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Home Editorial Belize’s religious landscape and UNIBAM

Belize’s religious landscape and UNIBAM

“On some level, Spaniards believed that there was no real language barrier between them and Native Americans, a belief that underpinned the 1513 edict that required conquistadors to read a statement – in Spanish – before attacking them. The document, known as the Requerimiento (Requirement), informed natives of a sort of chain of command from God to pope to king to conquistadors, with the latter merely putting into effect the divinely sanctioned donation of all American lands and peoples by the pope to the Spanish monarch. Native leaders were asked, therefore, to recognize papal and royal authority (that is, to surrender without resistance), and if they did so, the expedition leader was to tell them:

“His Majesty and I, in his name, will receive you … and will leave your women and children free, without servitude so that with them and with yourselves you can freely do what you wish … and we will not compel you to turn Christians. But if you do not do it … with the help of God I will forcefully enter against you, and I will make war everywhere and however I can, and I will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and His Majesty, and I will take your wives and children, and I will make them slaves … and I will take your goods, and I will do to you all the evil and damages that a lord may do to vassals who do not obey or receive him. And I solemnly declare that the deaths and damages received from such will be your fault and not that of His Majesty, nor mine, nor of the gentlemen who came with me. “

– pg. 87, SEVEN MYTHS OF THE SPANISH CONQUEST, Matthew Restall, Oxford University Press, 2003

Scholars refer to Spain’s violent entry into the so-called New World, beginning with Christopher Columbus’ first voyage in 1492, as “The Conquest.” Spain’s Roman Catholic establishment was part and parcel of the various violent entries to the extent that it is difficult to pinpoint where the conquistadors ended and Catholic Christianity began. Murdering invaders like Cortés in Mexico in 1519 and Pizarro in Peru in 1532 believed that their campaigns were blessed by the Church, because the native peoples of the New World needed to be “civilized” and “Christianized.”

England entered the New World some time after Spain did, and the English entry was not state-sanctioned in the beginning. The English entry involved slave traders and pirates, and it was not until the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) that English criminals and pirates on the high seas became accepted by the monarchy as heroes of English foreign policy, that foreign policy being focused on taking over vulnerable Spanish possessions in the New World and robbing the Spanish galleons which were taking gold, silver, jewelry and other valuables across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain. These cargoes were plunder which the conquistadors, blessed by the Church and sanctioned by the Spanish monarchy, had stolen from the indigenous peoples of the New World.

In the case of Spain, the Roman Church came along with the conquistadors, but in the case of England, the Anglican Church was established in territory AFTER the pirates gained control, and this usually took a while, several decades before somewhere like Jamaica, for example, was considered British. The British did not control Jamaica until 1655, more than a hundred years after Spain became dominant in Mexico, Central and South America.

Belize is a religious anomaly on the Central American mainland because the Anglican Church was established in the settlement BEFORE the Roman Catholic Church. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the Roman Church became a force in Belize, because of all the refugees pouring into the northern part of Belize from the Yucatán, where the Caste War was raging for much of that said second half of the nineteenth century. The Anglican Church landmark, St. John’s Cathedral of Belize City, had been built from early in the nineteenth century.

Unlike the Spanish conquistadors, the English pirates and slave traders in these parts did not masquerade as religious, God-fearing people. Belize Town was a place of drinking, whoring, and various kinds of carousing. But, as our religious landscape is presented in 2013, Belize is a Christian, God-fearing nation whose two most powerful dominations are the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.

From its very beginning in 1969, this newspaper took issue with the educational curriculum in the primary and secondary schools controlled by Belize’s Christian denominations, led by the Romans and the Anglicans. This was because we were speaking on behalf of our African and indigenous ancestors, who have been portrayed in a disrespectful light by the teachers and textbooks of the Roman and Anglican Churches.

All that we have written so far in this essay is by way of describing Belize’s religious landscape enough to place the UNIBAM controversy in context. The international homosexual lobby is seeking to have the law in Belize changed which criminalizes homosexuality. The Christian churches have mobilized to fight the UNIBAM campaign to legalize homosexuality in Belize, and they predict all kinds of dire consequences if the law against homosexuality is struck down.

For this newspaper, this fight about homosexuality is a fight at the highest levels of the Roman and Anglican Churches. The Roman Church is on record as condemning homosexuality, but in Belize many of our people feel that the Romans here, in practice, have been sympathetic to homosexuals. The Anglican Church, on the international level, is in serious turmoil, because its British and American dioceses appear favorable to the homosexual agenda, while the African dioceses of the Anglican Church totally condemn that gay agenda.

In Belize, the law against homosexuality appears functionally irrelevant. Belize has a thriving gay community. Homosexuals are powerful in every aspect of Belizean life, and they cannot be victimized. There is really no urgent need to change the law.

But, in a modern societal context, the Belizean society cannot deny those Belizean homosexuals who seek to change the law, their day in court. And that is what UNIBAM will have week after next – their day in court.

Most issues in Belize are settled, directly or indirectly, through a democratic process. This democratic process is supposed to involve the minority having its say, and the majority having its way. The issue of the homosexual law is not being treated democratically: it is being taken to the courts. In the courts, a ruling may be made which is hostile to the feelings of Belize’s majority. In the days of British colonialism, there was nothing to be done in such a situation. The colonial master did not have to submit his edicts for majority judgment by the colonized masses.

Technically, the courts are a higher authority than Belizeans’ national, democratic will. This is a most interesting situation, because the Belizean state, featuring its majority national will, is constitutionally sovereign. The courts are supposed to operate in the realm of justice, which is to say, they decide right from wrong. There were no courts to decide whether the Spanish conquistadors and the English pirates were right or wrong to do what they did. So then, the Spanish conquistadors and the English pirates were, in effect, sovereign. And, in fact, their actions are implicitly sanctioned by the textbooks used by the Christian churches.

After a while, it all becomes quite confusing to the Belizean man in the street. This is the time of the lip professors. Rasta observeth. “Wi suffer, wi suffer, di whole a wi suffer.”

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