Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Wake Up, Church!

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Political and business leaders at the 34th National Leadership Prayer Breakfast 2014. - File

Karl B. Johnson, Guest Columnist

This time of the year provides a natural invitation to engage in a time of reflection and projection.  As a self-professed 'realist' I have long ceased entering a new year fixated on specific goals or aspirations.

On the contrary, I try to order and undergird my life and steps along the principles and values which I believe are essential to navigate the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, mountain tops and valleys which are part and parcel of every year.

This year for me has thrown up no major surprises, to date, albeit there have been many instances that elicited joy and too many that plunged me into mourning and lamenting. One overriding feeling is that of ongoing disappointment in how little progress we as the human race have made during the first few years of the 21st century which promised so much and so far has delivered so little.

Whether it is the Russia/Ukraine crisis or the continuing Israel/Palestine saga or the rise of the Islamic State or the never-ending race-related issues in America, you name it, one would believe that, save for the rapid advance of certain technologies, we were still in ages long past.

I remain convinced that increasingly we could describe this current period as the 'Day of Ethics', in that, life in many ways is about choices, and gone are the days when choices are uniformly acceptable.

It ought to be borne in mind that when I speak of 'ethics' I am speaking of the principles that guide our actions, why we do what we do. Of course, an important corollary is 'morality' which is more about 'what we do'.

Inasmuch as the Church in Jamaica still ranks as one of the most trusted institutions, I am of the view that the year under review was one which could have benefited from more thoughtful and insightful engagement with the wider society.

The Church needs to reaffirm and/or rediscover its commitment to constructive engagement with, and in, the society.

We, as Church, do not have the luxury of disengagement from the world. To the contrary, as we deepen our engagement we ought not to be afraid to constantly scrutinise and re-examine our stance and standing under the microscope.

It is in being self-critical that the Church is going to ensure that the principles, mores and standards it embraces and espouses are governed by the Lord of the Church and no one else.

This year the Church upped the ante on certain issues, especially ones reflecting a focus on marriage and the family. In so doing we earned the criticism of being 'one-track' minded and predictable; this critique was levelled not only by detractors but some fellow believers as well. My own view is that sections of the Church, like any other group in society, should feel free to take a principled stand on that which they deem important.

That said, I must admit that, in addition to positing less than cogent arguments, the show of might methodology adopted by Jamaica Cause, triggered primarily by the (Professor Brendan) Bain/University of the West Indies issue, didn't resonate with me.

'PUFF-UP-CHEST' APPROACH

The 'puff-up-chest' approach to grappling with issues has not served us well in recent times and I believe we could accomplish more by educating our members about what it means to live in a post-modern/post-Christian age. It is time sections of the Church realise that Jamaica is not a theocracy and the days when the moniker 'Christian Country' applied to us have all but disappeared.

Our prophetic voice as Church begs for a sharper edge, informed by the embedded, institutionalised issues which prevent the vast majority of Jamaicans from being and becoming what God intended for them.

In this 'sound bite' age our prophetic ministry needs to deliver more than nice-sounding cliches and hackneyed phrases. We have to ward off the tyranny of the urgent imposed by a society which craves instant fixes/responses to the issue of the day and systematically drill down to the knotty root of the problems which torment and affect our quality of life.

Let the Church raise her voice in alarm and disgust at the statistic that describes Jamaica as one of the most inequitable countries in the world. We need to make it known that while we understand the current economic quagmire we are in and the need for a relationship with the International Monetary Fund, the solutions to our current state do not lie in mere economics.

A major contributor to financial inequity and injustice across the world is greed. Greed is an ethical and moral issue and we must say so. We must look in the eyes of the purveyors of power, the so-called king makers and speak truth to them. Ours is the responsibility to challenge societal leaders who have become adept at 'loving money' while 'using people' and at the same time portraying themselves, via slick public relations campaigns, as embracing the 'human resource'. Truth is, their love for the 'human resource' begins and ends with how they impact the bottom line.

