Opposing Criminal Sanctions that Dehumanise and Victimise LGBT People

The Primates commitment to ending laws that criminalise LGBT people was given a boost at the launch of the book Intimate Conviction – a collection of speeches and presentations to the Anglicans for Decriminalisation conference held in Jamaica in October 2017.

The conference created a huge stir in the Caribbean with Archbishop John Holder – the then Archbishop of the West Indies – saying loud and clear that the anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica and all other discriminatory laws in the region were unacceptable from a Biblical Christian perspective. His talk to the conference is the highlight of the book and it was widely praised by all the contributors for its scholarship and reason.

Archbishop Holder was supported by the Bishop of Jamaica, but he faced a hostile reception from conservative evangelicals and others, both at the conference and on local radio stations. Human rights lawyer Maurice Tomlinson and Jamaican priest Fr Sean Major-Campbell who co-hosted the event, told us that the media coverage ensured that ‘the dialogue extended well beyond the conference hall and into the living rooms of ordinary Jamaicans’.

The bravery of the Archbishop combined with his careful scholarship was heralded by all the speakers at the book launch as a potential turning point in the region and a model for the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was also praised for his words in support of LGBT people at the 2016 Primates Meeting, but speakers asked if there could be further evidence of supporting the right of LGBT people to live without fear of criminal action for adult consenting relationships. Fine words need to be cemented with further action by Primates, especially those who live in nations where LGBT people are criminalised.

One example of this came from guest speaker Jason Jones. He has pressed through death threats to challenge through legal process unjust laws in his nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It was religious groups who threatened his life, especially ‘Islamist’ groups. He also faces a back lash from fundamentalist Christians, with evangelical pastors flying in from the USA and Brazil to urge the reinstatement of laws aimed at prosecuting women and men for holding hands in public. He needs the support of the Anglican Communion as attempts are made to reverse the decision of the courts to reintroduce legislation that goes against Anglican commitments over decades.

The complexity and evil of colonialism is an ever present part of the story. The pernicious laws were part of the British legacy. One of the speakers read the words of the current UK Prime Minister Theresa May to the Commonwealth Conference where she repented of that past and urged change upon independent nations. Some like to portray such endeavours as new colonialism, but ignore the reality that well funded ‘conservative’ groups in the West are whipping up support for oppressive laws.

Change has to come from within and Archbishop Holder’s intervention is a sign of hope and example to all. The Anglican Communion has repeatedly committed itself to ending the victimisation and diminishment of any person due to their sexuality. Archbishop Holder shows what can be done to create a culture where the voices of LGBT people can be heard.

The book is available as a download here

Note: Communiqué of the 2016 Primates Meeting

‘The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.’