COLUMN-The gay debate
Just as Winnie astutely predicted last week, I too am sensing that homosexuality is likely to be a hot issue in Barbados’ next general election campaign. Certain signs were quite evident this past week. For those who may not know, Winnie is the lady with an unmistakable Jamaican accent who is a regular on local talk radio.
Since defending the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s record will be a challenge for even the most persuasive communicator, using homosexuality as a wedge issue against the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) is a tempting proposition. While the BLP is seen, to some extent, as gay-friendly, the DLP has sought in recent years to position itself as a defender of moral values.
Given the strong views against homosexuality, all the Dems have to do to whip Barbadians up in a frenzy is play on their innate fears by suggesting that voting for the BLP would expose Barbados to divine wrath. By diverting attention from their record through making homosexuality the issue, the Dems could scrape home again.
They won the last election using a similar strategy. They made Owen Arthur the campaign issue, portraying him as a bigger worry for Barbadians than a deteriorating economy. For sure, a hardline, anti-gay stance by the DLP would receive enthusiastic support from those evangelical Christians who have been part of the DLP’s winning coalition since 2008.
Gays and lesbians have always been with us. Some have held positions of great influence. Many have contributed significantly in various ways to national development. Barbados also has long been associated with homosexuality by its Caribbean neighbours. Barbadians who travel the region can tell many stories of being teased about not bending down in St James.
The demonization of homosexuality largely stems from biblical interpretation, notably the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Contrary to common belief, the destruction of both cities was not punishment for homosexuality but for breaching two cardinal rules of the ancient world: not being hospitable to visitors –– in this case, the angels who were Lot’s guests; and for social injustice –– abusing the poor and powerless instead of helping them.
By the way, the fire and brimstone that rained on Sodom and Gomorrah most likely came from a volcanic eruption. The ancient Jews who gave us The Bible believed that God exacted punishment on wayward humans through the violence of nature. Anyone who attends a reputable theological institution like Codrington College is sensitized to the danger of interpreting Scripture without understanding the context influencing what was written.
Homosexuality was widely accepted in the nations surrounding the ancient Jews. It was so too in Greece and Rome. Homosexuality, as defined today, would not be understood the same way by people in biblical times. Noting the word “homosexuality” was first used in the late 19th century, renowned scholar Michael Coogan contends: “We should speak more properly of homoeroticism, in the sense of same-sex sexual relationships, rather than impose our contemporary understanding on ancient texts.”
Coogan’s eye-opening book God And Sex is a must-read for anyone looking for a dispassionate discussion of the subject. Jewish opposition to “homoeroticism”, reflected in the Old Testament, is easily understood on two grounds. Firstly, the Jews saw themselves as a nation called by God to be an example to the world. To fulfil this mission, they obviously had to be different from other nations.
Secondly, the ancient Jews believed that sex was solely for the purpose of procreation –– which plausibly explains the Leviticus edict that “a man should not lie with a man as he would with a woman”.
Interestingly, the modern Jewish state of Israel is most progressive on gay rights. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is illegal. Same-sex unions are recognized and homosexuals can serve openly in the military. Clearly, modern Israel has repudiated the Old Testament stance on homosexuality to which most Christians firmly cling. Interestingly, the New Testament does not attribute a position on the issue to Jesus Christ. Perhaps, the Gospel writers did not consider it sufficiently important.
However, Jesus’ position on adultery and other issues, and his emphasis on the practice of love and compassion, give some insight on a possible stance. Just as he lovingly told the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” he most likely would have said the same to a homosexual facing a similar fate back then.
Whether Jesus would see homosexuality as sin if he were physically with us today is debatable. Homosexuality is not exclusive to humans. It also exists in the animal kingdom, which suggests the cause may be genetic.
Just this past week, Britain’s Mirror newspaper told the story of Benjy, a gay bull condemned to the slaughterhouse for not siring heifers to produce offspring. The owner said Benjy was only interested in other bulls.
Studying theology has taught me to be open-minded about religion and life in general. Open-mindedness provides an avenue for encounter with God that can yield new enlightenment. Indeed, human understanding of God keeps evolving. Humans are mere finite beings trying to comprehend the mystery of an infinite God whose totality eludes us.
As Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, I find rabbis often provide valuable food for thought such as these insightful observations of Jeffrey Kamins.
“. . . In today’s world, the way belief in God manifests, the way religion often but not necessarily works, is to be a force of fear and destruction. How can we break the connection between God and fear, God and punishment, God and destruction, and thus liberate both God and humanity in the 21st century?”
He continued: “It is to realize that what makes God so fearful, punishing and destructive is not God, but all the words that have been written about God that we call Scripture . . . . It is to understand that all religion is a human construct, that our stories are merely that, stories our ancestors wrote in their attempt to connect to God and to draw down God consciousness.”
Rabbi Kamins, who posited that “a belief in the oneness of all that is should lead to good and right action”, was speaking on the topic God In The 21st Century in Australia three years ago. Made in the image of God, homosexuals too belong to that universal “oneness”.
(Reudon Eversley is a Canadian-trained political strategist, strategic communications specialist and journalist. Email email@example.com)