Equality referendum and religious leaders

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April 20, 2016

In a rare and hope-filled moment in public life, several religious leaders convened a press conference on Tuesday to announce their support for the four questions in the upcoming equality referendum. The conference was held at the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan offices.

The leaders included Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder, Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd, Bishop Neil Ellis of Global United Fellowship, Bishop Franklyn Ferguson of the Church of God of Prophecy, Pastor Ed Dorsett of East Street Gospel Chapel, Reverend Derrick Browne of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) and Reverend Dr. William Thompson.

The denominational and theologically diverse group, which has differences on a number of moral issues, issued a clarion call for equality and justice. Their role in the national dialogue on the referendum will be pivotal.

In order to educate and form the consciences of their congregants, the various leaders may consider issuing pastoral statements on the referendum. That they are men supporting the referendum makes an enormous difference. They should preach with clarity and conviction why the questions before the public are matters of basic justice and equality.

These church leaders have the ability to influence many thousands in a referendum vote in which many may not vote out of apathy or oppose the questions as payback to the PLP for a number of reasons. They made clear their individual and collective judgment that question four is not a prelude to same-sex marriage, in contrast to a group of ministers who, despite assurances from most legal experts, see the phantom of gay marriage in that question.

The Tuesday press conference dealt an intellectual and ethical blow to the disingenuous arguments of those ministers opposing question four on specious grounds.

This group includes: Pastor Mario Moxey of Bahamas Harvest Church, Pastor Lyall Bethel of Grace Community Church, Rev. Alfred Stewart of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and talk show host Kevin "Minister K" Harris. Among this group were those who, in a display of inhospitality and with hate-filled rhetoric, protested gay and lesbian cruise ship passengers.

The ministers opposing question four are among the usual suspects of homophobes who have spent much of their pastoral careers pursuing an anti-gay agenda. They have used bizarre arguments and pseudo-science in an unloving assault on gays and lesbians.

While other serious-minded church leaders, who oppose same-sex marriage, do not see question four as allowing for such marriage, the homophobic ministers are still pursuing one of their favorite causes: fearmongering about gays and lesbians. Their opposition to question four says more about their narrow mindset and agenda. Thankfully, they do support the other three questions, while some other deeply sexist and misogynistic church leaders oppose all of the questions.

The opposition of these ministers is profoundly unchristian, undemocratic and stunningly hypocritical. Some of the very people protected in the constitution in terms of freedom of assembly and creed are happy for the constitution to still discriminate against fellow-citizens.

It is bewildering and sad the depth to which opposition to the four questions in the upcoming equality referendum is ethically and intellectually wrongheaded and steeped in ancient prejudices masquerading as moral arguments. The prejudices are those of entrenched sexism, hatred of gays and lesbians and the fear of foreigners and narrow nationalism. Opposition is ruled by fear and not governed by hope.

Much of the opposition to one or more of the questions comes from religious leaders with a fundamentalist worldview more steeped in the rigid mindset and text-proofing of the Hebrew Scriptures rather than the love exemplified by Jesus in the Gospels.

In an opinion piece in these pages Pastor Cedric Moss, who appears to be a man of goodwill, made an odd, illogical and intellectually problematic argument about the upcoming referendum.

Moss wrote: "Therefore, despite the constitutional differences between Bahamian men and women in their ability to pass citizenship to their children and foreign spouses under particular circumstances, Bahamian men and women in and of themselves are equal.

"The real question being directly addressed by bills one, two and three is not one of gender equality but rather the passing of citizenship. Yes, the constitution in some circumstances affords different citizenship passing advantages to Bahamian men and women, but these advantages do not in any way break the God-given equality that Bahamian men and women possess."

He stated: "The Bahamas would be best served with an honest debate on citizenship, not a debate dishonestly framed in terms of gender equality."

Moss has created a false dichotomy. Yes men and women are created equally by God. But throughout most of history women have been treated unequally. The referendum is about both equality and citizenship. It is about removing residual traces of sexism and misogyny.

The inability of certain individuals to automatically pass on their citizenship to certain children is about a fundamental right others enjoy. It is about advancing equality, of which the ability to pass on one's citizenship is another right to be enjoyed.

The fight of the suffragettes for the right to vote was about equality, helping to ensure another right for women. It was not simply about the right to vote.

The struggle for majority rule and the civil rights movement in the United States were not simply about full citizenship. They were struggles against vicious and entrenched racism. The upcoming referendum is about dismantling inequality against certain individuals and not simply about passing on citizenship.

Moss also wrote: "It is important to remember that when our constitution was written more than 43 years ago, there was no public outcry against these citizenship passing disparities.

"Actually, some who are now speaking loudly in the dishonest gender equality debate were fully aware of these disparities back then, but they said nothing. That's because the disparities written into our constitution reflect how such citizenship issues were typically handled back then. And it had nothing to do with women being inferior to men. Therefore, it is insulting to accuse the framers of the constitution of not believing in the equality of men and women."

Moss may wish to more accurately reflect the historical record. At the Constitutional Conference in London in 1972 the FNM argued for gender equality in terms of citizenship while the PLP opposed the FNM's position. It is not insulting to say that many of the men who sat at the Constitutional Conference got it wrong because they were mired in the sexist and misogynistic thinking of the time. Of note, many of these married men guaranteed a certain constitutional right for themselves that they did not pass on to certain women and men.

And just because there was no public outcry is irrelevant. The public got the equality vote wrong in 2002. History is filled with examples of majorities supporting inequality, racism, sexism and, today, homophobia. In the face of such majority prejudice there have been creative minorities advancing the work of social justice and equality.

Notably, Moss also opposes question four because of his belief that it will permit same-sex marriage.  He blasts: "In my view, bill four is a blatant and deceptive attempt by Prime Minister Perry Christie and his government to set the stage for same-sex marriage in The Bahamas to be imposed by the Privy Council."

Does he believe that fellow church leaders are being duped and are a party to the government's supposed deception? He claims that some of the debate on the referendum is dishonest. Is he suggesting that others who disagree with this position are being purposefully dishonest? One wonders exactly who is being disingenuous while seemingly claiming moral superiority.

Given the intolerance, ignorance and fear that have been sown by many, including a number of religious leaders, the cry for justice by many religious leaders is the quality of hope which might manifest itself in a victory for equality and fairness.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian

News date : 04/20/2016    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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