Editorial: New Year's resolution for Church
We suspect that the Reverend Glenroy Clarke, pastor of the Lucea United Church in the western parish of Hanover, is recycling the rhetoric common to Sunday sermons about a call for Christians to flood the streets with religious tracts, gospel songs, and guttural hallelujahs. But we hope we're wrong.
Reverend Clarke, speaking to this newspaper and reported in the January 5 edition, said Christians needed to be more assertive and impactful in their role in the community and not to limit their ministry within the proverbial 'four walls'. He emphasised that for the Church to make a difference in 2016, it must focus on biblical teaching and family values.
We've heard all that before. In fact, the scratched record indicates that clerics have been bleating in the wilderness.
Part of the Church's problem in engaging serious minds has been its reflexivity for trifling battles on personal conduct or its obstinacy in holding to archaic doctrines.
For decades the Jamaican Church has too often restricted its raison d'être to being a speaker box of monotonous cacophony, with its greatest passion devoted to the war on gambling, abortion and homosexuality. All three patterns of behaviour have been entrenched in Jamaican society and won't be eradicated anytime soon.
Outrage at crime is misplaced. Marches are organised to rail at the wave of murders that has claimed more than 2,200 lives, and placards are hoisted to denounce rape and child abuse. These symbolic displays of revulsion are all well and good, but they do little more than provide much-needed exercise and a bump in heart rate.
Reverend Clarke's appeal for churches to be "social reformers" must go beyond the parameters of seeking to interfere with people's right to privacy and instead lobby for greater commitment to public and civic responsibility. The Church, which at the last census had direct influence over more than half Jamaica's population, has had an underwhelming impact on public policy, besides cheerleading for reactionary ideologies.
ROBBING THE STATE
For example, tax evasion and avoidance rob the State of billions of dollars, imperilling government's ability to fund basic responsibilities such as the provision of security, welfare, law enforcement and justice, but the voices of the clergy are loud only in advocacy for their own revenue.
Bible-thumpers, in particular - that is the broad range of Pentecostal churches of 'clap-hand' and charismatic flavour - have been too focused on heavenly reward rather than earthly accountability. They and the Seventh-day Adventists have experienced the greatest growth in core membership and unregistered affiliates, with young people flocking their worship halls at unprecedented rates. But we get the distinct impression that these churches do not understand the scope of their influence as shapers of a generation. They are huge political forces - and we do not limit that to mean partisan hacks.
The Church's activism should extend to greater face-to-face involvement in mentorship, not in the ad hoc and sectarian manner that currently exists but as a more integrated coalition of forces. Most churches have a vibrant retiree community who faithfully attend Mass, fasting services or midweek Bible study fellowships. However, this demographic, if properly organised, represent a potent corps of nation builders whose experience, skill and inspiration could be harnessed in mentorship and skill-training programmes for delinquent and at-risk youths and teenage mothers.
Ecumenism is the hidden strength of the Christian community, but divisive and territorial leaderships have eroded the true potential of the Church as a unifier in Jamaican society. Small-bore denominationalism may secure sinecures for pastors and priests but does little national good.
The Church has the capacity to be more than a halfway house for the heartbroken, soup kitchen for the poor, or host for schoolrooms. It has the affiliation and membership to make the biggest transformation in Jamaican society, something even our political parties can scarcely compete with. Pity the parsons are too busy tallying the numbers in the offering plate.