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Editorial: Appreciating the Adventist position

Published:Wednesday | February 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM

When Michael Harvey studies to become, and by the time of his eventual ordination as a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he would have to become aware, if he didn't know what he was getting into, of the canons of that organisation and what is expected of serving pastors.

Further, when he took the job as vice-president for spiritual affairs at the SDA-financed and -run Northern Caribbean University (NCU), where he is also church pastor at its Mandeville campus, Dr Harvey, we presume, would have been given a relatively precise job description and expected behaviour, within the tenets of an Adventist institution.

In that regard, we can't but be sympathetic to the statements by both the church and the university about Dr Harvey's attendance for prayer at Sunday night's public rally of the governing People's National Party (PNP), at which Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced February 25 as the date for the general election.

Dr Harvey not only invoked God's partisan intervention into the contest on behalf of the PNP, but sensibly appreciated that divine action would hardly, of itself, if at all, deliver the required result. So, he backed up prayer with an exhortation to PNP supporters "to rise up and be counted" in the election.

"Step up, Jamaica, rise up, Comrades, and rally to the cause," he said.

This newspaper finds nothing inherently offensive or preposterous in Dr Harvey's remarks, or that he, or any other pastor, would appear on the platform of, or publicly declare support for, any political party. This falls squarely within an individual's constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, which are critical underpinnings of Jamaica's democracy.

There is, though, a proviso: circumstances where such an action or behaviour is contrary the rules and/or canons of that church or organisation and to which the individual voluntarily subscribes and is avowed. Which is the case made by NCU and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including the chairman of its Jamaica Union Conference, Everett Brown.

"As a worker of the church, he (Dr Harvey) should not be so involved in partisan political activities to the extent that his comments may influence the actions of any our members, or give the public the impression that the church is aligned with any of our political parties," Pastor Brown said in a statement.

He separately told this newspaper that while Dr Harvey or anyone was "free to associate" with a political party", if he wished to be so publicly involved, "you should relinquish your leadership position in the church".

Dr Harvey, as he insists, may have done or said nothing to bring his church into disrepute, and, perhaps, would never do so. That, however, is not what is precisely at issue here. Rather, it is whether in pursuing what he perceives to be his church's bigger mission, he strayed from doctrine, canons, tenets, rules, understandings, or contract.

Neither the SDA Church nor NCU has said whether formal sanctions are being contemplated against Dr Harvey. Perchance they are, we expect he will get a better shot at natural justice than was afforded to Sha-Shana James, the NCU student who was debarred in that 2014 girl-on-girl hand-kissing as part of a cheerleading contest.