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PEOPLE & THINGS: Message to ‘those Christians’

Peter Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: Message to ‘those Christians’

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If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? . . . . If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem . . . . They’re our brothers. – Pope Francis, July 2013.
A case in point is the energy and time we are spending on homosexuality . . . . Regrettably, when the problem is discussed, it is not to promote justice for people, but rather to victimize, oppress, ridicule and discriminate against persons whose lifestyles differ from others and this is contrary to the gospel message of inclusion of all people in God’s Kingdom. – Canon Wayne Isaacs, September 22, 2013.
Several years ago, popular Christian calypsonian Ronnie Clarke penned a tune entitled TC, or Those Christians, which launched a scathing attack on people he argued professed Christianity but were not “true Christians”. Ronnie has always been the type of Christian who could be characterized as “fundamentalist” and such people believe they can best serve the Lord by arguing for a literal interpretation of the Holy Bible.
My challenge with such thinking is well known. I believe that such thinking sacrifices the intellectual constituent that should be central to religious (or indeed any) expression. I have consistently argued that “fundamentalists” and “literalists” seemed locked into an understanding of the role of religion that should have been made redundant by the teachings of Jesus Christ from the New Testament (properly contextualized). Although not a Christian myself, I do think that there is considerably greater value to the “progressive” school of Christianity than the “literalist” school which has little relevance in an era when we have the capacity to think independently.
Barbados always seems to be such a lonely place for progressive thinkers and as such, two sets of recent remarks by religious leaders provide hope that local and international Christianity might finally be moving towards modernity and narrowly escaping irrelevance. The first of these statements came from no less a person that the leader of the worldwide Christian community, Pope Francis, who has already distinguished himself as a “people’s pope” – which is ironically uncharacteristic of any previous pontiff.
In a recent interview, he uttered the words reproduced above which essentially represent a radical departure from established Catholic teaching. His comments were made in an interview that was wide-ranging and spoke to many controversial issues but across all of these, there was one central theme that seems to be an enlightened reflection of the mission of Jesus Christ, which was to promote love and not hate.
Leading local cleric Canon Wayne Isaacs made similar statements that are also quoted. Both comments speak to the issue of homosexuality. However, both leaders’ comments can be applied to wider social issues.
In the case of Canon Isaacs, it was fortuitous that he elaborated on the broader social implications of this perspective. He suggested that while “our” community appears to be more concerned about whether or not we have been divorced or had a child out of wedlock, God is more likely to ask us questions that “relate to issues of human need, justice and mercy”.
This perspective appears consistent with my limited understanding of the philosophy of Jesus Christ, upon whose life Christianity is based. It is therefore unfortunate that religious zealots, fundamentalists and literalists prefer to see religion as a baton with which they should bludgeon someone into submission instead of a tool that can encourage us to develop a better society. It is also important to note that this type of comment had previously come from other clerics within the established Christian church in Barbados, who have received less coverage but are no less sincere. 
These types of statements have generally been associated with older traditions such as Anglicanism, Methodism and Catholicism, while the newer churches here appear to prefer “hellfire and brimstone”. This latter approach might appear exciting because of the associated antics, but this is probably also responsible for the large numbers of people who have become “fed up” with this brand of Christianity that appears to insult our intelligence and ignore a unique opportunity to build a more “just” society.
The decision of the Pope to move the Catholic Church in a direction that will make Christianity more relevant is perhaps belated but no less commendable. Leaders like Pope Francis and Canon Isaacs are ultimately part of a movement that will save Christianity from obsolescence and this can only make for better societies in the future.
• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).