A Christian pastor at a Jamaican church has angered some of his congregants, first by urging acceptance in the church of LGBT people last week, now by washing the feet of lesbian visitors Sunday, according to 150-year-old Kingston newspaper The Gleaner.
"I was shocked because it was never mentioned that you going have these things. You hear human rights, and human rights is broad, but I don't know how suddenly gay rights become human rights and human rights is now gay rights, and I have a problem with that," a congregant who wished to remain anonymous told the newspaper.
Despite expressions of "betrayal" from his regular members, Christ Church's pastor, Rev. Fr. Sean Major-Campbell, seemed determined to begin welcoming the LGBT community into the flock.
"It is quite understandable that some persons will have some difficulty because human sexuality is a difficult subject and, generally speaking, in our country and culture, we really do not have enough safe spaces for people to explore the subject, without feeling safe or judged, and that is true even of the Church itself," the reverend told The Gleaner.
The newspaper described Major-Campbell's feet-washing fot two lesbians and a transgender man to the church as "an unprecedented act within local church ministry." The act itself symbolizes humility and service to humanity and God, and has great significance and history for Christians.
Churches May Be Key to Acceptance in Jamaica
The newspaper reports that a transgender visitor to the church, who was not identified, delivered a testimonial to the congregation about the challenges, dangers, and fears inherent in being LGBT in Jamaica today.
But the regular congregants were not pleased, sounding unmoved by or unaware of the connection between their pastor's act and the story of Jesus washing the feet of society's outcasts, "untouchables," and downtrodden.
"I don't believe you should beat anybody or anything because of their sexual orientation," another anonymous congregant told The Gleaner. "However, I just think the minister was disingenuous to us, as members, because he told us he was having a human-rights service and at no time did he mention that he would be having these lesbians and whatever, having their feet washed by him. I think the service was more gay rights than human rights."
Christ Church is located in the Vineyard Town neighborhood of Kingston, and is a parish of the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. There was no immediate comment from the diocese regarding Sunday's controversial service at Rev. Major-Campbell's church.
Life in Jamaica's capital, Kingston, can be so threatening that many LGBT youth find shelter, camaraderie and a modicum of safety in a storm drain beneath the city's streets called Shoemaker Gully. A recent film by Vice documented the stories behind the physical and emotional scars many LGBT youth bear in the nation declared by Time magazine in 2006 to be the most homophobic country on earth.
If nothing else, Rev. Major-Campbell's gesture broke the ice. Whether an ongoing conversation can now occur among the open-minded pastor, his entrenched congregants, and the broader community across Kingston and Jamaica itself remains to be seen.
The religious community was responsible for organizing a massive antigay protest last summer in Jamaica last summer, aimed at pushing back at Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller's promise to lead an effort to repeal the country's colonial-era buggery law that criminalizes same-sex contact. An estimated 25,000 people showed up for that demonstration. Though it will clearly be a Herculean task, winning acceptance by at least some churches may be the key to winning greater acceptance of LGBT people in Jamaica.
Before he was bullied out of a lawsuit challenging the buggery law in Jamaica's Supreme Court, plaintiff Javed Jaghai and the court had been considered the best hope for symbolic change in the country.
Now that hope might lie with the ancient act of foot-washing by a humble minister before a hostile crowd.