In seventh grade, my Bible class was tasked with reading a book about Christians in the Holocaust.
We were asked by our teacher what we would have done if we had been Christians living in Germany at that time. Would we have kept to ourselves and lived our lives as if nothing were happening, or would we have had the fortitude to do our part, to assist Jewish families being persecuted, risking our own lives in the process? Our answer, perhaps because of our youthful idealism, was a no brainer: we would do the right thing, we would protect those who needed protection.
In my mind a Christian is not someone who always does the right thing, for we are only human, but that we strive to do the right thing based on the principles of unconditional love which was, in our belief, so graciously bestowed on us by Jesus Christ. When we have a question as to how to proceed, our actions, as a friend recently reminded me, should be guided by one simple question: ‘What would Jesus do?’
When I think of government sanctioned discrimination, I think about Auschwitz in Poland, apartheid in South Africa, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and a number of other atrocities committed around the world, which left millions of children, women and men dead. Of course we will find some way of rationalising why it is that these things would never happen here, but I would venture a guess that the residents of those countries wouldn’t have believed it possible that it would happen to them until they were knee deep in it either.
We already have government sanctioned discrimination, on the basis of things such as nationality and HIV status, so the concept is not new. What is new, and disturbing, is that we are looking to extend and enshrine this concept into our new and improved constitution – the constitution, the law of the land that all other national legislation must adhere to and be subjected to; our legacy for the generations to come.
We are told that it is a good first step and better than nothing. We are told that this is just the beginning as this is our living document and that like the US, for example, we too will go through a process where it will grow and adapt with amendments. As if that process were so simple. We have legislation that has been gathering dust, waiting to either be passed or implement for well over a decade. Legislation that will protect groups that we all supposedly want to protect, like children, and yet it sits waiting on the goodwill of those tasked with making those decisions to think it high enough a priority to take it on.
Furthermore, legislation has limitations. It is impossible to legislate morality. As hard as our religious leadership may try they will fail. Why? Because a law simply dictates that which one can or cannot do. A law cannot affect the inner workings of a person’s heart, or their internal moral compass. It limits conduct, perhaps even speech, but it does not change the content of the human being.
During Thursday’s meeting at the Family Life Centre the stance of the Church leaders was that it was their responsibility to protect the ‘moral standing of the Cayman Islands’. Based on this, the question was asked of our religious leadership as to where their, not their congregation’s, outrage was when that ‘moral standing’ was threatened by immoral acts such as child abuse, incest, and domestic violence. Why is it that it took the murder of the most prominent victim rights activist in our Islands for them to take a public stance with the people against some of these things? The response: ‘If our citizens of the Cayman Islands were abiding by the principles as taught by any of our churches here we would not have… Estella’s death today.’
That is your response? How dare you condescend from the height of your pulpit? Come down and walk among those whose lives you hope to change, but do not sit there and say that all would be well if we only heed your words of wisdom.
Therein lies the problem. You suggest that the fortitude of my beliefs is so weak that were it not for your ‘protection’ from worldly influences and alternative beliefs I would compromise myself and my standards would crumble. For years I have been working with those who, according to you, fit that very description: homosexuals, commercial sex workers and drug users among them, and I am still here. I have not crumbled.
Do not pat me on the back, for it is not your approval or recognition that I seek. I merely wish to tell you, or perhaps remind you, that faith does not exist merely in a vacuum. My beliefs do not exist simply because they have gone unchallenged or unquestioned. Treating another whose beliefs and life choices are different from mine with dignity, equality, respect and compassion does not diminish my values, it enhances them. Discrimination is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Period.
Yet I would like to thank you. I would like to thank you for holding the mirror and bringing to light the bigotry and intolerance that lurks behind this façade that we call Christian charity. I would also like to thank you for exemplifying to us, the young voters, the dangers of electing leaders who lack the strength to stand up for that which is right, who underestimate the intelligence of the electorate as to be so pompous to question that which we would or would not understand, and for making it painfully clear why it is that we need leaders who would never, under any circumstances, offer its people anything short of a full loaf of bread.