Jamaica may be the scene of violent anti-gay murders. It may be where state officials refuse to acknowledge a culture of homophobia. And it may be a place gay American activists have boycotted out of contempt. But none of that removes the gay men and women who call Jamaica home. And even though much of the country’s homophobia is rooted in Christianity, some of them are looking to Jesus for salvation all the time..
“Churches in a box” — crates, folding tables, and chairs — are sprouting up around the country to give gay Jamaicans a place to pray in a safe space, relays Global Post. Indeed, these sermons tell parishioners they aren’t sinners, but god’s children.
The Sunshine Cathedral fills quickly. Even though the service isn’t scheduled to begin until 1 p.m., the room begins filling an hour earlier. These services serve as social gatherings as much as they are religious events, and by the time Griffin steps up to the podium — dressed in black pants, a black shirt with a white clerical collar, and a bright multicolored stole — the space is packed with 50 or 60 Jamaican men casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts.
Griffin begins with song. “Welcome Holy Spirit,” he sings, his voice joined by a swelling congregation of male voices. “Fill me with your power. Live inside of me.” Over the next hour, he led the congregation in song and prayer, peppered with spontaneous testimonials about the workings of God in the congregants’ everyday lives. But the heart of the service was his sermon, given just before sharing the wafers and wine of communion. “God loves us, because guess what, God created us,” he said, addressing his congregation in a loud voice, spreading a message of peace and acceptance. “And God did not create us just to sit around and hate us, just because we choose to love someone of the same gender.” Heads nodded fervently around the room.
As you might imagine, this type of service is definitely not kosher in Jamaica.
Ministers here regularly condemn homosexuality as a mortal sin, citing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s destruction of these cities because of the immoral behavior of their gay inhabitants. They also frequently quote verse 20:13 of Leviticus, which declares: “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.”
“Ministers here are endorsing violent acts, calls for murder, to incite riots,” Griffin said. “I hear it being done here, I read it in the papers here, I have even heard it myself. They tell me: ‘We don’t believe in homosexuality and homosexuals should be killed because that’s what the scripture says.’” These beliefs also feed another equally pernicious notion about homosexuality. Since gayness is seen as an ungodly and unnatural act it is widely believed that the only way a young person becomes gay is by being coerced or raped by a gay man.
Being gay and faithful, after all, cannot exist together, silly!
Religion is a central aspect of life for nearly everyone in Jamaica, explained Griffin, “but if you are gay, you can’t find places to talk about the issues that you’re going through. It may be the issue of my relationship. It may be the issue of my partner dying. It may be wanting to adopt a child or having a child. Or it may the issue of how do I connect my spiritual soul to something greater than what I am?”
“Living in a closet is a soul-killer,” he said, explaining that until the Sunshine Cathedral was founded in Jamaica, gay men had no place to express their spirituality or to explore the meaning of their lives in an accepting environment. Instead, he said, if a gay man walks into any other Jamaican church and asks for help, the standard response is that they must give up their gay lifestyle and practices.
“Ministers here would be happy to counsel you on how to convert from your homosexuality,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to you about how to live your life as a healthy gay person or lesbian. They’ll tell you that homosexuality’s wrong, repent, and don’t live that life anymore. Well, asking me to repent of that is like asking me to repent of my eye color — I can’t change my eye color any more than I can change my sexuality. It’s part of who I am, and I go back to that I think it’s all a gift of the divine.”
But maybe it’s just because there hasn’t been a significant uprising. A game changing moment. Something to put in the history books.
“But I don’t think Jamaica has had their Stonewall yet,” he said, referring to an uprising in New York City in 1969 that signaled the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. “I think they’ve come very close a couple times, but until they have their Stonewall, I don’t think the nation as a whole is going take this real seriously.”
“There are a younger group of gays and lesbians who are coming onto the scene and saying, man the torpedoes and full speed ahead, let’s get this gay thing done,” he said. “They’re ready. I think if the moment came, and the word was given, they would be in the streets marching. But as the gay community becomes more visible, more organized, more present, and begins to ask for more rights, more protection, there is going to be a pushback, a backlash. And I know that’s probably a reality, that it’s going to happen, but it scares me. Because I know life would be lost, and life is precious. And enough blood has been shed already in Jamaica over this issue.”