Fighting against religion in a deeply religious land
Internationally renowned preacher Bill Hamon intends to speak of spiritual warfare when he comes to Bermuda this week, but he will find that the warfare has already begun — with a pocket of the island's non-believers up in arms over his imminent presence and already making moves to block his entry.
Espousing religious belief in a country that places great stock in religion should not come as too much of a surprise, but Bermuda is a gradually changing place and the words of this self-styled prophet run counter to what some would like to see in a progressive, evolving society.
But is that reason enough to put Hamon on Bermuda's very own “stop list”?
The 83-year-old Floridian founder of Christian International, a network that caters to 3,000 ministers, is being brought here by the Koinonia Training Centre and Evening Light Pentecostal Church.
His detractors, led by activist extraordinaire Tony Brannon, suggest he specialises in hate speech, especially to the detriment of the LGBT community.
Within minutes of Brannon posting on Facebook that Hamon “openly advocated that gays and those who have sex outside of marriage be put to death”, including two links to enhance this theory, he attracted enough support for the movement to gain traction.
While it is true that Hamon has some extreme beliefs and prophecies on what God has in store for the world, there is nothing that could be found to suggest Brannon's comments were accurate.
If, indeed, Hamon has plans to descend on Bermuda and preach death to gays, adulterers and fornicators, by all means the gates to the island should be locked shut to him, with a big sign awaiting on the landing strip at LF Wade International Airport, reading “Return to Sender”.
But Joan Simmons, one of those behind Hamon's visit, is well versed in his preachings, making annual pilgrimages to watch him in action for almost 20 years. Yet, of the many murders in Bermuda since the turn of the millennium, none can be said to be religiously motivated.
It should come as little surprise that Hamon would be against same-sex marriage — most religious types are of a similar mindset — but to deny him entry without just cause would be akin to stifling freedom of speech and restricting freedom of movement.
It must be added, and significantly, too, that he will be preaching to the converted, not in an open forum. “I took a team of people from our church — at that time, St Paul AME — with me to Bishop Hamon's Intercession Conference in 2001 and after that event my whole mindset shifted,” Simmons told The Royal Gazette's Religion pages on Saturday. “The whole group from Bermuda came back home different.
“We began to think and see things differently from the Word of God and after that event we continued going back to his conferences every year.”
Hamon himself said: “I want people in Bermuda to leave with a vision of not only what they can do within the church but also their nation; to make Bermuda the best it can be. A nation needs to be righteous in government, business and all aspects of society.”
Bermuda has a good many problems that can be addressed by Tony Brannon and his followers, most of whose own atheist beliefs should not be dismissed out of hand, but Bill Hamon does not appear to be one of them.
Social media and other platforms have made it easier for those not religiously inclined to take potshots at a heaving majority who form the foundation for Bermuda's historically religious leanings.
Until such time that those leanings shift — ie, to the point that belief in God is reduced to one in four among the population, as it has in Britain — resistance to the spreading of hate has to go both ways.