The church must find ways to “facilitate a respectful and protected space for all members of the society in so far as they do not breach the rights of others in terms of liberty and justice”, and this includes women’s rights to abortion, a senior Anglican cleric in Jamaica said here last night.
“To deny a woman access to safe and legal abortion is clearly an affront to ethical health practices; respect for self-determination; and most of all, the woman’s right to life,” said the Very Reverend Father Sean Major-Campbell, Dean of Kingston and Rector of Christ Church in Vineyard Town.
“It seems most appropriate for the woman to be the final decision-maker in the matter since she is the greater burden bearer; since she really bears the challenge alone; since her physical, psychological, and emotional investments would far outweigh that of the father, doctor, pastor, and so on.”
Delivering the annual Dean’s Lecture at the Frank Collymore Hall, the Very Rev’d Major-Campbell told an audience of Anglican devotees “the concerns facing women and their reproductive health rights transcend religious and cultural boundaries”.
In a frank speech, he scolded the church on moments of hypocrisy, preached tolerance and inclusiveness for all including persons who fall into the LGBTQ grouping, and told the church it is not better than any in society.
As much as he shocked his audience, Very Rev’d Major-Campbell made a case for a need for change.
At the end of his presentation, one audience member, Patricia Hart, rose to thank him and commented on the matter of abortion: “I cannot believe what I heard tonight. I still am in shock that an Anglican priest spoke the way you did. It’s quite amazing with what you came out with.
“My only little concern is the question of abortion and I agree that women should have choice about sexual freedom.”
Barbara Clarke reflected that at an Anglican forum years ago she had observed: “Maybe the Church has said that it was wrong to have an abortion because at that time the decision-makers were men.”
Then she mused: “I’m wondering now what the Church would say since we have female priests”.
The lecture topic was The Christian Faith in the Public Square: Justice, Compassion and Humility. But the Dean of Kingston hinted to his Barbadian audience that this was not going to be any regular church talk.
He began the lecture with Bob Marley’s Rastaman Chant. But when the sound operator stopped after only a few stanzas, thinking only a short intro was needed, the Dean waved him to play the entire tune.
Following his radical delivery, the originally stunned but apparently convinced audience seemed no longer surprised when he ended with another Marley conscious hit, Redemption Song.
In a speech that sought to whip the Barbadian church into the 21st Century on the divisive issue, he asked: “Is the foetus’ integrity compromised by a genetic illness?
“Is the foetus deformed? Is the mother’s life at risk? Is an underage mom ill-equipped to care for a baby?
“Is a pregnancy the result of rape? Is a pregnancy the result of incest?”
“Who would best determine the choice of a woman whose health, life, safety, human dignity, and autonomy are honoured when it comes to making a decision regarding the mother, concerning abortion?
“Should the life of the foetus ever take precedence over that of the mother?”
For conservatives bent on turning back the clock, the Very Rev’d Major-Campbell not only blasted their apparent hypocrisy, but warned they could lose the younger educated membership.
He said: “We are seeing a generation of young people who are reading and researching and they know that the church with all its pompous preaching, has walked through the history of the transatlantic slave trade and the attendant crimes against humanity during the holocaust of slavery, while holding the bible piously and feasting on holy communion, and still oppressing and hating and abusing and disregarding fellow humanity.”
Throwing another punch at church conservatism, he added: “There are people who have weaponized religion and the Bible .“They feel that if they can wave around a big bible and hit you over the head, then they have secured their ticket into heaven.
“There is enough evidence to prove that having religion is not a guarantee against the practice of injustice.”
He insisted that the church has no place in deciding on the reproductive practices of women.
“There is no Caribbean territory that is a theocracy, and as such, laws ought to be determined by the State and not by any religious group.
“The place and voice of the woman’s conscience ought to be respected.”
As though clarification of his position was needed after the pointed remarks he said: “I add my voice to advocacy, not for ‘abortion-on-demand’, but for promoting the reproductive health rights of women, promoting the voice of reason, promoting the dignity of life, and promoting respect for the ability of the oppressed to make their own choices.
“After all, these are some of the most Christian things we may do.”