Is Caribbean Theology Indecent Enough?

An activist, upcoming philosopher, and dear friend of mine, Justin Holder, recently posted the following status update on Facebook:

“Watching Bajan and Caribbean people who are excited to support black rights in the States. Good on you, but I’m going to be looking for what you’re going to say when LGBT rights inevitably become a hotter issue in this region.

Want to see whose side of the fence you’re on when the second-class citizens right in your neighbourhood decide that they’ve had enough.”

 

This comes after a recent back-and-forth in the Barbados media, regarding B-G.L.A.D’s (Barbados – Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals against Discrimination) call for the Minister of the Environment, Dr Denis Lowe, to resign after stating that as a “man of faith” he’d rather step down than support gender neutral legislation regarding domestic abuse in Barbados. So basically, this man is saying that if you’re in a same sex relationship, living together with your partner, and suffer domestic abuse, it ain’t domestic abuse, and the suffering body isn’t worthy of protection under the Domestic Violence Act, because it ain’t a man beating a woman. And what do you know, but a whole lot of other “people of faith” came to Lowe’s support.

In her book, From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology, Marcella Althaus-Reid criticizes Latin American liberation theology for not reaching out to the truly marginalized of society— those who don’t identify with the sort of gender roles and sexual orientations that are deemed “normal” or “decent” in patriarchal society.

Based on my own experiences, I see similar things wrong with Caribbean theology. The problem is that it tries to squeeze the messiness of life into a neat little box. What results is a closed, rather than an open, outlook on the world. Whatever doesn’t align with this outlook is “vomited” out, as Pete Rollins would say, as repugnant, or sinful in the eyes of the Lord. Also at great issue is the fact that a lot of Caribbean christians tend to imagine Jesus as being concerned, first and foremost, with sin rather than the elimination of suffering. “Saving” persons takes precedence over social outreach. The focus is on a heavenly world, somewhere beyond this one. It becomes easier to overlook the horrors in this world. What matters, according to them, isn’t that one is doing what one can to provide for and further the cause of the marginalized and oppressed, but that one has the right beliefs, thinks in the right way.

But thinking won’t get you into heaven. That, I think, is made clear in the New Testament. Jesus never called us to believe in a definite set of propositions. As I’ve heard John Caputo say before, if Jesus had been around to witness the Nicene Creed, he’d have probably wanted to know what they hell was going on. He called us to be a radical collective, to enact a whole new way of being in the world. This radical, alternative way of inhabiting the world is, for me, what Christianity is all about. This is its radical core. Christianity is about celebrating and reflecting in our day to day activities the story of openness towards the widow, orphan, and child. This has little to do with what we call “morality”. Christianity isn’t secular morality. It isn’t about blindly accepting some arbitrary right vs. wrong. It goes beyond that; Christianity goes beyond the law. Christianity is something entirely new.

In Barbados, I’ve heard persons say things like: “why should we accept the Western idea that LGTBQ persons should be accepted into society, that we should treat them as God’s own, despite their transgressions.” But this reading, that sees LGTBQ persons as transgressing God’s law, is a contingent one. It’s not a given. We’re trying to fit God into a box. In one breath, we claim God lies beyond all comprehension, yet in the other we attempt to pin him down, to words written by mortals, as read by mortals. There’s no one natural way to read the text. And furthermore, we are distracting ourselves from the real kingdom work that Jesus ushered in, of establishing a new community, set apart from the world.

In treating the bible like some law book, in relation to which we can judge persons, is to simply to accommodate the very western, secularist framework we claim to reject in our homophobic stance. When we imagine there to be one absolute truth, we get ourselves in all kinds of problems, because we are finite beings, and none of us read the bible in a neutral way. We’re all interpreters. And if we want to talk about the Spirit, why don’t we then talk about the spirit of Jesus’ words and actions, as expressed in the New Testament? Why don’t we talk about the openness of Jesus’ heart, the outstretched arms of a poor Galilean rabbi, welcoming the outcasts of society (like the woman whom the Pharisees accused of adultery, or the LGTBQ persons we accuse of sin)? The Kingdom is all about love, about forgiveness, and welcoming of the Other.

As Caputo says: “in the Kingdom, the insiders are out, have missed out, while the outsiders are in (Caputo 2001: 138)!”

Yet the bible is treated like a rule book (a dangerous approach to scripture). In modern, secularist fashion, persons imagine there to be a correct, natural, way to read the text. This reading is treated as a foundational truth rather than a contingent interpretation. Any action that falls outside of the boundaries of what is read as being permissible in the eyes of the Lord is marginalized, looked down upon, discriminated. So what matters, according to this reading, isn’t that the LGBTQ community suffers, and is marginalized (much like Jesus and his crowd were), but that they are not “saved”.

I praise the Caribbean liberation theologians for putting this world first, for putting practice before belief, the kingdom before dogma. But here is where I criticize them: they have failed to welcome the truly marginalized in Caribbean society, the subaltern, those who are lower than the proletariat, so to speak. A liberation theology that fails to speak up for those LGTBQ persons who are treated as bare, insignificant life, who aren’t recognized as members in Christ, is anything but liberating. It’s time to open up, to let the stranger in, like Jesus did. It’s time for Caribbean theology to get indecent.

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