Last edited: October 31, 2004

Sin Or No Sin – Church’s View

The Nation, October 17, 2004
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax: 246-427-6968

THE FOLLOWING is the rationale behind the recommendation made by Professor Mickey Walrond as to why there is a need to begin the process of destigmatising homosexuals by bringing into line same sex acts with that of other sexual acts between consenting adults. This recommedndation is contained in his 75-page Report on the Legal, Ethical and Soci-economic Issue Relevant to HIV/AIDS in Barbados which was commissioned by the Attorney General’s office and is still being studied by Government. HIV, Sex and the Law

• Same Sex and other sexual conduct.

Sex is a natural and vital part of living, yet in the religious values of the Barbadian society there is a great deal of ambivalence related to sexual activity. Sex is largely characterised as sinful except within marriage, yet the majority of our children are born out of wedlock. Unfortunately, the strictures placed by most religions on human sexual activity are such that a number of priests find them difficult to maintain.

• Homosexual acts have been characterised in the Bible and in the Koran as deserving of death by stoning and there are some priests who continue to use such texts as they were written. It is not well known that same sex orientation as it relates to women is also abhorred by the church and therefore it is not only anal sex between men that attracts the opprobrium of the church.

It is a view still adhered to steadfastly by many in their religious teaching that sexual acts should only be engaged in for the purposes of procreation. Indeed, it is the barrier to conception that first attracted the ire of the church to condoms and the ‘encouragement’ of promiscuity has been added to bolster the case against condoms

• Ancient religious texts written in vastly different societal structures and without modern scientific knowledge, could not be expected to account for the fact that same sex orientation/preference would be like lifetime abstinence at the outer limits of biological behaviour and is not of necessity a perverse choice.

It is therefore not surprising that when AIDS was first described among homosexuals that there was sharp condemnation from many in the church and this attitude was extended to resistance to any measures to make same-sex activity safer on the grounds that this would encourage ‘ immoral and abominable’ sexual activity.

• When one combines this with the fact that buggery/sodomy was made an illegal activity at the behest of religious groups and is still an illegal activity in many countries, like Barbados, the stigma that is attached to HIV/AIDS has been a great inhibition to both detection of those affected and the implementation of safer sexual practices. As a result many persons, particularly men who are at risk, prefer not to find out their status knowing that they will be stigmatised and labelled as homosexuals whether they are or not.

• Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate and a hero in the fight against Apartheid and Chairman of the post apartheid Reconciliation Commission, had this to say in a Sermon in 2003: [22] ‘The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing—their race—and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about—their gender, and hence my support inter alia, for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

And equally, I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. For it is so improbable that any sane, normal person would deliberately choose a lifestyle exposing him or her to so much vilification, opprobrium and physical abuse, even death.

‘To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.’

• Religious taboos and their legal links have proven to be the most powerful inhibition to effecting the changes in human sexual conduct which could lead to the prevention of HIV. The values expressed by the church stress prohibition of sexual activity outside of marriage and the danger of education of children about and the use of measures available for safer sexual conduct. On the other hand sexual activity is promoted in every other sphere of society’s endeavours through the most modern and effective of communication facilities.

The Anglican church, which was the religion of the state in Barbados before independence in 1966, has as its religious leader the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed by the government of the UK.

The Archbishop does not overtly oppose the change in the law in the UK, which since 1967 removed sodomy from the Sexual Offences Bill as an illegal act between consenting adults in private. Nevertheless, when an avowed homosexual Episcopal [Anglican] priest was elected to be a bishop in the United States there was a great deal of doctrinal controversy over the issue.

• The Bishop of Cork in a sermon in 2003 tackled the issue head on: ‘The present controversy about homosexuality within Anglicanism is now calling the Church’s bluff about this professed preference to be, like Christ, among those on that edge.

We have claimed to be on the side of those who were oppressed by society and consigned to its margins. This edge place is where most homosexuals were forced to live prior to decriminalisation and the arrival of equality legislation, but where, in spite of immense changes in society, many still find themselves—especially those within the Church. The Church has been complicit in the resulting injustice and immense human suffering.

‘Part of our responsibility centres on our acquiescence in the misuse of Scripture, caused by our inertia on the one hand and by our fear on the other of giving intelligent people of faith the tools for handling God’s word rationally.’

• The Archbishop of Canterbury in a sermon at Christmas 2003 alluded to the doctrinal issue.

‘Historically, the answer, is, alas, that religious faith has too often been the language of the powerful, the excuse for oppression, the alibi for atrocity. It has appeared as itself intolerant of difference, as a campaigning, aggressive force for uniformity, as a self-defensive and often corrupt set of institutions indifferent to basic human welfare. Yet religion has appeared as something fighting to take over territory in the human soul and the human world—an empire pushing at the frontiers, struggling to defeat the independence and dignity of people.’

• In a statement in 2003 by the Anglican Bishop of Barbados on ‘Human sexuality in the light of recent developments in the Anglican communion’, it is stated:

‘Homosexuality is as old as human existence. Some societies down the ages have accepted the practice, others have tolerated it and some have rejected it as an abomination. These approaches are still with us. The Church is called to minister to all including homosexuals, within the context of ambivalent approaches and varied understandings of the practice.’