Our voice lacked that prophetic edge, this at a time when so many Jamaicans have been impoverished and marginalised, while companies and organisations are allowed to trample on them. Sadly, too many of the 'captains of industry' are allowed to sit comfortably in our pews while they suck the very lifeblood of the poor and needy. We are, too often, quick to sanitise their profile in exchange for their patronage of certain causes.

When we rediscover our prophetic voice we will continue with increasing decibel to decry the still too high rate of crime and violence in Jamaica. I am deeply distressed but refuse to be numbed by our viciousness against each other. Like others, I am heartened by the downward trend in murders but refuse to forget that it is not numbers who are maimed and killed but human beings.

PRAYING FOR CIVILITY

I loathe the scant regard for each other that we have been displaying. We need to cultivate an ethic of life which will seep into our every interaction be it at school, church, work or play; be it in Parliament, chamber of commerce or dance hall. Too much crassness has crept into our everyday experience and this year was no exception. It is my prayer that civility will be born-again in 2015.

If we were to agree to embrace an ethic of life where we value each other as we should then how we behave on the roadways would also be positively impacted. This year has been was a painful reminder of the lack of law and order in Jamaica as evidenced by the rampant recklessness and needless loss of lives on our roads.

This is an area in which we could successfully, without the deployment of overwhelming financial resources, symbolically put our collective foot down on the side of the rule of law. Let's pool our resources - ideas, money, time, etc - to launch an assault on all traffic offenders and let us begin with ourselves.

I note with optimism the expressed desire to pass the amendments to the Road Traffic Act into law before long. But given our track record of enforcement, I call on the leaders of our beloved country to rise up and lead the way in restoring a sense of law and order to our roads in 2015.

While being happy to see the debate re the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) finally get off the ground in the Parliament, I am disappointed that it took so long and that it did so with the Opposition absent. Let me declare my hand by saying that I am in support of saying 'ta-ta' to the United Kingdom-based Privy Council and replacing it with the CCJ as Jamaica's final court of appeal. I believe the time is long overdue for that relic of our colonial past, along with severing monarchical ties with Britain, to come to pass.

Having heard the Opposition's position, which is its right to hold, I will only say this, let the debate be robust and respectful but at no point must it result in the undermining and belittling of the calibre and pedigree of our jurists and/or our country and region.

This is a good juncture to segue into what must be one of my big disappointments of 2014, and that is our continued inability to converse in a manner that sheds more light than heat and leads to consensus on mission critical issues.

In a sense, it is a natural outcome of a country lacking an ethical and moral centre, the framework of which is becoming unglued and disappearing; a country where the affirmation of life is seemingly a fleeting illusion; one whose citizens possess a decreasing sense of self-worth and validation.

Our debates are usually more reactive than reasoned, cantankerous than constructive, tribal than truthful. That is why the issues of moment are oftentimes left unresolved only to resurface at another time with renewed venom. A case in point is the National Housing Trust (NHT)/Outameni debacle.

Given the many instances of controversy that have dogged the NHT over time, the rules surrounding its governance and operational matters should have long been settled. By the way, I long for the day when we will view the act of resignation not as a sign of wrongdoing or weakness but as one which speaks to taking the higher ground. Let us all hold ourselves to adherence to a kind of discourse which will be robust and respectful; animated and enlightening.

We cannot give up on this country, which is plan 'A', 'B' and 'C' for most of us. Let's resurrect the concept of solidarity so badly massacred but which is in desperate need of returning to our consciousness as a people. The road ahead will be bumpy but if we decide to pool and pull together there will be no mountain we cannot conquer.

Who knows, perhaps if we were to reorder our lives and society along some of the paths afore suggested, then Jamaica could really become the place of choice not just to live, work and raise our children but also to retire and rest, and the region could be confident that what our cricket governors and players visited upon us in India would never be repeated!!

Is that enough for a 2015 vision??  Shalom!

The Reverend Karl B. Johnson is the general secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union. Feedback by email to editorial@glenerjm.com