SO often throughout history the victims of discrimination and oppression are described as “venomous” when they protest against their brutalisation and mistreatment. We have observed this sad response by some Bahamian male religious leaders toward women campaigning to outlaw marital rape.
The campaigners are castigated as angry, as if those who seek basic justice do not have a moral right to be angry at injustice and inequality. Imagine the police officer who kept his knee embedded on George Floyd’s neck as the latter pleaded for his life asking the soon to be dead victim, “Why are you so angry and venomous?”
A number of the same religious leaders who oppose outlawing marital rape have also been exercised and angered over the years by gays and lesbians speaking up for their dignity and rights.
Moreover, some of these leaders who decry the supposed venom of others, seem to have conveniently forgotten their unwelcoming and heated protests against gay and lesbian visitors to The Bahamas in years pasts.
That these pastors organised themselves, arrogantly, under the banner Save Our Bahamas, suggested that gays and lesbians were somehow an Armageddon-like and existential threat to The Bahamas.
Those who demonstrated against these cruise passengers should have protested real threats to The Bahamas such as hypocritical pastors using religion to aggrandise themselves and to make huge profits off their congregants instead of serving the poor. Many of the moneychangers are still in the temple.
That the sky has not fallen and all hell hath not broken loose in jurisdictions where there is greater equality for gays and lesbians seems an irrelevance to those whose fevered imaginations boil with fire and brimstone. Hell hath no fury like a cleric scorning God’s children who happen to be homosexual.
While they were busy supposedly saving The Bahamas from among their favourite people to demonise, the real threats of environmental degradation, climate change and voracious greed by the earth’s polluters continued unabated with scant comment or urgency by some religionists.
Why do some spend so much time attacking gays and lesbians? Is the mantra: “They’ll know we are Christians by our judgmentalism, our hatred, our prejudice.” There must be a smug and warm self-satisfaction by this band and brand of Christians.
The homophobia of the Old Testament wannabees, of pastors and some adherents, is cut of a garment of prejudice derived from an entrenched fundamentalism in the Bahamas.
It is revealing that the clerical clique and their claque of crusaders who were more moved to demonstrate against gays in port for a few hours, are not as moved to go to other venues in Nassau to protest adultery, adult nightclubs, et.al., though this columnist is not suggesting an equivalence.
Some of the gay bashers invoked the narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Genesis, like other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, consists of numerous literary genres and devices.
Genesis contains not one, but two, creation accounts, literary renderings crafted by ancient scribes to convey theological meaning. Today, mostly literalists still believe these to be factual accounts, though the science of evolution demonstrates otherwise.
Further, today, modern science offers compelling facts and hypotheses on the nature, complexity and range of human sexuality.
For various theologians and preachers, inhospitality is the great or greater moral failing at Sodom and Gomorrah. This insight remains lost on the unwelcoming protestors who gathered downtown yesteryear, targeting a select group of visitors in a demonstration of inhospitality, and incivility by some.
Literalists have the right to entertain fact-free opinions on the genesis of life and the genesis of homosexuality much as racists of old utilized Christian Scripture; pseudo-science, including phrenology, debunked by the 1840s; and “scientific racism” to justify slavery and white supremacy.
The virulent anti-gay crusaders were historic throwbacks even when they were demonstrating their inhospitality to gay cruise ship passengers. Today, as gays and lesbians are increasingly seen first and foremost as fellow human beings, and not as objects of derision, the homophobes appear even more antediluvian.
There is a well-known Christian hymn entitled, “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love”, often vigorously sung by Bahamian Christians. The song celebrates the ideal of love of neighbour and Christian unity, with the refrain:
“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
“Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Christian love expresses itself in forgiveness and reconciliation; respect for the dignity of others; empathy and compassion; a moral imagination of inclusion and fellowship; charity in its many manifestations; justice and a wellspring of virtues.
All Christians fall short of the ideal of love, which should make for humility in those who claim to espouse such love and an abiding love of God and neighbour, as the great biblical commandments invite and demand.
Instead of love, some Christians, including here at home, are known less for their love. Instead their crying call seems to be: They’ll know we are Christians by who we despise and whose rights and full equality we oppose.
Given the global, though uneven, advance of rights for those in the LGBT+ community, the backlash was inevitable, as has been the backlash after progress for racial and gender equality.
Some years ago, Bishop Sam Greene, who also served as President of the Bahamas Christian Council, notoriously suggested that if the government sanctioned gay and lesbian marriages, he would follow the example of Guy Fawkes, who, in 1605, attempted to blow up Parliament.
Curiously, no other religious leader spoke out against this threat of violence. Had a women’s rights or gay rights advocate used such language they would have been severely criticized and possibly reported to the police.
Much of today’s rabidly anti-gay agenda is led by those whose worldviews are pre-modern and pre-Enlightenment, when gays and lesbians were persecuted and demonized, before the protection of minorities was codified in the rule of law and when the likes of Guy Fawkes were stoking verbal and literal fireworks.
Father Sean Major Campbell is an Anglican priest and human rights advocate in Jamaica. His BA in Theology is from the University of the West Indies, Mona, and his MA in Psychology and Counseling was attained at St Stephen’s College.
Reverend Major Campbell continues to battle the homophobia and theological ignorance that is widespread among the many fundamentalist pastors in Jamaica. His comments on Jamaica equally apply to The Bahamas.
“Anybody can be a pastor in Jamaica. All you have to say is that God called you. I could not put up a sign outside and say I’m a lawyer or physician because the Holy Spirit has called me.
“But without even entry level qualifications I could put up a sign that says, ‘minister of religion’ and people would come to me. We are talking about people who appoint themselves to positions of authority. …
“People’s lives and mental health are being destroyed by pastors who do not understand sociology or best practices in relation to psychology and human sexuality, who are using Bible verses to condemn and counsel people. The crass fundamentalism within Christianity is a contributory factor to Jamaica’s underdevelopment and weak nation building.”
Thankfully, there are quite a number of religious leaders at home and abroad who offer a counterpoint to such fundamentalism. They evince a gospel of love or caritas, revealing the presence of a God whose love extends equally to all.
And though various denominations have a long journey of conversion in terms of their theology and practices toward gays and lesbians, they are more welcoming than in the past, they oppose various forms of discrimination, and are equally opposed to violence and demonising LGBT+ individuals and communities.
Gays and lesbians are neighbours and co-workers; politicians, police officers and pastors, volunteers and role models; heroes and heroines, friends and family; parents and life-partners, owed mutual respect and basic equality by right of their citizenship as children of God and as fellow Bahamians.
The considerable shift in global consciousness continues to move in the direction of upholding the value and dignity of human beings based on the content of one’s character, and not the happenstance of race, gender or sexual orientation.
Mercifully, joyously, the God of Love does not “live and move and have his being” like those who use His name to condemn others, who are equally and wonderfully made in His image and divine likeness.