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Pope: ‘God made you this way.’ Jamaicans: Let’s debate

Jamaicans on different sides of LGBTI rights debates are grappling with the reported affirmation that Pope Francis gave to a gay man: “God made you this way and he loves you”.

Pope Francis (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Pope Francis (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Archbishop Kenneth Richards, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica, insisted that, even if sexual orientation is not a choice, homosexuality is “a disorder and a same-sex relationship is disordered activity,” the Jamaica Observer reported. The newspaper quoted from its interview with several Jamaican leaders, including Richards:

‘Disordered activity’

Roman Catholic Archbishop Kenneth Richards (Photo courtesy of Nationwide 90FM)
Roman Catholic Archbishop Kenneth Richards (Photo courtesy of Nationwide 90FM)

“Some people want to be defined by their orientation, but in church we have people. I don’t relate to them as heterosexual or homosexual. A man is a man and a woman a woman, and we have to respect that.”

Noting that the statement is a report from a private meeting and not from the Holy Father himself, Archbishop Richards said the conversation on homosexuality has become so political that everyone has to be sure not to offend, but the Catholic Church still subscribes to the principles and teachings of the universal church.

“God was sure in creating the complementarity of the sexes for procreation, and sexual activity is for the purpose of procreation… and we must never confuse His meaning and purpose. Yes, there are people who struggle with the human condition of their particular orientation. It is a disorder and a same-sex relationship is disordered activity,” the archbishop said.

Pressed as to what would be his stance if it is confirmed that Pope Francis indeed made the controversial statement, Richards said that he would not speculate. He added, however, “If a person is known to have the maladaptive behaviour of stealing, does that mean he was born a thief?”

The Observer also quoted from other interviews:

Increasing acceptance of LGBT people as ‘deserving of respect and made in the image of God’

Jaevion Nelson, program and advocacy director for J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays.
Jaevion Nelson, executive director for J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays.

Executive Director of J-FLAG Jaevion Nelson said that the statement attributed to the pope is welcomed.

J-FLAG is a human rights and social justice organisation for LGBT Jamaicans.

“I think this is symbolic of the kind of changes that you see in society where members of the clergy at a higher level express the view that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are created in the image and likeness of God, and I think we are seeing that now where a number of our religious leaders have expressed similar sentiments,” he said.

According to Nelson, the statement does not, however, represent a complete departure from previous ones made by the pope.

“He does have some kind of understanding that LGBT people are deserving of respect and made in the image of God, and so I think it (statement) is welcomed that he would have made such a comment publicly and at such an important time in history.

“I think it will definitely contribute to how people are treated globally. I think the fact that the pope has made such a statement will influence that change in the Catholic Church and might also impact other denominations as well,” he said, adding that this might also have an impact on Jamaica, whether great or small.

‘God’s family would be incomplete without those deemed queer’

Anglican priest the Very Rev. Fr. Sean Major-Campbell, host of the conference, explained that speakers would review the history of criminalization of LGBTIQ people, identify the current position of different Christian groups, analyze anti-LGBT attitudes, and -- he hopes -- propose an international approach to ending the criminalization of LGBTIQ people.
The Very Rev. Sean Major-Campbell, Anglican rector of Christ Church, Vineyard Town, Kingston, Jamaica

Very Reverend Sean Major-Campbell, rural dean of Kingston, told the Observer that he could not readily attribute the statement to the pope, but noted that sexual orientation and gender identity are complex issues on which people continue to get more information in the broad studied areas of gender and sexual diversity.

“In Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, we continue to see the need for more education on this matter of human sexuality, which includes everyone. Increasingly, more individuals and groups are acknowledging that sexual orientation is not something that is necessarily determined as one would make a choice for lunch. This is because sexual orientation is an enduring, emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction for someone of a particular gender. Much of the information about human life and experience today was not available to the ancient world in whose time our various religious texts were born,” he told the Observer in an e-mailed response.

He said that LGBT people have been members of the church and religion for millennia and that they have served at all levels of the church which will continue to know the blessings of their many gifts and talents.

“The statement attributed to the pope interestingly affirms the biblical position that God is impartial. More of us in church should remember that one of the earliest converts to Christianity was a sexual minority — the Ethiopian Eunuch — who was not married; never had a woman; never had children, and would have met with much disdain in our Caribbean church. In accordance with the biblical (New Testament) ethic of impartiality, God’s family would be incomplete without those deemed queer,” Major-Campbell said.

Needing ‘some time to try to understand this’

Reverend Gary Harriott, general secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), did not offer a position, noting that “the debate is ongoing”.

“There is a need for us to spend some time to try to understand this from the various perspectives. So, I do not know at this time whether JCC would say a person is born this way or not. We have not had any such position for me to be able to indicate any kind of direction or view,” Harriott told the Observer.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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