“People’s lives and mental health are being destroyed by pastors who do not understand,” says the Rev. Sean Major-Campbell, a Jamaican priest and LGBTI rights supporter, in an interview with author/social advocate Juleus Ghunta.
Brain before Bible
By Juleus Ghunta
Jamaica’s powerful Christian lobby is bent on organising the democracy around their religion.
Public opposition to Christian customs is often seen as sacrilege. Despite strong condemnation from fundamentalists, one intrepid churchman, The Reverend Sean Major–Campbell, washes the feet of gays, and in parliament, urges the government to ignore religion in crafting laws.
Unlike most Christian apologists whose social activism is aimed largely at issues concerning sexuality, his work covers a wide range of issues, from crime, to corruption, to climate change, to Cartesian skepticism. At his Christ Church office in Vineyard Town, we discussed Christian fundamentalism, religious trauma and homophobia.
Reverend Sean Major-Campbell is the rural dean of Kingston [the Anglican priest who presides over gatherings of Kingston area parishes], justice of the peace, a human rights advocate and rector of Christ Church in Vineyard Town, Kingston. He earned a BA in Theology from the University of the West Indies, Mona and an MA in Psychology and Counseling from St. Stephen’s College.
Juleus Ghunta: The most developed countries in the world
are also the most secular. Is there a correlation between widespread religiosity and secularism and levels of socio-economic/human development and egalitarianism? And what does this say about the prominence and influence of Christian fundamentalism in Jamaica?
Sean Major-Campbell: A good question. I have made that observation
myself. It seems evident that a secular government is better for a pluralistic society. In such a society the democratic political theory prevails as opposed to a theocratic perspective. It is only under a democratic political process that everyone will be respected and protected. If it is a theocracy, any of the religious groups will try to be
in the superior position as we see in American right-wing politics. It is about ‘my position’ versus recognising an equal place for everybody’s perspective.
Christian fundamentalism is harmful. Take for instance the sexual and
reproductive health rights of women. They do not believe that you should
have any kind of system that facilitates informed discussions with women who are thinking of having abortions. The way forward is to be open, to have conversations, professional counselling. Their focus is not on systemic corruption or the alleviation of poverty, many of the things that oppressed people are concerned about. Instead their focus is to dictate their form of Christianity that actually serves unjust politics.
What we need for Jamaica to achieve its development goals is for the political leaders to lead. When the Jamaican government in the ’70s saw the need to declare that children should not be discriminated against based on whether or not they were born in or out of wedlock, they stopped it. When they were taking that decision they didn’t quarrel with the church. They simply made the decision. That’s leadership.
They are playing politics with the buggery law for instance. Last year I wrote an article titled Referenda a crutch for weak leadership. I noted that putting the buggery law to a referendum is nonsense. People should not be required to vote on human rights issues. We should simply do what is right.
Juleus Ghunta: I find that Christianity as it is practised here is harmful in many ways but especially because it is largely anti–intellectual. It fosters a kind of incuriosity that is antithetical to personal growth/development, particularly in communities where the pious poor really need to question their beliefs/thinking as well as to re–imagine their place in THIS world.
Sean Major-Campbell: Anybody can be a pastor in Jamaica. All you have to say is that God called you. I could not put up a sign outside and say I’m a lawyer or physician because the Holy Spirit has called me. But without even entry-level qualifications, I could put up a sign that says ‘minister of religion’ and people would come to me. We are talking
about people who appoint themselves to positions of authority.
We need some kind of regulation that protects people because this is harmful, sometimes fatal. People’s lives and mental health are being destroyed by pastors who do not understand sociology or best practices in relation to psychology and human sexuality, who are using Bible verses to condemn and counsel people. The crass fundamentalism within Christianity is a contributory factor to Jamaica’s underdevelopment and weak nation-building.
Sean Major-Campbell: There is value to what he is saying. Many Christians believe that it is best to suspend reason if they don’t have an answer to a question. You see a lot of that in our cultural narratives, for example when someone says ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ For many people their knowledge of human sensuality begins and ends with that statement. There is so much to be understood about the biological sex, the continuum of sexual expression, gender identity and diversity.
I take issue with Dawkins’ statement if the intention is just to stereotype Christians. It is important to note that the tradition of religious faith is not the scientific method. It is not familiar with a lot of things that science has brought to the fore. We should regard what science brings to us. But skeptics should recognise that because the demographic of those who follow religion is such a large one we can’t rubbish it. We have
to have conversations with it.
Juleus Ghunta: I wonder what conversations religious people are having about Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS). Millions of people suffer from RTS. I’d like to know what you think of the view that religion is a form of child abuse.
Sean Major-Campbell: It is easy to see how certain elements of religion may be tantamount to not just child abuse but even a crime against humanity. We have many children, many young people who are regurgitating the harmful messages that they have taught. I studied psychology and counselling at the postgraduate level and I meet many young people who carry tremendous guilt because of masturbation. They have been taught that this is a sin, it is dirty — all that nonsense.
People are socialised to fear the pursuit of knowledge. The Bible is a substitute for their brain. We were given the brain before the Bible. It is one thing to hold a theological and moral perspective that is different from others. It is another thing to be saying if your position is different from mine then you ought to be criminalised.
Juleus Ghunta: I have—as a straight man—experienced years of homophobic aggression including having been forced into early sexual activities to prove my ‘straightness’. The negative effects of this still affect me today. How do you respond to those who say the Bible clearly condemns homosexual acts?
Sean Major-Campbell: The Bible clearly says you shouldn’t shave your face. The Bible clearly says you shouldn’t wear a piece of garment with different fabrics. You will find all of this and the condemnation of homosexuality in the same chapter in Leviticus. It is very important to note that the Bible did not know what we now understand about human sexuality. In the Bible, epilepsy was demon possession. We now know that this is a diagnosable ailment which is treatable. The Bible is not a monolithic text. It has many contradictions, different cultures, perspectives and writers who wrote with their biases. A lot of the texts that are used against homosexuality are about violence, not what in 2017 people are asking for, which is recognition of their right to love and marry who they want.
Juleus Ghunta is a poet, social advocate and recipient of a Chevening Scholarship. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Twice shortlisted for the Small Axe Poetry Prize, his poetry on abuse and trauma has appeared in several journals, including The Missing Slate, Spillway, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and Interviewing the Caribbean and has been anthologised in Cordite 81: New Caribbean Writing and In This Breadfruit Kingdom. His picture book, Tata and the Big Bad Bull, will be published by CaribbeanReads in 2018. He received Jamaica’s Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence for youth advocacy.
- Be brave, Anglicans; oppose Jamaica’s anti-gay law (November 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaican priest: I love and respect LGBT people, sex workers (June 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaica: ‘Human rights … should never be put to a vote’ (March 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Lawyers, activists target anti-LGBT bias in Caribbean (September 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaican priest calls for LGBT tolerance, understanding
- Jamaica: Inching towards legal equality (August 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Jamaican Christmas cheer for homeless LGBT youths
- Archive of this blog’s articles about the Anglican Communion.
- Archive of this blog’s articles about Jamaica.