A former university professor is warning of an invasion by right-wing evangelical zealots who threaten Barbados’ way of life and put the liberal gains achieved over several decades at risk.
Retired social development professor Christine Barrow said last night that the traditional religious denominations, including Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Moravian, had been open-minded and liberal in their approach to social and moral issues here.
This, she suggested, had led to a country that is tolerant of practices such as common-law relationships, divorce and abortion, and which has given legal recognition to these practices.
However, Barrow contended that a new, more conservative and radical form of religion had surfaced and was threatening to take Barbados backwards and to undo legal reforms and generations of social transformation.
“We in Barbados, along with many Caribbean countries, and many other countries in the world are now dealing with a heavy right-wing evangelical force. It is a force that drives a narrow reactionary righteousness. It’s anti-divorce, anti-abortion, it is against sexual diversity, it’s against all other unions other than marriage, etcetera . . . . This is a force that we need to keep an eye on,” the former deputy principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies told a panel discussion on family life organized by the Anglican Church.
Barrow did not name any denominations or individuals but said much of this “extreme religious thinking” was imported.
The retired professor was adamant that the message being preached by the evangelical right was contrary to Barbadian religious norms and did not take into consideration the social and religious outlook which lay the groundwork for the introduction of liberal laws recognizing the Barbadian and Caribbean way of life and living.
“Barbados has led the way in law reform to recognize the realities of family life in Barbados, recognizing and protecting the rights of women in common-law relationships, eliminating the legal distinction of children born in and out of wedlock, facilitating abortion and divorce,” she told those gathered at the university’s Roy Marshall Teaching Complex for the discussion.
The former coordinator of the Cave Hill Women and Development Studies Group fired back at religious leaders who staunchly oppose divorce and abortion, contending that stringent laws did not hold marriages together “and stringent abortion laws have never prevented abortions. They just sent them into the back streets”.
Instead, she argued, by making abortions possible and divorces easier, the Barbadian society had recognized the needs of people over conventions forced upon the population.
She maintained that these legal changes represented a radical departure from the post-slavery colonial standards when previous generations felt a proper family was comprised of a father, a mother and children, and anything other than the nuclear family was seen as improper.
She pointed out that back then recognition was not given to the Caribbean reality of households led by women, whose bloodline can now be traced through generations of offspring, often living within the same home.
However, she said, this has changed with “a body of legislation that is recognizing the full realities of Caribbean family life in the Caribbean, in Barbados”.
Yet, she emphasized, Barbados and the region must guard against allowing fanatical religious advocates to reverse those gains.