for the fact of the slower pace of the rest of the regional church. Similar constraints attend the consecration of female bishops. Hopefully, the new archbishop will be able to nudge his regional colleagues faster along this route.
Archbishop Gregory, we expect, will maintain the courage he displayed two years ago when he petitioned Jamaica’s Parliament to remove the law against buggery and for a widening of the definition of rape to include non-consensual sex, especially accompanied by threat, intimidation and violence.
Indeed, the archbishop is right – that while the anus may not be a sexual organ, it has been part of sexual activity between men and women. In any event, what, as he puts it, “happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the Government”.
Now, his voice ought to be heard not only in Jamaica, but throughout the province. As it should also be heard on the question of abortion, to which he last month gave qualified support in limited circumstances.
Speaking at the annual synod of the Jamaican Anglicans, Archbishop Gregory emphasised that the church affirmed the sanctity of life and forbade “abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or for any reason of mere convenience”. He, however, said that abortions may be permissible in “cases of rape or incest, cases in which a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, or cases involving foetal abnormalities”.
This newspaper believes that there is a broader range of circumstances, as well as the time frame within which termination of pregnancies should legally take place, which were not addressed by the archbishop. But his declaration was a start – the beginning of a promotion of the larger ideals of social justice, which we hope Archbishop Gregory will continue and expand.