•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at email@example.com.
We are not solely engaged in a debate on marital rape. As critically, it is a defining moment for this generation of religious heads as to why, when and how to engage the state and others in dialogue on a range of ethical and moral questions from gambling to the most capital of punishments.Surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- some leaders, often more vocal on other occasions, seem to have been struck temporarily deaf, dumb and mute, perhaps waiting to see how the wind blows, careful not to get on the wrong side of some who may be mainstays of their ministries.
Meanwhile, the dramatic contrasts in the statements on the proposed rape within marriage amendment, between that of Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder (and others) and that of the Christian Council, issued under the name of its President, Rev. Patrick Paul, are instructive and revealing.
They are differences of degree and kind, style and substance: markedly different in terms of moral imagination, pastoral sensibility, scriptural exegesis, intellectual reach, and an understanding of the relationship between church and state, Bible and constitution, and citizenship and discipleship. Subsequent columns will comment on the statements made by the Roman Catholic prelate and others.
Today’s commentary is focused on the Bahamas Christian Council’s Response to the Bill to Amend the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, which from its genesis to its final revelation is one of the more confused, contradictory and inarticulate moral statements that this columnist has ever read on a matter of public policy issued by a religious body in an independent Bahamas.
What is the Council’s position on the proposed amendment? Their rolling responses have been so scattered, chaotic and whiplash inducing, that the answer seems to depend on what day it is, how you read the aforementioned statement, and then how you pick through the minefield of their tortured explanations on what they are trying to say. This lack of clarity has made the Council appear amateurish, not serious and irresponsible on weighty matters of public policy.
Still, it seems that the Council supports some type of legislation outlawing marital rape, though they oppose it being termed as such, instead preferring the terms “spousal abuse” and “aggravated spousal abuse”.
Here are the Council’s own words with as regard to the marital rape amendment: “The Bahamas Christian Council’s earlier statement on this amendment [emphasis added] indicated a general agreement but with caution for more time for review and discussion.”
But, why did it issue this “general agreement” on “this amendment” before reading the legislation in full? Would it not have been wiser and prudential to offer comment after reading the entire bill as did the Roman Catholic, Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church and Seventh-day Adventist leaders? Moreover, all three heads did so in advance of the Council.
Instead of the proposed amendment the Council prefers that Parliament “Pass a new amendment that makes forced sexual intercourse in marriage a crime which can only be prosecuted in cases of provable force and harm, thereby barring trivial and other allegations that cannot be proven.”
Can it be that the Council does not realize that our judicial system already relies on evidence-based jurisprudence and that one of the reasons for a court system is to bar “trivial and other allegations that cannot be proven”? The same rule of law that applies to other crimes will also apply to marital rape.
The obviously cut and paste statement is symptomatic of both a particular and a broader problem plaguing the Council. The immediate challenge concerns the glaring deficiencies and the theological and philosophical mishmash of the statement, at once disappointingly and sadly incoherent and inconsistent.
Besides the poor grammar of moral reasoning, the Council seems unembarrassed about issuing a document that is not only poorly written, but also burdened by obvious grammatical errors. It appears that the leadership pushed the send button on a working draft still in committee.
The Council’s more proximate and longer term problems relate to the probably irreversible erosion in its standing by more Bahamians than its executives realize. Surely, if this were not so, the drafters would not have issued a statement that will permanently undermine its dwindling moral authority.
Then again, who is the Bahamas Christian Council? Is it now a select group of special interests dominated by a few denominations? Besides the loss of authority by a broad cross-section of Bahamians, it has lost credibility among significant elements of its own membership.
To issue this statement in the name of the entire Council, with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist and Methodist (Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church) Churches offering a deeper and broader theological rationale supporting the marital rape amendment is presumptuous. It is also a tacit admission that the Council as once constituted is effectively defunct.
In invoking the preamble to the Constitution’s reference to “Christian Values” and “the Rule of Law”, the Council appears to believe that it has a more privileged understanding of those values and is well versed with regard to “the Rule of Law”.
First, the Council failed to grasp the relationship between law and Christian values in a secular, pluralistic democracy. As importantly, they offered a stunningly narrow understanding of the Christian message as compared to the theologically richer statements by other religious leaders. And, they demonstrated a surprising lack of clarity as regards legal principle.
The Council’s statement is schizophrenic. Though struggling to employ clever lingo, like comparing the Bible’s protection to that of a car airbag, the statement’s drafters could not resist the conceits of religious triumphalism and theocratic ambitions. The schizophrenia also surfaced in the Council’s understanding of the role of the state as regards to the rights of women within marriage.
In a list of concerns on the proposed amendment the Council asks: “8. How far should the Government be going with things that are sacred and intimate?” One can be forgiven for being confused after reading “7. Will Government revisit the development of a ‘family life’ curriculum to be taught as a core subject in school?”
While a variety of denominations invoked the Scriptures to offer conditional but general support for the amendment, the Council employed a narrow read of that tradition to reinforce and justify a pre-modern worldview with which an alphabet soup of fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe would be proud.
One does not have to be a so-called feminist to be appalled by the Council’s language concerning how the new law may offer the “potential and provide opportunity for the malignant, the evil, the whoremongers [emphasis added] and the spiteful persons who are looking for ways to get back at someone, because of some unfortunate circumstance.”
All laws can be abused. As can the “Word of God”. But why should the probably few women who may abuse this law be demonized as “malignant” and “evil”, while husbands who rape their wives be given a first offence option for reconciliation and rehabilitation as proposed by the Council?
Why does this spirit of restorative justice not apply as equally to wives who are false accusers -- presumably a lesser charge -- as to husbands who rape their wives? Why weren’t the husbands who rape also branded as “evil” and “malignant”?
Why has so much of the public discussion on this issue and much of the Council’s remarks seemed more concerned with the men who may be falsely accused of rape than the horrendous levels of domestic and sexual violence against women that necessitates a law dealing with rape within marriage?
The ingrained chauvinism and prejudice in the Council’s statement -- issued by black men whose ancestors endured slavery and the rape of black women by slave-owners, often utilizing the “Word of God” -- is a form of gender bias that has kept our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and other female kith and kin as chattel.
Women got the right to vote later than men for reasons similar to those employed by men and, surprisingly, many women who opposed equal pay, equal inheritance laws, and now greater protection for women in marriage, which is at once a sacred and a secular institution, requiring spiritual and legal protections.
This has not been the best moment for the Bahamas Christian Council. Its response on the issue of rape within marriage has not been as vigorous and as unambiguous as it could have been, in light of the ministry of life and love, and liberation and equality which flow from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and should be the unwavering mission of the Christian Church.