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Don't give up on the church, pastor tells gays

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor -- special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 29, 2014    

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MINISTER of the Hope United Church in Kingston, Rev Margaret Fowler has asked the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community not to give up on the church, which she said has been selective about those to whom they give pastoral care.

"I want to just encourage you not to give up on the church. Not to give up on us because some of us are there on the front-line with you," Fowler said

According to Rev Fowler, there is the idea within the church that everybody who has a different view is the enemy. "Sometimes ministers are very selective about those they see for counselling and if you don't like what you hear you just send them to someone else," Rev Fowler said.

Rev Fowler, who was speaking at the recent Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) hosted Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium in Kingston, said the church should not be caught up in some of the technical issues.

Unlike Jesus who urge persons to come as they are, Rev Fowler said the modern day church does not allow people to come as they are because of the limitations that they have placed on them.

"We have to educate our own church community that we must be open to people. It is not easy to create that kind of space when you have a set of people who only want forgiveness for church people, so anyone outside the realm of the faith you have to join the line, you have to change your ways before you can receive forgiveness. But Jesus didn't say that, He simply said that those who are without sin cast the first stone and all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory."

According to Rev Fowler, the church is operating in a Jamaica which wants to focus on the great British empire of yesterday.

"The church is still ministering in a modern-day Jamaica of the new empire but we are still working with old empire values, hence we have a clash of cultures," she argued.

She claimed that the church has not always taken the right path and has created mayhem in many places.

"The church has tried on several occasions to work with vulnerable groups but some think we have not done a good job because all we want the vulnerable group to do is to change and to conform and to come and be like us, gentle Jesus meek and mild," she said.

However, there are those in the church, she said, who have taken the struggle and have gone on the edge and on the margin and have tried to look at things in a slightly different way, she said.

According to Rev Fowler, throughout history the church has not been good at discussing sexuality in any way, shape or form.

"You need to understand that and forgive us as a church, as it is something we like to hide and we don't want to put it out there to talk about it," she said.

The debate about sexual orientation, she said, can be looked at from two angles -- that of the theological biblical angle "where I would come and preach and speak on various Bible text sor we can simply exercise our pastoral duty as Christians and as ministers and there are brothers and sisters out there and the gay community and non-gay community and a variety of communities that need the pastoral approach and commitment of the church".

Father Sean Major-Campbell, priest in charge of Christ Church Vineyard Town, said he not only agrees with Rev Fowler but believes the church needs to stop limiting itself to the Old Testament stories.

According to Major-Campbell, it is the cultural narrative which often informs our views and not evidence-based position such as what new research is suggesting.

"I believe there are many persons who generally have limited themselves to the Old Testament stories and interpretations and narratives which really does not help, because much of what we read for example the Levitical tradition does not necessarily apply to our context. I believe that we also need to try more to operate from a position of compassion, a position of human rights, a position of respect for all," he told the Jamaica Observer.

The easier thing to do, according to Father Major-Campbell, is to quote some Bible verses and not do the hard work which is to think and use our brains.

"We were given our brains first before we were given the Bible and to engage more the reality of people's experiences on the ground. How do people understand themselves, recognising that the Bible is neither a medical book nor a science book and many of the things we need to do to understand more about human life and living and reality is to engage the various disciplines and hear what they have to say," he said.

And given that his views on homosexuality are different from those of several other church leaders, Father Major-Campbell said he remained patient with those who have not yet come to that position of deeper understanding and deeper appreciation of the broader human family.

"Certainly our human community is not made up of heterosexuals alone or one particular race or one particular colour or one particular nationality or one particular sexuality; the human family is much bigger than we often are prepared to deal with," he insisted.

Meanwhile, Pastor Donald Stewart of the Portmore Lane Covenant Community Church questioned where the church should draw the line if it is to be totally inclusive without any restrictions. He questioned if the church is supposed to have no limitation, should it consent to marrying blood siblings. "Where do you draw the line: are you to marry everyone that comes or is there to be some principle?" he questioned.

Pointing to Bible scripture quoted by Rev Fowler, Pastor Stewart said although Jesus said whosoever has no sin let him cast the first stone He also said in the same passage: Woman, go out and sin no more.

But Rev Fowler in dismissing that argument said Jamaica is a long way from having same sex marriages and so this is not something she is concerned about.

"I am more concerned about the young men in the gully in New Kingston at this time. There are a whole lot of people sinning within our church communities which we need to root out and so we have to take the stick out of our own eye before we go to somebody else," she said.

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