By Roderick Hewitt, Contributor
AS THE year 2002 draws to a close and we enter the New Year 2003 to face its challenges, it is certain that the monster of crime and violence will continue to be foremost on the nation's agenda. The electronic and print media have presented us with diverse analyses of the causes and solutions to our crime and violence problem. Most of the arguments are rooted in political and economic perspectives. I wish to posit an argument that there is a significant religious dimension to the expression of crime and violence within our culture.
It is generally acknowledged that Jamaica has one of the highest ratios of churches per square mile in the world. It is claimed that we have over 600 denominations for a population of 2.6 million with a significant number of denominations entering the society since 1980! The underlying assumption is that where many churches exist the people are generally good, law-abiding citizens. However, the opposite could also be true that where many churches exist it is a sign that not only are the Christians divided but also the community in which they serve. It is not surprising that many of our inner-city communities where crime and violence are endemic, they also boast having more churches per square mile than in suburban communities.
A CO-OPERATIVE MODEL
There is indeed a religious dimension to the experience of violence in our society. Up to the period when Britain ruled Jamaica, the churches founded by missionaries from Europe and from the United States were dominant in the shaping of Christian values. Although there was intense competition among the missionaries, there were also examples of co-operative ventures. The Presbyterians, for example, agreed with the Anglican, Baptist and Methodist missionaries not to evangelise in the parishes of Portland and St. Thomas because the church was already well represented in those parishes. The church practised joint ventures in educational and religious institutions such as St. Andrews High School for Girls (Methodists and United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands).
Crime and violence were rooted in the structures of the society during the days of colonialism. The struggle for human rights is not a recent discovery by enlightened ones in our society as we are being led to believe. Long before these groups thought of human rights as a crusading principle, it was the Church, trade unions and emerging political parties that defended the rights of the poor who suffered from institutional violence within the society. This was the period when people had a deeper sense of loyalty to communal institutions through which they would corporately put up resistance against the forces of violence. There was a strong ethic of communal solidarity and a co-operative effort to fight a wrong. It was rooted in the theology of the churches. It was that which gave the nation the spiritual strength to journey towards independence. It was that which under-girded our national motto: "Out of many one people".
AN INDIVIDUALISTIC VIEW
However a strategic shift in worldview occurred soon after Independence as Jamaica became more open to the world. The period 1972-80 saw the Cold War tension at its height within the Jamaican context. The USA strategy to reclaim Jamaica from Cuban communistic influences and refashion it into the capitalist worldview included a religious agenda.
I remember well during my days at the United Theological College during the mid-1970's that it was widely known among the student body that they were one or two so-called 'independent students' from the USA claiming to be studying theology who were in fact agents of an intelligence agency. They were planted to spy on the staff and students advocating Caribbean liberation theology. The churches that belong to the Jamaica Council of Churches were considered to be ideologically suspect because they gave theological legitimacy to democratic socialism through the hermeneutics of its Theology of Liberation.
The USA and its local allies sought to roll back the influences of what they identified as 'mainline churches' and to silence the voices of spokespersons such as Ernle Gordon, Ashley Smith and Oliver Daley. They also sought to empower the younger churches that have been planted by missionaries from the USA conservative 'Bible Belt' region. The high number of new denominations that were incorporated in Jamaica during the 1980s speaks volume to this perspective.
Some of these younger churches with charismatic evangelists were empowered financially and through the use of the media to counter the influence of liberation theology with a traditional fundamentalist theology that was aligned to the American religious right. They were equipped to be media savvy for the task of winning the hearts and minds of Jamaicans.
The world was divided up into them and us, good and evil, on the side of God and on the side of Satan. Hal Lindsay's book "The Late Great Planet Earth" gave an end time consciousness to the underlying political process to get Christians to become fatalistic and surrender their God-given right to work for nation building. The internal struggle was very intense because many of the younger churches saw their fight/struggle with the older churches as saving the true church from 'a serious heresy/error' in which leaders were making too many concessions to the secular world and its godless ideology of socialism and the rationalising influences. At the core of the struggle was also the role of encroaching post-modernity. The leaders of the younger churches created a counter-cultural alternative vision of society. They unleashed the religious version of capitalism with its emphasis on rampant individualism, innovative worship and being prosperous at all cost.
The phenomenal rise in charismatic and newer forms of evangelical churches saw some church leaders functioning like TV stars. Their churches became big and wealthy, worship was contemporary and through the radio and TV people were fed with an anti-ecumenical theology. The individualism as an ideology became enthroned. Salvation became totally privatised. Christ came to change individuals without similar emphasis being invested in salvation of the community.
The increasing impact of globalisation and the demand of institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and other international financial institution forced Government to privatise the nation's asset. We became a nation of rampant consumers, borrowing money from everywhere to buy consumer-perishable goods from everywhere. Relying on our own food from our farmers and using the products from our manufacturers became unfashionable. The individual wants became god and this was legitimised by the misguided prosperity individualist theology imported also from North America.
Are we surprised therefore with the contemporary rampant individualism shaping the nation's development? It is this spirit of unchecked individualism that is feeding the violence in our society. No one is accountable to the other. The individual sets the agenda at the expense of the well being of the community.
2003 will need to see a new way of being church emerging in Jamaica. The continuing fragmentation cannot be sustained in the name God. We must call it what it really is: a scandal! We continue to do violence through fragmentation by making the spirit of disunity and individualism god. Jesus prayer is still waiting to be fulfilled in Jamaica: "that all of them may be one Father...so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21) Jamaica needs spiritual strength to come together and work together to deal with its perennial problems. However the coming together must begin with the Church in every local community throughout our nation.
The Rev Roderick R. Hewitt is Minister of the Hope United Church. E-mail email@example.com