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Rebuked! - Seventh-day Adventist Church, NCU reprimand pastor for endorsing PNP

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 2:00 AM
Dr Michael Harvey, pastor and vice-president of spiritual affairs at Northern Caribbean University, addresses People’sNational Party supporters during the mass rally held Sunday in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew.
Pastor Everett Brown
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Pastor Dr Michael Harvey, who endorsed Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's leadership of the country and urged Jamaicans to "stay the course", has been reprimanded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and told to relinquish his position as a leader if he wants to give political views.

"He violated the principles of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in which we encourage our members not to take partisan political lines," Pastor Everett Brown, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, told The Gleaner yesterday.

"Taking a partisan political line could be very divisive for the Church," Brown said, adding that he would not, "at this point in time", say whether Harvey would be sanctioned.

But Harvey, who is employed by the church's flagship education institution, Northern Caribbean University (NCU), in the capacity of church pastor and vice-president of spiritual affairs, told The Gleaner he was confident he did not bring the church into disrepute.

"There is never a time that I would say or do anything to bring my church or the mission of the church into disrepute. I am passionate about the mission, I am a passionate person, and so I live my passion at all time," Harvey said yesterday.

He said he was taken by surprise when both the Church and NCU frowned on the fact that he spoke at the meeting.

"For now I am allowing whosoever to say what they want to say. I am just taking it easy now," Harvey said, adding that he did not intend to comment further on the subject.

While leading a devotional exercise at a massive People's National Party (PNP) meeting in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, where the date for the 17th general election was announced, Harvey told Comrades that they had a duty to ensure the PNP had returned to power.

Brown was emphatic yesterday when he said Harvey went overboard and had to be spoken to by him.

"He is free to associate. He is free to go there. We have members on either side of the fence and on no side of the fence ... but when you are a worker, when you are a pastor in the church, you should not use your position as pastor or leader to carry a partisan political position," Brown said.

"If you want to do that, you should relinquish your leadership position in the church," Brown said.

He said that Harvey, who is also a member of the National Housing Trust board, was told that "when he speaks in public, he should refrain from taking positions that could compromise the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church".

Just two weeks ago, in issuing a reminder of the Adventist world church's edict against supporting any political party, candidate, or activity, Brown had said: "It is the right of our members as citizens to exercise their franchise and vote for the candidates of their choice, but the church will not publicly or privately endorse any political party or support partisan political activities."

In addition to yesterday's reprimand from the church, NCU has also distanced itself from Harvey's comments.

"While individual members of the university community are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, the institution remains neutral on all candidates for office and all university property remains a neutral space when it comes to elections," the university said in a statement.

Brown stressed that Harvey's constitutional rights were not being violated by the church, as he was free to express his political view, but not while he was a church leader.

The Constitution of Jamaica guarantees every Jamaican the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religion or political opinion.

Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman told The Gleaner yesterday that the church was well within its right to reprimand Harvey. He said, too, that Harvey joined the church subject to its rules.

"It has nothing to do with constitutional rights. Once you are there, they are subject to those rules," Wildman said.

In rallying Comrades as he led the devotion, Harvey said: "No problem can overwhelm you; no naysayers can discourage you ... . You will not be distracted or diverted from the mission at hand. You will stay convinced, connected and committed Comrades."

He referred to Simpson Miller as "the Comrade leader" and said she was blessed with tremendous leadership qualities and was one who is "socially aware, one who has a genuine love for the people, and can empathise with them".

"It is time to rise up and be counted. Step up, Jamaicans. Rise up, Comrades, and rally to the cause," Harvey said, before closing his address with a recitation of the PNP's anthem, Jamaica Arise.

The pastor later told The Gleaner that church members could not divest themselves of the operations of the country.

"My philosophy is that we cannot stand idly by and allow things to happen. We must get involved to make the change and be the change we want to see," said Harvey, adding that he supported the policies and mission of the current administration and would like to see the PNP re-elected.

However, Brown said: "When we speak as workers and pastors of the church, we should not be carrying a partisan political agenda when representing the church."

He added: "Our workers and our pastors are not permitted to go on a political platform and to take a partisan political position. It's a no-no for our workers and our pastors and I indicated to him that he was out of line with the stated practice and policies of the Seventh-day Adventist Church."

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com