Editorial | Clergy on patrol
The criminal conviction of the Reverend Merrick 'Al' Miller has resulted in a kind of appraisal of the role of the clergy in Jamaica's long-running battle against crime and violence.
There was a loud chorus of religious leaders supporting Rev Miller after his arrest, however, he was found guilty of perverting the course of justice for his part in the July 2010 events leading to the capture of fugitive Christopher Coke.
Disguised as a woman, Coke was held after a high-speed chase with police along the Mandela Highway. He was Miller's passenger.
During his trial, Miller consistently maintained that he was escorting Coke to the United States Embassy, where he intended to surrender in the face of extradition orders issued against him. The police appeared to contradict this explanation, and the judge obviously believed that Miller was lying.
If, indeed, Rev Miller took a controversial path in order to bring Coke to the authorities and face his crimes, he may have mistakenly felt that religious liberty gave him the right to make unilateral decisions while performing a civic duty.
Fact is, human beings often overreach either because of enthusiasm or perhaps arrogance. Rev Miller's actions occurred during a period of heightened tension and bloodshed. He may have thought he was fulfilling his obligation to serve the public good and that his action would have had a beneficial impact on the community. Alas, benefit of clergy is not a route out of any criminal act in these times.
In the aftermath of Miller's conviction and million-dollar fine, prominent religious leader, Herro Blair, has reportedly called for a rethink of the role of religious leaders in assisting crime-fighting efforts. We hope Rev Blair's cautionary note will not result in the dulling of efforts by members of the clergy to be constructive mediators in crime-solving initiatives.
With escalating violence and few innovative strategies to tackle crime, there have been many public calls for divine intervention. And it is to the Church that the community looks for such a response, so it is not surprising that there is a growth of interest in what religion can do for our country that is mired in crime which has created fear in many households. This is not the time for the clergy to withdraw from this kind of engagement because there is a glaring need for coalitions that can support the efforts of the overburdened and underpaid policemen and women.
Many members of the clergy operate in poor, crime-infested neighbourhoods where they come into contact with criminals and understand the realities of the justice system because they are called to minister among those in dire circumstances. Law-abiding citizens must recognise that the police cannot restore Jamaica to its once peaceful existence all on its own and need help from all stakeholders.
The clergy has to move from the pulpit and into the communities, where many people, especially victims of crime, are in search of counselling, as well as emotional and spiritual support. We definitely need more collaborative work between police, clergy and laity. However, any consequent action must be done in concert with the police and law-enforcement personnel.