St James pastors offer up mixed views on crime
Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Western Bureau:With criminal violence, including a spate of murders, tarnishing the image of St James, National Security Minister Peter Bunting has challenged the Church in the parish to break its silence and join the outcry against lawlessness.
But church leaders in the parish say there is no truth to the claim that they have been silent, even as they accept that they could do more.
"In Spanish Town, we have seen a real courageous effort by the ministers' fraternal and the church leadership to take on the criminals and the whole criminal culture," said Bunting during a tour of western Jamaica last week.
"As a result, we have seen a marked reduction in violent crime in the St Catherine North (police division) and Spanish Town in particular.
"If we could get the pastors in St James to take it on (the criminal violence) with equal courage and enthusiasm, I think that it would also have an impact," added Bunting.
According to Bunting, his ministry is prepared to support the church leaders with resources and with a social media marketing budget to encourage them to reach out into the communities.
However, the Reverend Everton Jackson, pastor at the Calvary Baptist circuit of churches and chairman of the Peace Management Initiative in St James, says the Church has not been inactive in the parish.
"If the minister is saying more needs to be done, I will agree with him because there is always room for improvement," said Jackson.
"The Church is continuing to make its presence felt through programmes designed for the empowerment of youths to become productive contributors to nation-building," added Jackson.
He said it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the Church from the perspective of the lottery scam as there are diverse views based on theological positions.
"The ministry of the Church is not measured in that quantitative way because the truth is, the ministry of the Church is constantly challenging young people to delay gratification and to reorganise their values," said Jackson.
"Scamming or evil in whatever forms it takes, whether private or institutional, the churches continue to speak against corruption whether in high or low places. Some may respond, others may not, but that does not mean the Church is not faithful to its mandate," continued Rev Jackson.
separated from issues
In the meantime, the Reverend Charles Brevitt, pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist circuit of churches in Granville, St James, thinks the Church has separated itself from the issues of the society to its own detriment.
"The Church has lost its effectiveness and only a few pastors are now willing to go down to ground level, where people are hurting and where reality is striking," said Brevitt.
"In some instances, we are not seeing the reality of people's lives, where there is unemployment, crime and corruption."
According to Brevitt, denominational boundaries could be one of the factors that have prevented more from being done.
"We need to call scamming what it is - theft - and our (church) members who are involved must be brought to book," declared Brevitt.
"Getting your hands dirty in the trenches of life does not necessarily get you in the front page or on the TV cameras, but some of us will have to labour in obscurity for the salvation of the next generation."
For the Reverend Knollis King, pastor of the Rose Heights United Full Gospel Church and founder of the Covenant of Peace, while the Church is making its presence felt, it could do more.
"The Church has played its role, and while it can do much better, the Church has not been given the support that is needed," said King, who is also the councillor for the Montego Bay South East division in the St James Parish Council.
"What the Government should have done is come and support the Covenant of Peace and use our model in other communities, because the evidence is there," stated King.
"I have moved from burying an average of seven youths each week to zero."
Based on latest police data, St James has the highest homicide rate per capita in Jamaica, with 123 persons killed in the parish since the start of the year.
The violence in St James has spilled over into the neighbouring parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover, as they too are figuring high on the homicide chart with 56 and 27 murders, respectively, since the start of this year.
Much of the latest violence in St James and adjoining parishes has been blamed on the multimillion-dollar lottery scam which targets foreigners and tricks them out of their money.