I know that a lot of folks are asking how come the
hopefully intelligent men and women of the Inter-Religious Organization of Trinidad & Tobago allowed a man like Harrypersad Maharaj to be their President, much less speak on behalf of the organization about protecting child marriages. Some other, more clinical folks are likely asking how come this even came to a vote, much less how a group of hopefully intelligent people ‘unanimously’ agreed to protect a practice where young girls are forced to marry. I have all of those questions myself, and very little answers. But I also have another question…
Why is there an Inter-Religious Organization in the first place?
I know there’s some cultural or political answer – these religious groups banded together to protect religious freedom or some such bullshit. A fair answer on the surface. But it’s not without its pitfalls, as we’re seeing now with their not-so-unanimous position on the protection of marriages involving minors. This is obviously not something that every religion in the organization agrees with – just one day later, representatives from the Catholic and Anglican denominations came out against child marriages, clearing up that they were not a part of the voting process that came up with that ludicrous conclusion.
The major problem with the IRO in its current form is not even that this conversation is taking place. In fact, the conversation has to take place. But apparently the talk between the nation’s religious denominations is about keeping crazy abusive practices in place for the sake of tradition, instead of engaging in the interfaith dialogue that makes such a body important and valuable for society.
If that’s the point of the IRO, we don’t need them.
Let me be clear, though – me thinking the conversation should take place is not the same as saying I think Sat Maharaj/Harrypersad Maharaj/Barbara Burke have anything resembling an intelligent argument here. There is no intelligent argument for forcing girls as young as 12 years old to marry, especially marry an older man (as evidenced by the horrible, triggering interview with IRO President Maharaj below). But there are maybe more meaningful and mindful ways to have those who have grown accustomed to that tradition come to understand that it is harmful and should be done away with. An organization of people that understand the mystery of faith and its connection to society are well-equipped (I hope) to have that conversation. Which means it is their duty and responsibility to do so.
Instead, they’ve decided to either follow blindly or hide behind the veil of their religious difference. In the case of Catholic Archbishop Harris and Anglican Archbishop Berkley, it’s more than okay to say that we weren’t there and have nothing to do with that, without ever putting one’s foot down. For others, like Spiritual Baptist Archbishop Barbara Burke, defending a heinous act such as this is not about agreeing with the act, but preventing the state from holding any religion accountable for any detestable practice. It’s not a space for interfaith dialogue towards societal progress. It’s a voting bloc for bigotry. And we certainly don’t need that.
It’s the IRO that has their hands in our state’s decisions to keep sex education away from our young people, to keep abortion illegal in all circumstances, and to keep perverted traditions like child marriages on the books. The situation we face here makes that evident. It doesn’t matter if your denomination doesn’t agree, because they haven’t put their foot down and demanded something better. It doesn’t matter whether your denomination doesn’t agree, because the larger organization they operate within is still making decisions that hold thousands of lives in the balance. It doesn’t matter whether your denomination doesn’t agree – they’re still a part of the organization that facilitates the mess we’re in here.
I hope I don’t only speak for myself when I say I can’t be a part of a faith that stand in defense of a youth in danger of abuse. We need more than Archbishops saying ‘I wasn’t there’. We need faiths to leave an organization that argues that statutory rape is a religious right. We need congregations to stand up and demand better from all of our religious leaders. We need denominations to leave the IRO if it’s not a space for intelligent interfaith dialogue. Or we need faithful men, women and especially children to leave the faiths that don’t stand for what’s right.