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The Sunshine Cathedral, Jamaica's only gay church, gives parishioners a community, in secret.
Religion is a central aspect of life for nearly everyone in Jamaica, explained Griffin, “but if you are gay, you can’t find places to talk about the issues that you’re going through. It may be the issue of my relationship. It may be the issue of my partner dying. It may be wanting to adopt a child or having a child. Or it may the issue of how do I connect my spiritual soul to something greater than what I am?”
“Living in a closet is a soul-killer,” he said, explaining that until the Sunshine Cathedral was founded in Jamaica, gay men had no place to express their spirituality or to explore the meaning of their lives in an accepting environment. Instead, he said, if a gay man walks into any other Jamaican church and asks for help, the standard response is that they must give up their gay lifestyle and practices.
“Ministers here would be happy to counsel you on how to convert from your homosexuality,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to you about how to live your life as a healthy gay person or lesbian. They’ll tell you that homosexuality’s wrong, repent, and don’t live that life anymore. Well, asking me to repent of that is like asking me to repent of my eye color — I can’t change my eye color any more than I can change my sexuality. It’s part of who I am, and I go back to that I think it’s all a gift of the divine.”
Community building and spiritual healing, in this context, is no small task. “The first thing most people who come here want to know, is it OK to be gay?” Griffin said. “That’s the first question – ‘Am I going to hell for being gay?’” But changing fundamental beliefs is a complicated, long-term undertaking, even within the gay community. “A member of our congregation challenged me when we first came here and said, ‘We have been taught scripture was to be taken literally all of our years, and now here you come telling us to rethink scripture and look at it differently.’ And that was kind of a challenge for us, because how do we now help our congregation ... [to] read scripture for themselves, and help them to interpret it in a way that is helpful for them.”
Most of the gay men who come to the Sunshine Cathedral are deeply traumatized, Griffin explained. “They’ve been disowned by their families, kicked out of their homes, physically attacked and abused for being gay. So we’re dealing with the basic necessities of having to help a person rebuild their life all over again. And in that process, we are able to put them in touch with a larger community that says, 'You are going to be OK. It may not feel like you’re OK right now, but you’re going to be OK.'”
“I’ve watched this congregation grow over the past five years,” he said. “Before they had nowhere to go. Now they can come to a place and pray and most importantly be together. To come here in this sacred place, or wherever we are, and make that place sacred, make it holy, where they can sit in a worship service and comfortably hold their partner’s hand or their lover’s hand, and receive communion together as a couple, without condemnation. ... That is what we are offering to a hurting community that’s been hurting for so long.”