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EDITORIAL - In whose CAUSE?

Published:Thursday | July 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

As last Sunday's anti-gay rally organised by evangelical Christians confirmed, Brendan Bain's sacking by the University of the West Indies, and its supposed implication for free speech, was merely a springboard for something more significant: the fundamentalists are continuing their transformation into a formidable political movement.

An estimated 25,000 people turned up at the rally - a number of which none of the Jamaica's political parties would be unmindful. In that context, a significant, if under-reported, message of the rally was the call for evangelicals to get themselves on the voters' register and thereby be in a position to vote in the next general election. For now, the policies they want to influence are those related to gay rights, or more specifically the retention of the law against buggery, which is the basis for the illegality of male homosexuality.

"As the church and citizens go to vote, that (any policy to remove the buggery regulations) would certainly be one of the issues that would be considered," explained Stevenson Samuels of the New Testament Church of God and the leader of the evangelically grounded group called Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation (CAUSE).

But gay rights are hardly the boundary of their concern. In fact, many of the persons who are at the centre of CAUSE previously campaigned for a restrictive law on abortion, in addition to their effort, with success, to have the Jamaica Constitution define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

So, while they may not be as politically battle-hardened as their American counterparts, they are not without experience - and apparently money to finance their activities. Nor is this foray on to the political battlefield by Jamaican Christian fundamentalists an entirely new phenomenon. In the 1970s, they spoke loudly against the perceived intention of Michael Manley's People's National Party (PNP) to turn Jamaica to communism.

irrelevant issues

The ideological issues of three and a half decades ago are no longer relevant. Today's Jamaican evangelical leadership, like their cousins in the United States, are fighting the so-called culture wars, intent on turning back a liberalism that sees same-sex sexual orientation not as a fundamental right, but as an intolerable aberration. Viewed through this prism, Professor Bain's affidavit to a Belizean court in favour of a church group seeking to maintain that country's anti-buggery law - even as he heads an HIV/AIDS health-delivery organisation whose mandate includes the elimination of stigma and discrimination against vulnerable groups - is understandable and right.

In the immediate circumstance, the posture of the fundamentalists is hostile to the PNP, which forms the government, whose leader, Portia Simpson Miller, has declared not merely tolerance, but inclusiveness towards gays. She promised a parliamentary conscience vote on the buggery law.

The Opposition wants to put the issue to a referendum, for which it has the support of CAUSE - quite understandable, given Jamaica's social and political dynamics. But even as it perceives immediate political gains from the current policy congruence with the evangelicals, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) should act with caution in engaging in an opportunist embrace with this constituency. We, in this regard, draw the JLP's attention to America Republican Party and its capture by radical fundamentalism/Tea Party movement, rendering it incapable of formulating a broad, inclusive agenda, worthy of a modern, functional state.

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