The following is Part III of a series of excerpts from the presentation by Dr Omar Davies at the launch of the book 'Caribbean Theology As Public Theology' by Rev Dr Garnett Roper at the Jamaica Theological Seminary on Saturday, February 2, 2013.
Drawing on this analysis of the recent past, Roper then proceeds to lay out a list of priorities for what he terms The Caribbean Public Theology Project as well as to discuss the role that the church ought to play in building a just and responsible society.
In laying out what he requires as the basic elements of this tenet, Roper identifies several attributes. Under the heading 'Resistance against injustice, idolatry and seductive snares in faithfulness to God', Roper speaks to the exploits of Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, who have set the example. Roper argues that one of the reasons that the 'Caribbean Theology Project' is seen as suffering from arrested development over a period of time, is the fact that it is not self-consciously perceived as public theology. A public theology would, of necessity, cause the Church to recover its role as public chaplain.
Roper establishes certain tasks for the church in its public chaplaincy.
Exorcism: which he interprets in a Caribbean context as identifying, unmasking and confronting the forces that deny the people their fair share.
Idolatry: It is the duty of the Church to break the "idols". The Church must give priority to weaning people from the values of consumerism, which give pride of place to wealth and accumulation.
Holism: The third duty of the Church in the Caribbean demands holism. Roper defines holism of what is required of the Church in relation to the Caribbean as a whole and the first duty of holism is ecumenism. There is a need for the Church in the Caribbean to overcome its own disunity.
In summary, Roper argues that the Church, in developing a Caribbean theology, has the opportunity to bring healing and hope to the people of the Caribbean. It is worth quoting his final paragraph: "If it is faithful to its mission, it stands to be pivotally a part of shaping a new people on behalf of the entire human family from which the people of the Caribbean are drawn. The sense of self will lead to Shalom, a people set free and at peace with themselves will be the continued benefit of human development in the region and the wider human family".
In reviewing Roper's publication, there can be no question about the intellectual rigour which he has brought to examining the role of the Church in the Caribbean and, particularly, the role of liberation theologians over the past 40 years. However, as a layman, there are some comments which I wish to offer and some questions which I wish to pose, in terms of the relevance and role of Caribbean Theology, in shaping the future of the region.
I wish to return to the issue of context. In discussing the flowering Caribbean (Liberation) Theology, it is my view that Roper fails to fully develop on the context of the period when liberation theology flourished in the Caribbean. In that special period, the mid-60s to the mid '70s, when radical thoughts came to the fore, not only in the Caribbean, but virtually worldwide.
THE ISSUE OF CARRIBBEAN IDENTITY
The question of Caribbean identity is central to Roper's discussion of a Caribbean Theology. This applies not only at the community and national level, but also at the individual level. Roper's dissertation provides little guidance of how we will win the battle for the minds of our Caribbean youth, whose body tattoos and 'bling' have much common with the most backward elements in the metropole.
A more sensitive matter relates to the issue of the "new sexuality." The Pentecostals and evangelicals have made common cause with the most reactionary aspects of the Church in North America, in terms of their position on issues such as gay rights. A dilemma facing Caribbean Liberation Theologians is that many of who used to be fellow radicals, have defined the grouping of 'minorities' in a way which will not find favour among many of the oppressed in the Caribbean.
Consider the following concrete example: The overwhelming majority of the Caribbean public cannot rationalise the reluctance of the Church of England to admit women to the highest echelons of the congregation, even while promoting equal rights for gays. The fact is that the position of Caribbean Liberation Theologians on such a matter does not seem as unambiguous as that of the 'televangelists and miracle moguls'.