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Anglican leader: no biblical basis for sodomy laws*

Rev Dr John Holder, Anglican Archbishop for the West Indies

Rev Dr John Holder, Anglican Archbishop for the West Indies

By Kaelanne Jordan,

There is no biblical basis for the support of the sodomy law by some who use religion as a platform to deny others their individual rights, said Anglican Archbishop for the West Indies, Rev Dr John Holder at the Intimate Conviction Conference, October 12–13, at the UWI Mona Campus, Kingston.

Rev Holder was the keynote speaker at the international conference aimed at examining the church’s role in repealing anti-sodomy laws across the Commonwealth affecting LGBTQI ( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/ Questioning and Intersex). Theological speakers included Adventist, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical and United Churches.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported that Rev Holder explained the use of Sodom and Gomorrah, the main scriptural reference for people opposed to the gay lifestyle, “is fraught with the danger of imposing our convictions and understanding, prejudices, biases, and bigotry about this story when it is not there.”

Citing scripture after scripture in his attempt to explain the Bible’s take on the controversial, and still criminal offence in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, Rev Holder said the Bible has been used as a tool to condemn people of differing sexual orientations and as a tool to retain the laws against same-sex unions 50 years after said law was repealed in England and Wales.

He said, “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.”

Meanwhile the Independent Churches of Jamaica, Jamaica Evangelical Alliance (JEA) and the diocese’s largest denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church has distanced themselves from the Conference citing that its members do not speak on behalf of them.

The Jamaica Observer said that SDA Communication, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director Nigel Coke commented that Dr Keisha McKenzie, who was listed among the “distinguished speakers” may be a member, but “she does not speak on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church globally or locally, and any statement or utterance by her concerning the conference’s theme should not be taken as an official statement or position of the Church”.

Likewise, President of the JEA Bishop Alvin Bailey, told the Gleaner “They are individuals that at best, are 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 continued, “Their aim is the decriminalising of buggery. It is their last bastion of hope to legalise homosexuality, and we will continue dissociating ourselves from them and their stance,” Bailey added.

Responding to questions via email, Maurice Tomlinson, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network confirmed that very few of the interventions by faith-based leaders actually touched on decriminalisation but instead focused on matters such as the biblical definition of sin and the nature of same-gender intimacy.

In spite of this, he said, the plan is to have another conference of this type in another jurisdiction with anti-sodomy laws as “presenters and facilitators all felt that it was important for this dialogue to continue, and to keep reaching out to conservative Christian leaders to join the conversation”.

Tomlinson highlighted that for several years the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the event’s main organiser, has been working with Caribbean partners to remove the barriers to an effective HIV response in the region. The Caribbean has the second-highest HIV prevalence rate after sub-Saharan Africa, and agencies involved in the HIV response, such as PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnerships against HIV/AIDS), have consistently identified anti-sodomy laws as major drivers of the epidemic.

He noted that these British, colonially-imposed statutes “help to drive vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people underground, away from effective HIV interventions”.

He continued, “Research has shown that conservative religious and in particular Christian sentiment are a main reason for the persistence of these laws, despite their partial repeal in Britain over 50 years ago,” he said.