Commentary: Revisiting homosexuality in the Caribbean

 

Caribbean News Now

23/01/2014

 

By Dr Isaac Newton

Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues

 

 Several years ago, I wrote an article that reviewed homosexuality in the Caribbean. This social and ethically disruptive issue maintains more paradoxes than robust fortitude in ecclesial and political contexts about core principles, held sacred and unquestionable.

 

In holding the sexual fabric of our society together, ‘Caribbeaners’ ought to be on double duty. The church needs to exercise faith to support efforts that protect human rights in the face of vulgar skepticism. And the state has to show courage to remove obvious threats to individual freedom despite strong religious resistance. Both faith and courage flows from each other in ways that neither the church nor the state can be indifferent to each other’s distinct functions.

 

 Caribbean governments struggle immensely to balance changing global attitudes and laws in relation to homosexuality. These attitudes and laws appear frozen. But rapidly changing island values and traditions are slowly defrosting them. This important struggle cannot simply be resolved by mere appeals to the Bible or ready acceptance of prejudicial laws against homosexual behaviors and choices.

 

 In fact, most Caribbean politicians are afraid of voter backlash, therefore they timidly adopt a safe stance. While the Bible informs a majority of our society’s sexual choices and condemns various forms of sexual perversions, laws should regulate our actions in the public square.

 

 Both the church and the state influence each other on what constitutes moral norms. But the state is not the church. The state cannot decide theological issues nor can the church determine laws. There are times when Christian virtues come in conflict with state interests and there are times when the state must push back against the worst elements of theological hypocrisy infused into our culture by religious fervor.

 

 The state and the church need each other to promote redeemed social conditions. The church doesn’t have the luxury to declare the shine of public life off limits or that there are different spiritual expectations for the church and another for the state. Equally, it is practically perilous for the state to ignore bigoted religious practices and beliefs that violate fundamental rights.

 

 But I should also acknowledge that the church has its own sexual challenges. If our body is sacred and if sexual intimacy illustrates a redemptive bond between God and humanity, the church has not yet found the language to address the full range of sexual identities that is becoming an irreversible part of the Caribbean moral landscape and erotic needs.

 

 Secondly, the church cannot condemn sexual sins and at the same time alienate the sinner or else it opens the floodgates to anarchy. Whereas the approval of God must always trump popular opinion and customs, the church’s spiritual resources ought to bring out the meaning of Christianity for different sexual expressions.

 

 I agree that the Caribbean church should defend its theology of heterosexual norm on moral grounds with empathy and caring. It cannot simply assert Christ-like ideals without critically analyzing how best in today’s circumstances it should emulate the love that Jesus himself embodied, especially to persons seen as outcast.

 

 But the state should equally resist the criminalization of homosexuality on the principles of democracy. The state cannot eat its cake and have it. It must defend homosexual rights to live freely in society without harassment by providing the legal muscle to enforce those rights.

 

 And at the same time, the Caribbean church must do a better job at addressing its prejudices. These biases fail to be just and coherent. There is a tendency to fiercely reject homosexual lifestyle while being more tolerant of heterosexuals’ perversions.

 

 Yet I do not want to discount the moral decencies that the church has preserved in the Caribbean regarding our sexual restraints. Unavoidably, the church should contribute more to the challenge of homosexuality than it is currently doing. Caribbean lawmakers should be prepared to come down on the side of justice for all in trying to address more directly homosexual reality.

 

 As the Caribbean continues to untie the knot of homosexuality in our midst, tensions will emerge. But the ethical reconstruction of Caribbean sexual identity within the context of a thriving democracy cannot be viewed as empty. A sexual ethic is needed to keep social life from deteriorating while the struggle continues. This ethical stance should also serve as a tool for persons to affirm their sexual identities and as a device to protect minority freedoms without offsetting majority claims. It is roundly unjust for some Caribbean politicians to advance human rights and ignore the legal and social barriers to enforce these rights.

 

 Differences in moral outlook must be accepted as a fact although not as a guiding moral standard. I believe that the laws of equality and freedom (to which homosexuals are entitled) are best adhered to, when spiritual principles of agape love and neighborly responsibility inform how citizens enact them.

 

 There are at least three vital questions that we have to wrestle with and settle over time, if the Caribbean is to continue its social development and progressive thinking:

 

 These are:

• Can Caribbean homosexuals turn to the state for protection or to the church for sexual acceptance? If yes, what forms of protection and acceptance?

 

• How can homosexuals begin to influence the state apparatus and recruit conscientious citizens to support alternative sexual preferences?

 

• Even if sexual urges are socially constructed and sexual passions are flexible and fluid, is there a political philosophy and ethical position—given our culture and local traditions — that should be employed to stop sexual identifies from being demonized in the Caribbean?

 

 Below is the entire text on Homosexuality in the Caribbean that initially sparked my quest to inspire effective engagement with Caribbean sexuality. The implications are complex. They point to how we might in dialogue and action, transform the Caribbean’s sexual identity in applying profound idealism to today’s morality.

 

“Professor Claude Douglas’ new book: ‘Homosexuality in the Caribbean-Crawling out of the Closet,’ is simultaneously a sociological analysis and an erudite commentary on sexuality as a critical function of human identity. His terrible burden comes as a priceless gift. He discusses a taboo issue: the maneuvers of homosexuality within the English speaking Caribbean….continues

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