Love thy neighbour but hate their sin
Recently Prime Minister Andrew Holness made pronouncements about exploring legislation to safeguard against hate speech in Jamaica. As expected, this announcement has provoked the conscience of many, especially civil society and religious leaders. Thus far, most of the discussions surround the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Many people believe that such a move from the Holness Administration seeks to push a certain sexuality agenda, which may finally give more freedom and protection to the LGBT community and later the legalisation of homosexuality in Jamaica. This thought is also framed as a result of contentions that had emerged over the new Samoa Agreement for which Jamaica had delayed signing due to concerns raised by some groups.
It has now been reported that Jamaica has signed the agreement with an interpretive declaration to affirm the primacy of the Jamaican Constitution and laws and how the agreement would function in the Jamaican context.
Understandably, this position of having a law against hate speech does not sit well with the Church community because Jamaica is a so-called Christian country. However, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith sought to assure Jamaicans by stating, “Jamaica is a dualist State, and there is no international agreement which will ever supersede Jamaica’s constitution.”
Another group believes that this intention by Prime Minister Holness is another push at government dictatorship, which will seek to punish people who criticise his Government.
Still, there is much more scope that needs to be given to the prime minister’s contemplation. It must be noted that hate speech is a legal concept that has no consistent and universal definition. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation”.
One can understand the Church’s reluctance to engage any legislation that will promote immorality and go against the teachings of the Bible.
We also must not forget that sodomy is perceived as one of the biggest and nastiest sins that anyone could commit. It is as though this one is irredeemable.
They will tell you that they love their neighbours but hate their sins. I understand this clearly. Ephesians 5:11 declares, “…[H]ave no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” But haven’t we heard many preachers in the pulpit who have profoundly called for the death of homosexuals? Is that considered hate speech? The Church, according to its manual — the Bible — must expose sin and help to lead others to Christ. When Jesus walked Earth He did not associate himself with the righteous but the vilest of sinners.
From a biblical and spiritual standpoint, we understand that sin has caused many distortions in human behaviour and moral compass. However, pastors and church leaders are equally responsible for how they process and disseminate information to their congregants.
A lot of ignorance is often spewed from the pulpit. Many scriptures are misinterpreted, sometimes intentionally. Several pastors do not take the time to understand laws and policies. They associate everything with the Mark of the Beast and eschatological events. But even so, can we stop the fulfilment of prophecies?
Although a small country, Jamaica operates as part of a larger unit — the globe. Therefore, whatever happens and affects the world will have some implications on us. While certain discussions and legislation may take a longer time to be operationalised in our country, many people are on the internet and see what is happening internationally on a daily basis. In light of this, and in the context of hate speech, we also cannot ignore the phenomenon surrounding gender identity and the plurality of pronouns.
As a linguist I take particular interest in trends because they often lead to new vocabulary and ideologies that affect language and communication. I, therefore, join my colleague, Jamaica Teachers’ Association president, Leighton Johnson, in saying that these are issues that we must start to discuss at a national level. What implications will the propagation of confusing gender pronouns have on education and interaction?
With all of these manifestations taking place, wouldn’t we want Jesus’s return to be accelerated? Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Oneil Madden is interim chair/head of Department of Humanities and lecturer in language(s) and linguistics at Northern Caribbean University. He is also a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at Clermont Auvergne University, France. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.