Buggery law: Government will bow
New church head expects pressure from int’l community, gays on Simpson Miller administration
THE Portia Simpson Miller administration will put the proposed repeal of the Buggery Act to a conscience vote, under pressure from the international gay community and pro-gay foreign governments.
This was the prediction of new president of the umbrella Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) Rev Everald Galbraith in his first major interview since accepting the mantle of JCC head.
"I see the Government willing to go forward on its promise to put the matter to a conscience vote, even if it's not immediate. This is partly driven by the international gay community and governments that have the capacity to influence economic support for the country," said Galbraith, who is also head of the Methodist Church in Jamaica.
Galbraith said in the weekend interview with the Jamaica Observer that the Government would also succumb to the "increasing visibility and pressure from the gay community in the Jamaican society".
During the 2011 political leadership debate, Simpson Miller promised to ask the Parliament to decide by conscience vote on repealing the Buggery Act which outlaws anal sex and has become a flashpoint for gays emboldened by gains in the United States where the Supreme Court has upheld same-sex marriage.
Galbraith said the Christian and Social Witness Commission of the Jamaica Council of Churches — which represents most of the established churches in Jamaica — would meet later this month to decide on a final position on homosexuality and the buggery law. The grouping would then issue an official statement before September 2013.
The church has apparently been treading cautiously on the hot button issue. A position paper on the matter was submitted for approval at the last Annual General Meeting on June 19, 2013, however, the document had to be revisited based on observations made by some members, Galbraith admitted.
But he insisted that, while a quick response was desirable from the church and the JCC, in particular, on certain national issues, such decisions "should not only solve the issues in the short term, but must also have a
far-reaching impact for future resolutions".
"Many persons complain that the church isn't saying anything, but the churches that are a part of the JCC need to deliberate on matters before they speak. Depending on what the issue is, it may require an immediate response from the church... But our position must deal with the issue, not just for now, but for the future," he said.
Galbraith, who was elected president at the June AGM, also acknowledged that the manner in which the JCC came to decisions was sometimes a handicap to the decision-making process which involves often non-functioning commissions which were established to address socio-economic issues that arise in the society. The commissions include Family Life, Youth, Evangelism, Christian and Social Witness.
"Many challenges facing the church and society ideally should not be addressed at executive meetings. These issues are discussed at commissions. The problem is that the commissions don't meet frequently. There is no scheduled meeting time, so they decide when to meet, but the representatives either aren't named or don't attend meetings as they should," Galbraith complained.
"However, I intend to solve this problem by using encouragement, persuasion, and getting the churches to look at the persons they name to the commissions. If we can get the commissions to function as they should we will be on target. This is a challenge facing the JCC right now," he said.
Apart from the homosexuality and buggery law, Rev Galbraith sited several other issues of concern to the JCC and which would get his attention during his tenure. These include the proliferation of gambling, the welfare and well-being of the nation's children, and the Tivoli inquiry, which he fully supports and hopes for adequate compensation for those who suffered in the incursion.
In relation to the protection and well being of the nation's children, the JCC president was worried about the breakdown of family life, a cause of the ills affecting children. He believes that the Government "doing what is possible", but suggested that parents were primarily responsible for the protection of their children.
"Children are vulnerable because of the breakdown of family life. One parent can do it, but family life involves both mother and father. There is a lack of care in the community and people are only concerned about themselves. People don't feel free to scold a child when they are doing wrong and or they don't believe that discipline can also come from non-family members," said Rev Galbraith.
Preliminary data released March 19, 2013 from the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) showed that for the quarter, July to September 2012, some 1,979 reports of child abuse were received by the OCR.
He cautioned Christians against expecting the state to enact laws that would be consistent with the teachings of the church, saying: "The church must remain the watchman who will cry out when we see danger."
Galbraith, who hails from Hanover where he attended the Mount Ward Methodist Church, has lived, studied and served in many theological capacities in several countries including England, the United States, Ireland, Guyana, and other Caribbean islands. He said his experience would serve him well in the new position.
"Jamaica in 2013 will be even more challenging than the Jamaica of 20 years ago. The world has changed significantly and people's attitude to church and religion has also changed. The JCC is concerned that our wastefulness, selfishness, greed, mismanagement, and corruption have plunged this nation into a state of indebtedness that is stifling the life out of our people.
"I appeal to the Government not to exploit the patience and solidarity of the populace, and not to take the people for granted."