BISHOP’S CHARGE – PART ONE
THE OPENING SERVICE OF THE
FRIDAY APRIL 30, 2010
BREEZES RESORT AND SPA, TRELAWNY
THEME: “DISCERNING GOD’S CALL AT THIS TIME”
“Jesus told them another parable: He said, ‘To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, ‘til it was all leavened’ - Matthew 13: 33/ Luke 13: 20-21.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH DOING?
This question, though unfair, is not necessarily malicious. It is the anguished cry of a nation drowning in blood and tears. Yes, the Churches have a fairly good record of social intervention, and we have been able to do so with very little financial resources. Yet the question persists and we must not seek to ignore it or rebuke it. We must hear the children’s cry, the cry of the abused, the cry of the little ones, and the least of these who replicate the crucifixion of Christ in our time.
WHAT CAN WE SAY: WHAT CAN WE DO when our beloved country is held hostage by hoodlums? THE MYTH OF ROBIN HOOD cannot redeem the ugly and nasty reality of crooks being held up to our children as benefactors and heroes. If these are the models of aspiration and the ideal of success that we present to the next generation, then we have de-futurized our children and our country. It is pure hypocrisy and a cruel deception to say that these people rob the rich to support the poor. The fact of the matter is that the persons mainly affected by extortion and violent exploitation are the hard working Jamaicans seeking to overcome poverty by dint of industry and effort, and the “so called” beneficiaries are still poor and, in fact, made more pauperized and dependent on a few heartless, soulless brutes who buy out their freedom, their dignity, their minds and souls for a mess of pottage. The persons who are real hope for national development and wealth creation are being ruthlessly destroyed. Elected Government is sidelined and made irrelevant in a situation where real power is ceded to criminals. The situation is compounded when officials, businessmen and ordinary citizens meekly or willingly accept that the only way to do business is to get involved in bribery and corruption. The Church’s fixation and sexual morality cannot compete with the vulgar and cynical exploitation of sex by the advertising and culture industries seeking to squeeze more profits out of a dying economy. Meanwhile, children are being produced by the thousands with no prospect of nurture, education or self esteem.
Our country and its people have had a long history of violence and terrorism beginning with the holocaust of chattel slavery and the limbo existence of colonialism, where power resided outside of Jamaica, where the people were regarded as non-persons and the fruit of their labour used for the development of their countries. We have passed through all this but NEVER BEFORE HAS PEOPLE’S SOCIAL DISTRESS BEEN AS EXTREME AS IT IS NOW. Poverty, sickness, criminality and social chaos have reached unheard of proportions. How can I dare to suggest that the present situation is anyway worse than the worse days of slavery?
Well – for one thing, the economy and social philosophy of those days have continued with minor adjustments until this day. Whatever progress we have made, has been within the parameters of that system. Changes, and adjustments have basically been aimed at amelioration and making life more bearable without altering the script. The tentative attempts, for example, in the seventies, and from scholars and artists from time to time, to question the system, are ridiculed, ignored or even slapped down, by those at home and abroad who are comfortable with things as they are. Strategic consideration is made to lead off revolt or even to further entrench the status quo. However, the real reason why things are much worse now is that people have lost, or are losing hope. Even at the worse of time, the slaves lived in hope of a new day and they endured with the conviction that even if they themselves did not live to see that new day, their children would. Let us reverse the sequence of words in the old saying: Let us say this - “WHERE THERE IS HOPE THERE IS LIFE”. The present generation, it seems, has surrendered to a terrible fatalism that does not envisage any other scenario and feel that we will always be at the mercy of merciless might. The heroic hopeful mentality of the past has given way to a victim mentality, a horrible psychology of hopelessness and helplessness.
We, as a Church and as Christians really have it to do at this time. But what should we be doing? Whatever we do or seek to do, let it be aimed at re-kindling hope in our time. Let is be aimed at re-building self esteem, self respect and self confidence. The dons and community enforcers would not like it. If people became independent and refuse to be gorgonized (that is turned to stone at the formidable and frightening appearance of the gorgon) some may even be killed. Petty tyrants never give up power without a fight. But we are being killed any way.
Claude McKay’s most classic poem comes to mind –
“If we must die, let it not be like hogs hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, while round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain; then even the monsters we defy shall be constrained to honour us though dead. O kinsmen, we must meet the common foe. Though far out-numbered, let us show us brave. And for their thousand blows deal one death blow. What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack. Pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back”.
In all of this - WHAT IS THE CHURCH DOING? AND WHAT HAS THE CHURCH BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS?
In the context of this killing field where the authority and we the people are so inured, numbered and hardened by the daily/slightly blood letting. It is no answer at all to simply repeat the well-known list of impressive out-reach programmes that the Churches have operated and sponsored. It is important to analyse these activities in order to understand why we are in such sad state in spite of the fact that the Churches have, undoubtedly, done so much over the years and centuries. The Church has gone through many phases in its relation to society.
Firstly, after the Peace of The Emperor Constantine, the Church moved from being a persecuted minority to being a powerful and privileged enclave. Gradually the Church came to define itself as the spiritual side of the State in so-called Christian countries. If power and privilege could accomplish God’s way for human life, the world would have been transformed into a paradise in the Middle Ages when the Church was at the height of its power. However, as Lord Action wrote in a letter to Bishop Mandel Creighton, 5th April, 1887, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men . . . there is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.” The pre-Constantinian Church, poor and persecuted, produced the great heroes, men and women of faith, who faced death and gave such a magnificent demonstration of the best in human nature, the caliber of people that are needed now to face the challenge of this hour. The fact that I mention Constantine and the medieval Church might give the impression that this is a mere historical reference. BUT NO! Right now so many Churches and Churchmen are sucking up to the powers that be, whether politicians or social elites or business magnates. So many sincere evangelicals are known as staunch supporters of tyrannical right-wing regimes. It is a preoccupation that destroys pure spirituality and even morality. We must never forget the words of Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts”. This is why St. Paul says in 11 Corinthians 12:9 & 10 “. . . I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for WHEN I AM WEAK THEN I AM STRONG.”
The greatest favour ever done to this Diocese was when it was dis-established and dis-endowed without notice by the Governor of Jamaica, Sir John Peter Grant, January 1, 1870. And while we must always be gracious and respectful to lawful authority, we must always jealously guard our freedom and integrity. Not only that, we must be prepared to be the voice of the voiceless and the public face of those who are invisible.
Secondly, what the Church has been doing may be described as being the bearer of culture and a civilizing influence. This would have been a wonderful vocation if we were talking about native culture and civilization. Unfortunately, the great missionary movements of the colonial era assumed that the only real civilization was that of Western Europe and the more recent evangelist posit the United States as the pattern for all to follow. The question that arises is this: Was it the intention to convert people to Christ or to convert them into imitation of Englishmen and more recently Americans? Obviously, the racist and alienating implications of the policy is one reason why Christianity so often appears to be an artificial and foreign imposition instead of the natural expression of the people’s spirituality. Furthermore, over the centuries the Churches missed the opportunity to enrich their liturgy and life with the tremendous cultural heritage, which is God’s gift to our people. Let me hope that recent efforts, to use Caribbean rhythms in Church music, are not too little, too late and that it is not just another manipulative ploy. Also, that other aspects of our culture such as the people’s deep sense of justice and right will prevail in the renewal of the Churches.