• There are those who realise that scriptural ‘reverse’ in the ‘Christian’ Church has occurred in the past for it has had to reverse itself on slavery, on racism and on women in the Ministry. Indeed, although the members of the church were leaders in the movement to abolish slavery, the law had to be changed on slavery before the doctrinal issue was laid to rest and members of the church gave up their own slaves.

It is said that the doctrinal issue in one branch of the Church was not settled until 1890 decades after the law had been changed. The battle over racism in Apartheid in South Africa was vociferously supported by some professing the Christian faith on the basis of the scripture until a violent change of government and the law came about.

• Although there was no such climatic change in the law related to women in the Ministry, the change can hardly be divorced from the widespread social and legal promulgation of the rights of women that occurred at the same time. Thus, for those who hold fastest to scriptural ‘laws’, changes in secular law have allowed them to release themselves from what they clearly accept as abuses in modern society.

• Nevertheless, changes in the law related to homosexual practise will not be supported by the Christian Church or the minority religions in Barbados. The fear of the church as expressed by many denominations is that changes in the law will damage the morality of the whole society and that it will encourage the abuse of boys.

However, a change in the law in no way prevents the church from continuing to promulgate their interpretation of the scriptures in pursuance of the proper exercise of their freedom of religion and its expression.

• On the other hand the state has a responsibility when necessary to exercise its responsibilities under the constitution of ‘the freedom of conscience, expression and of religion’ in which is inherent the separation of church and state. There could be no greater catastrophe for the society than to allow different religions to demand the imposition of their religious laws. Indeed, the imposition of such laws would destroy the very religious freedom guaranteed to them under the constitution.

In addition, the change in the current law would in no way remove or encourage sexual offences against boys or girls for that matter. Experience has shown that in areas where scriptures appear to conflict with proposed changes in the secular law that the controversy subsides once the law is changed. Indeed, as quoted above many prominent clerics have embraced the spirit of the law in the UK and the US by bringing homosexuals openly into the communion/community of the church.

• Some religions hold fast to the view that religious and secular law must be the same. Although this is still the view held among some religious groups, most states, including Barbados, have constitutionally separated the State from the Church.

Before that a Roman Catholic could not be the Pricipal of leading schools in Barbados. The separation is not done without a struggle and the struggle continues today in many countries. This is expressed in Trinidad and Tobago where there are three different laws related to marriage, where in the Muslim and Hindu Acts a distinction is made between contracting marriage and marriage itself and marriages can be contracted for girls from age 12 in one instance and age 14 in the other and the legal age for consent to sexual intercourse outside of marriage is 16 years.

The age of consent to sexual intercourse is 16 years in most Caribbean countries but in Guyana it is stated that the age for consent for girls is 13 years. These inconsistencies in the age of consent for sexual intercourse or marriage are based on religious precepts and they are particularly prejudicial to the development of girls.

Such anomalies are inconsistent with all of the developments that have occurred in our society in relation to the elimination of inequities in relation to females in the society and our accession to the Convention on the Rights of Children.

• It is clear that where the separation of state and religion is not maintained it can lead to violations of human rights, particularly of women and children, that most people and their governments accept today. It also appears to lead to strife between religious groups, particularly when the differences are also allied to ethnic groups, as they vie for what they see as their rightful place in the apparatus of the state.

Thus one cannot ignore what appears to go on in theocratic states, where women are still sentenced to death by stoning for adultery but there is no culpability for the man involved; where children can be forced into marriages before they can reach their full potential at school or even physical maturity; and where the religious law of ‘an eye for an eye’ remains.

• There are many of faith who would accept that sinners such as homosexuals, adulterers and prostitutes can be redeemed by becoming abstinent. Ignoring the oxymoron as it applies to prostitutes, abstinence is indeed very safe sexual conduct from the point of view of the risk of acquiring HIV.

However, it is conduct that is unlikely to be heeded by those most at risk for HIV transmission, namely the young adult. Indeed, it is clear that a number of those who have taken religious vows to be celibate/abstinent have not found it possible to adhere to those vows and have unfortunately broken those vows by preying on the most vulnerable, the children in their charge.

• Communities have responded by and large to the choices offered of no sexual activity or unsafe sexual activity by choosing unsafe sex. There is therefore a need to break the barriers that have been set up and offer the third choice of safer sex. Safer sex is inherent in the Christian and other religion’s advocacy of sex within the confines of marriage, however, the point of safety relates to sex with one faithful partner and not necessarily the vows or contract of marriage.

This relationship of faithfulness is one that many male homosexuals have adopted in protecting themselves from HIV, and this message and approach has been most successful in countries such as Western Europe and North America where buggery/sodomy is no longer a criminal offence per se and men can be open about their relationships.

• In those communities where safer sex has been a realistic and genuine choice, it has been generally, though not exclusively, been chosen over no sex at all or unsafe sex. Although other factors such as higher incomes contribute, it is salutary to note that in those countries where the laws of sodomy have been repealed that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is at its lowest in the country as a whole as well as among homosexuals. This is in spite of them being the group as highest risk at the beginning of the epidemic in those countries.

• This favourable change is a result of the ability of the homosexuals to empower themselves to take actions that reduce the spread of HIV among themselves and to fight for equal access to care and other services in their mostly affluent communities. In less affluent communities where homosexuals are under threat by the law as well as the marked stigma, the prevalence of HIV among them has remained high.

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