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Can’t we all get along?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Like many others who are happy to identify themselves as “followers of Jesus” or “Christians”, I was confused and concerned to read reports that alleged that a Christian group in my country, seemed to claim that they had “superior rights”’ or were more “normal”, than another group of citizens. Such a claim is not only injurious to national development but it also serves to bring the church and the name of Jesus Christ into disrepute.

Before I explain why, allow me to introduce myself. I am a youth leader in a local church. Moreover, I have been a practising youth worker for the past 21 years.

When I began to work in this field I decided to specialise in the area of human reproductive and sexual health. I have had (what I refer to as) the “unfortunate pleasure” of working with victims of sexual abuse between the ages of 13 and 35.

When I first started I didn’t think that any female victim would ever want to speak with a male youth worker after being raped. I was wrong. Very wrong. Most of the victims that came to see me had a plethora of questions, largely about the behaviour of men. Today, as I observe the unfolding debate related to the Jason Jones case and the Sexual Offences Act, I am the one with a pending cargo of questions.

The word “apartheid”, translated from Afrikaans means ”separateness”.

The word is commonly used to refer to institutionalised racial segregation that that existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. Any claim that one group is entitled to superior rights is, at its core, dangerous.

Our joint destiny as a nation can only be achieved through unity. Ethnic competition or segregation, in any form, will only harm and delay the achievement of national development objectives.

To add to this, universal principles of social work and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ both affirm that ALL people have dignity and worth.

We are all worthy of love. As those called to replicate the love of Christ on Earth, we should be looking for ways to assist and support marginalised and vulnerable groups in our society.

Archbishop Tutu once noted that “People often speak of God being even-handed. God is not even-handed. God is biased, in favour of the weak, of the despised”. These are precisely the people that we are meant to reach, assist and love.

In Trinidad and Tobago, these people may include refugees, (documented and undocumented) migrants, the disabled community and the LGBTQIA2 community. We are called to serve and love–even if or when we disagree with or don’t share the beliefs or value systems of those we serve.

The time and place to debate and discuss same-sex marriage in T&T will come. The current discussions are meant to surround the act of buggery and the challenge to the Sexual Offences Act.

If public demonstrations and protests are to be successfully translated into policy, it would be helpful if these discussions could take place, not between different “warring factions”, but rather among different individuals and groups that have diverse opinions related to the development of Trinidad and Tobago.

It would be helpful if we all committed to refrain from yelling at each other, the use of derogatory names or claiming moral or any other form of superiority over anyone else.

In fact, let’s refrain altogether from seeking to create a category of people who are “less-than”, “sub-normal” or inferior to us in any way.

What is required to advance our development as a nation is empathy. This involves really trying to understand the viewpoints and experiences of others from their perspective. Put briefly, we need to gain an appreciation of our own privilege, while seeking to understand the suffering of others.

This is an opportunity for every citizen and civil society group to affirm our equality as human beings and to advance social justice in T&T.

If we fail to approach these issues with empathy, humility and sobriety we may miss an opportunity, not only to advance our development as a nation, but also to extend the love of Christ.

Keron Niles, PhD
Lecturer, UWI


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