By Jaevion Nelson
JAMAICA IS YET to carve out an appropriate space in which religion and government can exist independently. This has, unfortunately, led to an inflation of the Church's relevance in the matters of everyday, even non-religious, Jamaicans.
Political leaders feign thin veins of spirituality to appease the Church enough to get elected, and they show enough respect to keep their powerful, wealthy machinery firing pistons at differences that are millennia away. What else could explain the Church's deafening silence at the paltry governance that has plagued Jamaica for the last half century?
Successive governments have largely failed at providing above basic leadership and direction to the people in almost all aspects of our existence and the Church has remained complacent to protect its privileged status.
Vision 2030, our road map to becoming a developed nation, acknowledges firmly the problems with governance and proposes some ambitious solutions. Many Jamaicans are invested in the achievement of these goals to ensure transparency, accessibility and accountability in government and the justice system as well as the empowerment of vulnerable communities in accessing their full potential through education and actual participation in democracy. These are core concepts of Vision 2030.
Ensuring our leaders appropriately design policies, provide services and enact and enforce laws that favour no person or group over the other is crucial to development. As Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme, states, "good governance matters ... in getting development results [through] strong vision and leadership at the political level, backed by a high-quality public service contributing to the design and execution of policy."
Corruption, for example, is a feature of weak governance systems. Transparency International notes "corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions". The effects of corruption in Jamaica are perverse, and the country is ranked 83rd on the global corruption perception index. Regrettably, key social institutions like the church are not doing enough in this regard. For example,
They have also ensured Parliament doesn't offend religious sensibilities by making abortion legal. The Church has kept silent about the repression and status of women in Jamaica. Some will reject this notion, but I dare them to count how many women are electing the new Pope or to accurately explain why a male Jehovah Witness is rarely seen knocking on doors or gates.
Some Christians are convinced that line between existence and divine annihilation is the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual rights in Jamaica. It wouldn't be an unfair assumption to say the Church wants their never-wrong brand of morality to be that measuring stick of all Jamaicans, and what they do with the people they love. This is how they believe we will ensure our development as a nation. As the Love March movement says, sexual purity is key to the survival of Jamaica.
A VOCAL CHURCH
We must question how the Church has used its powerful, well-rooted privilege and why the opinion of other religious groups has also never been afforded the same level of respect in this diverse, multicultural nation. Can you imagine how better off we would be if the church was vocal about governance and corruption?
Of course, I am not singling out individual churches - I am very aware of Christians and religious leaders contributing much to the development of this country. It is, however, your choice to admit or not that the Church - by design or not - is complicit in facilitating our corrupt system of governance.
The Church has failed us miserably. They continue to use their wealth and influence to do little more than demonise the changing values of a global, contemporary, modern Jamaica - one not shackled to the higher laws of religion. Understandably, any institution that fears the erosion of its privilege will protect itself ... but at what cost? Just imagine if the Church let go of the moral chastity belt and fight with the rest of us for our development. Imagine if we all pool our resources, including the communities we serve, to focus on good governance. What a profound impact this would have on the society!
PS: Contemporary and secular are not interchangeable words. Someone should deliver that message at the next Sunday school.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, human rights and HIV Advocate. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jaevionn