Confronting Jamaica’s hydra of deadly religious homophobia

Research by Jamaica’s most respected university found that religious homophobia is a major reason the country lags the rest of the western hemisphere in recognizing LGBT human rights. A pernicious brand of intolerant theology has infected all levels of Jamaican society, where almost everyone belongs to a conservative church. Similarly, in Ireland, fundamentalist Christian views once dominated public and private life. However, that country is now one of the most progressive in Europe and even elected a gay married prime minister. As a result of Ireland’s dramatic transformation, it has been suggested that Jamaica will soon overcome puritanical bigotry and become a beacon for LGBT human rights the Caribbean. But there is one major difference between Ireland and Jamaica, namely the level of religious organization. Ireland has a monolithic religion, Roman Catholicism, and, when repeated scandals undermined the moral authority of that institution, this created space for human rights to flourish. Jamaica has no shortage of scandal-plagued churches but many of them are independent. So, like a hydra, the loss of one creates room for others to thrive. And thrive they do. Religion is big business in Jamaica, and we are reputed to have the most churches per square mile. Sadly, many of our preachers have little if any theological training. They usually claim that they heard a “word from God” and that is enough justification to spawn a new denomination. Some even rise to the level of bishop with questionable qualifications. Charisma, not competence, is their calling card. So, countless of these self-appointed “men of God” only know how to read the Bible but have little or no ability to interpret it in context. For example, they can pontificate about a literal interpretation of the so-called “clobber passages” but are befuddled by explicit Biblical support for things like slavery and the subjugation of women. And church congregants and our country pay a heavy price for this self-righteous ignorance through spiritual blackmail, pyramid schemes and repeated acts of child sexual abuse.