Sin Or No Sin – Church’s View
Nation, October 17, 2004
P.O. Box 1203, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I.
Tel: 246-430-5400 Fax:
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
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:  ‘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
• 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
‘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
• 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
• 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
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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