By Malcolm Strachan
Carnival would not be Carnival if our selective Christian-ness did not emerge to the forefront of discussions in the week leading up to the event’s festivities. While event organisers, band members and other enthusiasts would have been finalising their preparations for the weekend, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) released a statement mid-week that ripped the cast off the fractured opinions towards the event.
BCC president Bishop Delton Fernander’s diatribe, plastered across headlines last week, emphatically denounced carnival and characterised the event as having “the potential to lead to sexual violence, rape and other violent confrontation”.
He said: “We strongly condemn this open display of sexuality, nudity, open consumption of alcohol and indecency associated with this event.
“We also further state our deep concern for the safety of our young people, especially our young women during these carnival events.
“With a mixture of men and women flaunting near naked bodies engaging in sexual contact with event participants and the open flow of alcohol, we stand with others who believe this event has the potential to lead to sexual violence, rape and other violent confrontation most especially between our young men who may not be able to handle seeing their female friend in sexual contact with other men on the streets,” said the council’s president.
Within hours, a statement was released from the Bahamas Carnival Band Owners Association (BCBOA) president Rafel Dean who expressed disappointment in Bishop Fernander’s statement. Refuting the claims, Dean questioned how the Christian body could make those types of claims without either statistical proof or evidence that any such issue has taken place since Bahamas Carnival’s inception five years ago.
This has undoubtedly resulted in intense debate - with those in support of carnival and adversaries to the viewpoints of the BCC making their opinions known in public forums.
One gentleman, in a Facebook group, said of the BCC: “Many of these so-called religious leaders are nothing more charlatans who use their positions in the pulpit as a means of providing a comfortable lifestyle for themselves at the expense of their church members, most of whom struggle to keep their heads above water financially. There is a special furnace in hell reserved for these religious imposters after their sojourn here on earth.”
Very strong sentiments, but views held by many within our community with regard to the Christian Council. However, the issue at hand is perhaps being lost in the fray.
Unfortunately, in a “Christian” nation, the organisation at the forefront has a reputation of garnering divided perspectives. While one can understand their stance, because they’re the messenger it comes across as a judgmental statement, particularly without proof of their claims.
They will not be the first to find themselves in such issues. Former mayor of Trinidad and Tobago – a country with a deeply rooted history in carnival – made remarks after the death of a female Japanese musician during carnival three years ago.
Former mayor Raymond Tim Kee alluded to the young lady’s involvement in carnival as the reason for her death and sparked countrywide outrage. The sentiments in the wake of Asami Nagakiya’s death - that what she wore (a carnival costume) – perhaps, along with her killer’s consumption of alcohol - would have played a role in her death.
Kee may have very well dug his own political grave with those statements, and likewise, the Christian Council’s message continues to grow more and more out of touch, unless you’re a bible thumping, jumping-off-the-pulpit Christian.
Rather than engaging people from a moral standpoint, the BCC just looks like an organisation that cherry-picks its battles based on personal views.
While one can understand they may not want their liberties infringed upon, the same can be said for those who enjoy carnival. Remember we all live in a free society and freedom of expression is a right we all have.
Furthermore, what could have been a conversation to address the societal issue that underpins this argument will instead be drowned out by soca beats, hurling from too much alcohol consumption and the sweeping opinions of those who refuse to have the BCC speak for them.
Unfortunately, the message that should have been conveyed has beenn lost - and that is one of respect. While there are many Bahamian men who treat women with the respect they deserve, we would be ignorant to believe there is not a segment of society that make lewd remarks, grope and sexually assault women.
Have you ever walked through a crowded corner during Junkanoo with a female companion? A woman could be wearing a hazmat suit and yet still risk the chance of being violated. Have you ever witnessed a woman walking along the street being subjected to disrespectful sexually suggestive remarks directed at her but somehow meant to be a compliment in the mind of her suitor?
Look no further than the 12 percent increase in rapes from 49 in 2017 to 55 in 2018 as evidence of this problem. Organisations on the frontline like the Christian Council send a poor message when a seemingly anti-carnival agenda is what emerges when such issues have much deeper roots.
All that will happen now is the BCC will be met with more dissenting views in the future. The men that disrespect women in our society will likely continue to do so. Women will continue to be victim-shamed. And most certainly, carnival will go on.
It surely could have taken less effort, time and energy to make a few more enemies.
Unfortunately, as we are living in a time when the Bahamas Christian Council’s voices are most needed, their approach is again creating a distance between them and the citizenry.
Hopefully, after another failed attempt to affect the morality of our nation the Christian Council will ponder this: what good is an echo chamber full of Christians if the sinners are the ones who stand to benefit the most from salvation?
Hopefully, at some point, they will dismount from their high horses and speak the language of the people they’re trying to reach.