Devon Dick | Is the Obeah Act unconstitutional and unchristian?
Last week Wednesday, a woman, after making purchases in a ‘candle shop’, was detained by a cop, who searched her bag and found ‘oils, magic spray and incense’, which she claimed were personal items, but which the cop concluded were obeah materials ( STAR June 6). The seller of the items was not detained for promoting obeah, only the one who bought the items. This is oppressive, unfair, probably unconstitutional and definitely unchristian.
Possession of oils, incense and magic spray ought not to be a crime and would appear to be unconstitutional. To criminalise a belief system is patently unconstitutional. The chief justice, Bryan Sykes, Justice Batts and Justice Palmer have already stated in the NIDS case that Jamaica is under a new paradigm since the passing of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. Under that charter, everyone has the right to religious freedom. It is just a matter of time before the Obeah Act of 1898 be declared unconstitutional.
Furthermore, the Obeah Act appears unfair. Jamaica allowed Mormons to operate here although many do not agree with their beliefs, including the subordination of blacks. And Asian astrologers advertise heavily on television, and there is no law against these fantastic claims and no outrage.
Jamaican Christians need to remember that ‘same knife stick goat stick sheep’. There are countries in the world where Christians are in the minorities and the governing authorities persecute Christians for their beliefs and practices, claiming them unlawful.
Christians also need to recall that in Jamaica of the 1800s, there were some denominations, including Baptists, whose beliefs were considered a superstition and hence some Christians were persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed. Lest we forget, there was a time when the governing authorities perceived the Lord’s Supper as a cannibalistic feast because persons said they were eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus!
The provisions in the Obeah Act might be unchristian. Acts 16 records how Paul drove out the spirit of divination that was in an enslaved woman who made much money for her owners because she could predict the future. For this act, Paul and Silas were hauled before the magistrates and were flogged severely and imprisoned. The official charge was ‘advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise’ (v21). The Christians of the early Church were persecuted and prosecuted by government for their beliefs and practices, and now some Jamaican Christians want to side with the governing authorities to prosecute beliefs and practices we dislike and disdain.
How did the early Church handle sorcery? In Acts 8, the story is related about Simon, the sorcerer, who made a good living from sorcery. Sorcery held sway over Ephesus. However, through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus, the community changed, including the sorcerer. Christians need not fear obeah because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. The best antidote for obeah is not legislation, but casting out the spirits of divination and greed through the proclamation of the gospel.
Furthermore, the utterances of some Christians are popularising and promoting obeah. Last week, there was an attorney-at-law on a CVMTV panel discussing obeah, and it was said obeah is able to kill people and take away a lady’s husband, etc. If an obeah man can do all that, then some citizens will definitely want to try the obeah man to get swift justice; and since obeah can kill, they would want to use it to ensure that those who are killing people are killed, themselves.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.