Please Stop Throwing Your Bible at Me

Jamaica is not a Christian country. I know people think that the Church is the biggest baddest body on the island, but even though roughly 70% of Jamaicans claim allegiance to Christ, that still leaves at least 30% of us who are Buddhist, Muslim, atheistic and non-religious. To call us “Christian” is mean and cliquish.

If we’re being technical, Christianity isn’t even our religion. Thrust upon us by Spanish/Italian conquistadors and reinforced by centuries of post-colonial fear-mongering, we are clinging to our borrowed robes because now they’re the only robes we know. Before Europe’s God, we were polytheists and spiritualists who were deeply rooted in nature. I’m not complaining that that part of history and herstory is over because religion has to change shape with society. But it does not change the shape of society.

Society is the vessel; religion, merely the contents.

Religion becomes what society needs it to be in order to survive: a guidebook for communal life, an excuse for slavery, the opiate of the masses. When religion stagnantly opposes societal progress, it has lost its most basic function. Its purpose is not to stand in the way of our laws or dictate what we should be teaching our children. We have moved beyond that kind of empirical sovereignty, a realization our churches cannot or will not seem to grasp.

Because religions are largely dedicated to remaining the dominant power. An attack on the “morals of our country” is nothing more than an attack on the influence of Christian values, and Christian leaders are afraid that they will lose the clout they’ve scraped together through years of fire-and-brimstone indoctrination and self-soothing promises of a better life in the hereafter. The “homo agenda” has become the catch-all for rapes, murders, corruption and everything else that is wrong with our country because it is a threat to their control.

(If the church was genuinely concerned about the “moral temperature” of Jamaica, they’d be organizing 25,000 strong rallies to protest the 10,000 cases of child abuse that were reported just last year. But child abuse, unlike sexuality, drives people toward prayer, not to question Christian dogma).

I have no bone to pick with the tenets of any one religion (including Christianity) but the way most followers choose to carry out the principles of their faith leaves much to be desired. But I get a little upset when people quote Scripture first and ask questions later. Because our culture of pointing fingers and guns and Bibles will never solve our problems, but for some reason we haven’t realized that yet.

For us to get anywhere as a people, as a society, we need to have open, honest dialogue about the real evils (poverty, lack of education, discrimination) that plague us. Universal evils, not Christian or upper-class or lower-class evils, need to be the enemy we rally against or we’ll be playing the blame game for a long, long time.

When you pick up a newspaper and the front page just pisses you off

This article was on the front page of the Gleaner on June 8, 2013:

Senior Rastafarian Says No to Repealing Buggery Law

And I saw red, but not because of the inherent human rights homosexuality debate. That is NOT the only issue at play here. I got angry because no one actually understands the entirety of what they’re opposing.

A while back on my Emergency Medicine clerkship we had to do a workshop on Sexual Assault, which included researching Jamaica’s (ancient) Offences Against the Person Act and the (slightly less ancient) Sexual Offences Act of 2009. When I say ancient, I mean the Act has been around since colonial times – 1864, to be exact – almost 100 years before we gained Independence. It includes among other things, edicts against obstructing a clergyman in the performance of his duties (for which you can be given up to two years hard labour). But I digress.

Sections 76 and 77 of the Offences Against the Person Act speak about the Unnatural Offence of buggery:

Unnatural Offences
76. Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned & kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.

77. Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of my assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be
liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour.

I’m going to assume these sections are speaking strictly about adults (i.e. persons over 18) because there are no references to age.

Sections 44-67 of the Offences Against the Persons Act have been replaced by the Sexual Offences Act of 2009, which defines rape as follows:

3. -(1) A man commits the offence of rape if he has sexual intercourse with a woman­
(a) without the woman’s consent; and
(b) knowing that the woman does not consent to sexual intercourse or recklessly not caring whether the woman consents or not.

Pay special attention to gender designations here. In our constitution it is legally impossible for a man to be raped, either by a woman or by another man. You’d think the anti-buggery groups would be all over fixing this. And the consequences for a man convicted of rape?

6.—( 1) A person who
(a) commits the offence of rape (whether against section 3 or 5) is liable on conviction in a Circuit Court to imprisonment for Iife or such other term as the court considers appropriate, not being less than fifteen years;

What can happen to a man is in fact called grievous sexual assault, and the description is a little more graphic:

4.–(1) A person (hereinafter called “the offender”) commits the Grievous sexual offence of grievous sexual assault upon another (hereinafter called the “victim”) where, in the circumstances specified in subsection (3), the offender­
(a) penetrates the vagina or anus of the victim with­
(i) a body part other than the penis of the offender; or
(ii) an object manipulated by the offender;
(b) causes another person to penetrate the vagina or anus of the victim by­
(i) a body part other than the penis of that other
person; or
(ii) an object manipulated by that other person;
(c) places his penis into the mouth of the victim;
(d) causes another person to place his penis into the mouth of the victim;
(e) places his or her mouth onto the vagina, vulva, penis or anus of the victim; or
(f) causes another person to place his or her mouth onto the vagina, vulva, penis or anus of the victim.

And the penalty for an offender convicted of this?

6.—( 1) A person who
(b) commits the offence of grievous sexual assault is liable-­
(i) on summary conviction in a Resident Magistrate’s Court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years;
(ii) on conviction in a Circuit Court, to imprisonment for life or such other term as the court considers appropriate not being less than fifteen years.

For children under 16, the law is very, very clear: anything of a vaguely sexual nature constitutes an offence. And I do mean anything:

(2) An adult commits an offence where he or she, for a sexual purpose, does any act specified in subsection (3).
(3) The acts referred to in subsection (2) are
a) touching, directly or indirectly, with a part of his or her body or with an object, any part of the body of the child; or
(b) inviting, counselling or inciting a child to touch, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, the body of­
(i) any person, including the body of the adult who so invites, counsels or incites; or
(ii) the child.
(4) For the purposes of this section an act is done for a sexual purpose if a reasonable person would consider that—­
(a) whatever its circumstances or any person’s purpose in relation to it, it is because of its nature sexual; or
(b) because of its nature and because of its circumstances or the purpose of any person in relation to it (or both) it is sexual.

So our youth under 16 are fairly protected. . . under the law.

But what about adolescents in the gap between 16 and 18, where the lines of consent blur and where children (because they’re still children) are so very prone to getting into all kinds of sexual scrapes? This is a legal grey area, and crimes are perpetuated on the over-16-under-18 age group because there is very little the law can do in their defense. On top of that, not many young men are willing to come forward and admit they’ve been victims. They can’t even admit to being victims of rape, when that has been the case.

What do you call it when a 17-year old boy is forcibly sexually assaulted by a 40-year old man?

Why is this crime any less criminal than if the victim were female?

Why should the offender be granted any less time?

Are our boys less valuable than our girls? 

The call for a repeal of the anti-sodomy laws is not just a call-to-arms for homosexual rights activists; it is a necessary revision of ancient codes that are hindering rather than helping legal justice. This issue needs to be addressed, and soon. This is not window dressing; the debates will not be pretty. But we are not helping anyone – least of all our young men – by sweeping this whole discussion under the carpet because Jamaican men simply can’t have the question of sexuality out in the open.

I don’t doubt that the Church has the numbers to ensure that the buggery debate never reaches Parliament, Mr. High-and-Mighty Church Leader, but you need to put your petty war with homosexuals aside. There is much more at stake here than your religious morals. Namely, protecting the innocence of our youth.

Read.Robin stands by her secular moral code and is convinced that the state just needs to tell the church to bugger off.
Click these links to read the entire Offences Against the Person Act and Sexual Offences Act.