The Archbishop of the West Indies has urged the repeal of Jamaica’s sodomy laws, saying there is no Biblical warrant for the criminalization of homosexuality. In the keynote address to the Intimate Conviction Conference in Kingston on 12 Oct 2017 the Most Rev. John Holder, Bishop of Barbados (pictured) said the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis had been read through cultural eyes that were predisposed to disparage same-sex relations.
“My argument is that using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to support the sodomy law has no basis, none whatsoever,” Archbishop Holder told the gathering.
Section 76 of Jamaica’s Offenses Against the Person Act of 1864 imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years of hard labor against anyone who is convicted of “the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal.”
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said before his Jamaica Labor Party won last year’s general election that he would call a referendum on the sodomy law. However, the government has not acted upon the pledge and there are no plans to hold a referendum at this time. Opinion polls in Jamaica indicate, however, that a supermajority of the population support the criminalization of homosexual acts.
In July the Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Island, the Rt. Rev. Howard Gregory told the Jamaica Gleaner he supported the repeal of the buggery laws. “Sexual activity engaged in public spaces is illegal and should continue to be so, whether of an heterosexual or homosexual nature. Beyond that, what happens in privacy between consenting adults should be beyond the purview of the government,” he said.
Archbishop Holder concurred with Bishop Gregory’s view. “As soon as the word homosexuality is mentioned in biblical studies, they want to make a beeline straight to the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Here is one of the favourite hunting grounds for those who want to use the Bible to condemn homosexual behaviour and find support for the retention of the sodomy law.”
On 9 Oct 2017 the Jamaica Gleaner published a letter from the Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham and the Rev. Sean Major-Campbell, Rector of Christ Church in Kingston. Bishop Wilson and Mr Major-Campbell, who both spoke at the conference noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 in the United Kingdom which partially decriminalised some forms of gay sex in England and Wales.
“History has shown that churches play a key role in making, retaining and repealing laws that affect LGBTQI people. While the dominant discourse has been the role of the Church in the retention of anti-buggery laws, there is diversity in the Church community and less is known about the role of the Church in the repeal of such laws.,” Wilson and Major-Campbell wrote.
“In the United Kingdom the Church of England was instrumental in the repeal of the country’s anti-sodomy law. Strident, anti-gay sentiment and certain theological interpretations, however, have proven more resistant to change. While Britain has had decades to change hearts and minds and rally behind its own law, exported anti-sodomy laws continue to cause great harm, including suffering and death, in some Commonwealth countries. In Jamaica the weight of a colonially imposed 1864 law that criminalises same-gender intimacy with up to 10 years’ imprisonment is still felt. Since 2012, those convicted under this archaic law must also register as sex offenders and always carry a pass or face up to 12 months’ imprisonment, plus a J$1-million fine for each offence. These laws not only serve as a licence for horrendous human-rights abuses and anti-gay attacks, including murder, but also foster the stigma, discrimination and fear of disclosure that contribute to the Caribbean’s staggering HIV rate, second only to sub-Saharan Africa.”
The sentiments of the bishop and archbishop do not reflect the views of most West Indian Anglicans, local clergy tell Anglican Ink. While other Christian groups have been sharply critical of their comments. The Anglican Bishop of Belize, the Rt. Rev. Philip Wright, has defended his country’s criminalization of sodomy.
The President of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance, Bishop Alvin Bailey, told The Gleaner the Anglican bishops were “intellectual apostates – persons who are allowed to own their own views on matters but who do not speak for their denominations. They cannot speak for Christianity. They are inauthentic as it relates to biblical references,” he said.
Bishop Bailey also questioned Archbishop Holder’s interpretation of Scripture, calling it irrational. He noted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was not the sole, nor primary text on homosexuality and the whole corpus of Scripture was in agreement that sodomy was a sin.