Patricia Perry: Is SDA Church a safe space for worship?
As the largest denomination in Jamaica, the voice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will naturally attract attention. The church, therefore, has to be careful in deciding what it gives attention to as it seeks to carry out its mandate to package and present its product to Jamaicans. That product, being a better way of life than secular and other Christian ways of living, includes a safe space in which to worship.
At the moment, the church seems to be caught up in two human-rights issues. The first is the freedom to publicly express oneself sexually in the manner that he or she chooses; and the second is to publicly express oneself politically, regardless of one's position in the church's hierarchy.
While the church seeks to clarify its position on these two issues (homosexuality and involvement in state politics), it must not lose sight of its obligation to uphold another 'right' of its congregants. That right is to be safe and to experience a sense of belonging in the worship space.
This is perhaps the most fundamental need of a churchgoer in order to connect with God and man. This is the purpose of the church: a refuge for the fugitive and a hospital for sinners. Run into it and you are safe/saved. A safe church is one that guarantees that there is an audience every week to participate in the services and to make financial returns for the viability of the organisation.
The discussion about keeping the church safe from persons and systems that threaten the institution of the family, as well as keeping the church united against, and from, political divisions is as equally important as keeping the church's members safe when predators and other sexually abusive wolves in sheep clothing gather to worship.
The church has a procreative role and prophetic role, as well as an earthly or current role. In this regard, those who are in the Church and are breaking the commandments are a threat to the very institution to which they repaired for safety.
The Ten Commandments were designed to keep people in a safe and saving relationship with God and, by extension, the church. Church safety is even more serious when those who pose the threat to safety are among the leaders of the organisation.
Clerical sexual abuse is a topic that few spiritual leaders want to acknowledge or address. However, its existence cannot be denied and its potential to destroy the face of God must not be ignored. If members cannot feel safe to relate to their spiritual leaders and their children do not feel like they belong because of the threat of sexual harm from spiritual leaders, why bother to attend church? Why bother to call sinners to repentance?
You can get sexually molested, manipulated and assaulted as easily outside the church. The difference is that if you are outside the church, your chances of developing detection and survivor skills are greater because you begin to expect it to happen. However, in the church, you are more unsuspecting and less adaptable, so its occurrence is more devastating.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church would do well to learn from the Catholic Church to protect its followers from those leaders who are sexually exploiting the worshippers instead of ignoring, denying or treating lightly the issue. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to remain the church of choice in Jamaica, it should call sin by its name so that all worshippers may be more aware of how the pimps, predators, paedophiles and prostitutes parading in the precincts and pulpits of the various churches and affiliated institutions operate under the guise of Christianity.
Treating the matter appropriately will save the next generation of youngsters and help the victims, as well as the perpetrators, to make it into God's kingdom.