Intimate Conviction Conference opens in Jamaica

Intimate Conviction, the two-day international conference being held to examine the church and anti-sodomy laws across the Commonwealth opens today in Kingston, Jamaica. This conference, Intimate Conviction, is the first of its kind. It will provide an opportunity for a range of church positions to be heard, for global experiences to be shared, and to broaden the religious discourse around the repeal of laws affecting LGBTQI people.

Archbishop John Holder to deliver Keynote Address

The Conference opens today with a keynote address by the Most Rev. Dr. John Holder, Archbishop of the West Indies. Following the Archbishop will be addresses by an Officer in the Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat. His work focuses on the international human rights machinery,  strengthening national institutions, and issues surrounding implementation of human rights standards.

Lord Anthony Gifford Q.C. will the deliver a Special Address. Called to the Bar of England and Wales, he is also a member of the Jamaican Bar. He is a member of the Management Committee of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights.

Four Panel Sessions are programmed for the remainder of the first day, addressing the Anglican Church and Decriminalisation from a Global North and Global South perspective followed by other Churches and Decriminalisation, again divided into Global North and Global South Perspectives.

Jamaica Gleaner letter outlines context of the conference

The Jamaica Gleaner published a letter on Monday by Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham in England and Sean Major-Campbell, Rector of Christ Church, an Anglican church in Kingston, both contributing to the Conference. They noted that 2017 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. Across the Commonwealth though, including in Jamaica, these laws are still on the books and are often defended with religious passion.

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.

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.

Jamaican church groups react to the Conference

The Jamaican Gleaner also published an article under the headline Buggery Backlash noting that two powerful church groups, the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance (JEA) and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica, are distancing themselves from the conference.

Bishop Alvin Bailey, JEA president said that his organisation strictly considers as sinful and unacceptable, sexual practices that are contrary to biblical principles, including the hot-button topic of buggery. Putting distance between the JEA and convenors of the conference, Bailey said that his group "wishes to dissociate itself from any organisation or persons, local or international, that promote or seek to promote the normalisation of deviant sexual behaviour such as homosexuality and buggery".

"The JEA also upholds the law against buggery, as set out in sections 76, 77 and 79 of the Offences Against the Person Act, and is strongly and unequivocally opposed to its alteration or repeal," Bailey stated.

Meanwhile, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is advising its members that although one of the speakers at the conference, Dr Keisha McKenzie, may be an Adventist, she does not speak on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church globally or locally, and that any statement or utterance by her concerning the conference's theme should not be taken as an official statement or position of the church".

"We believe that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman. This was the design established by God at creation. Throughout Scripture, this heterosexual pattern is affirmed. The Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships. For these reasons, Seventh-day Adventists are opposed to homosexual practices and relationships," a release over the signature of Nigel Coke, its communication officer said.

Jamaica Dialogue Intensified

The dialogue in Jamaica was intensified when, in July, Bishop Howard Gregory, head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, made a submission to the parliamentary committee examining the Sexual Offences Act and related laws. Bishop Gregory underscored his personal position in recommending the removal of the offence of buggery from the law books, the widening of the definition of rape, and recognition of marital rape.

The Missionary Church Association of Jamaica recently rebuked one of its members, the Rev Dr Garnett Roper, over his support for the repeal of the buggery provision in the Offences Against the Person Act. Roper and Gregory are the most senior Christian leaders and thinkers in the country who have come out in support of the buggery law repeal. They have said that they do not personally support the act.