Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Thou shalt not campaign

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 2:29 AM
Dr Michael Harvey, pastor and vice-president of spiritual affairs at Northern Caribbean University, addresses People’s National Party supporters during the mass rally held last Sunday in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.

And the Lord Jesus said, " Thou shalt not mark thine X beside the bell or the head. Choose ye not the Comrades by day or the labourites by night."

Of course, there is no such verse in the Bible, but you would be surprised how many ignoramus pastors and St Peter wannabes go to pulpits and platforms and make convincing statements, simply by preaching in an ancient language, which, interestingly, Jesus didn't speak. Knowest thou what thou readest?

The often-quoted "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's", cited from Mark 12:17, is generally used as a guiding principle regarding the relationship between Church and State.

Recently, two men of the cloth decided to switch allegiance from Jesus after being infected by the orange or green virus, apparently developed instant microcephaly, as their brains suddenly shrank while on political platforms.

First, at a rally in Lionel Town, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) councillor/caretaker for the Hayes division in Clarendon, the Reverend Leroy Palmer, selfishly dialled up his toll-free line, asking Almighty God to help his party win the upcoming election. Not realising that God has a 'Nokya' phone, he implored, "... Those, Almighty God, who are standing on the side of the People's National Party. We pray that there be a conversion tonight as we seek to enlarge the amount and the interest of the Jamaica Labour Party."

Representing the same party that criticised Security Minister Peter Bunting when he pleaded for divine intervention in facing our crime problem, Palmer was at his ludicrous best. Sure, he gets my vote - but for Best Comic Performance by a Clergyman Outside of a Church Hall.

Not to be outdone, Pastor Dr Michael Harvey, senior pastor and vice-president for spiritual affairs at Northern Caribbean University, a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) institution, was at the massive People's National Party (PNP) mass meeting in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.

He was well fired up last Sunday, exhorting, "It is time to rise up and be counted. Step up, Jamaicans, rise up, Comrades, and rally to the cause. Because if it is a mountain, we can climb it; if it's a race we can win it." He represents the SDAs, whose membership comprises more than 10 per cent of the population. An endorsement by that denomination could be a major election boost.

Appropriately, the SDA hierarchy has distanced itself from Harvey's declaration - he has also been sent on administratively leave by both the NCU and university boards - and rightly emphasised that the SDA Church is a non-partisan entity, and individuals should vote according to their consciences.

Nonetheless, while I appreciate the pronouncement, I recall the silence of the SDA bigwigs when Pastor Dr Patrick Allen, regional leader of their faith, stepped down from his vaunted position, to become governor general in 2009. Indeed, it was a lot of smugness as the Adventist News Network massaged its ego. Its World Church president, its equivalent of the Roman Catholic Pope, congratulated him and stated, "We pray for God's continued blessing as he carries out his new civic responsibilities."

Despite the illusion that the GG is the head of state, he cannot make any pronouncement or do anything which is in opposition to the prime minister. Even as a devout SDA, he had to implicitly sign the flexitime law, allowing for the Sabbath to be considered a normal working day. And whether or not it was signed personally by him, his deputy had to have signed with his blessing.

CLERGYMEN IN POLITICS

Other clergymen are openly involved in politics. Sir Howard Cooke, Sir Patrick's predecessor twice removed, was an ordained minister. The former president of the Senate was the Reverend Stanley Redwood and the indefatigable Reverend Deacon Ronnie Thwaites is the education minister.

However, I cannot recall any of those persons, especially in recent times, using their pulpits to preach politics. They keep them separate. Praying for a particular outcome in an election among humans in a democracy is dangerous ground upon which to walk.

Nevertheless, there is a stronger delusion about the separateness of Church and State. This has only been so when Jesus first established his motley crew of disciples. Later, when Saul, who like us never met Jesus personally, was struck down, he converted and was the main writer of the Bible. It is his teachings that we mostly accept. So, interestingly, most of us should actually admit that we are following the cleansed-out Saul and are actually Paulines.

Christians and Paulines were persecuted by the Roman government for almost 300 years, until 312 AD, when Emperor Constantine, consecrated by the black Pope Militiades, made Christianity the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. It is he who organised the church along the lines of the Roman army.

Thus, the hierarchy, chain of command, vows of obedience, and dioceses are all remnants of that. Despite the 'protestations', all organised denominations are structured like the old Roman army/church; the SDAs, too.

In fact, the distinction between Church and State came in the 1530s when Henry VIII made himself head of church and head of state, because the Pope, refused to approve his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, whose parents had commissioned Columbus to come to Jamaica and get lost. To date, the Anglican Church is deeply intertwined in the governance structure of the United Kingdom.

Locally, we must not forget that the anti-slavery movement was church led. Thus, William Knibb and a slate of Baptists were our allies in the struggle. Our own Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle were ministers. Forget not, also, the activism of American reverend Martin Luther King Jr, and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu or the body of Catholic Liberation Theologists in Latin America.

Today, several denominations in the USA have endorsed the Democratic Party. More bizarre is that, historically, the Church also supported slavery, and the annihilation of Native Americans, and even today the wretched racist Ku Klux Klan has entrenched clergymen.

Still, in the context of a divided Jamaican society, with churches failing and losing their young men, the clergy needs to focus on its primary role and be fishers of men. Indeed, the parties are doing better than the churches in drawing out and keeping their followers. Even parsons are now christening their flock last.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.