Tue | Dec 5, 2023

Canute S. Thompson | The Church and moral leadership - Part 2

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM

In part One of this series (published in yesterday's Gleaner), I noted that the Church in general, but the Moravian Church in particular, must be experiencing one of its darkest moments on account of the arrest and charge of a senior minister for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old girl. I made reference to reports from other parts of the world that show that not only was sexual abuse of minors rampant, but that one major aggravating feature was cover-up by leaders of the Church.

This problem of cover-up manifested itself in a failure of leadership to take action in a timely manner to address situations or to take action that amounted to protecting the accused.

Reports concerning the alleged conduct of and the charges against the Moravian minister indicate that the police have widened their investigation and are looking into allegations that similar acts may have been committed previously by the minister. If it is the case that there were previous acts, the question that arises is whether the leadership of the church was aware of such allegations involving this minister, and if so, what did the leadership do about what it knew.

The leadership being aware does not mean that the minister would be any less culpable for what he did, if it is established that he did those things which are now alleged. If the leadership was aware and did not take appropriate action, then it, too, would be guilty of some form of malfeasance. The president of the church, Dr Paul Gardner, is quoted in the media as saying that the church does not condone the kind of behaviour of which the minister has been accused. If so, this would mean that were Gardner made aware of previous reports or allegations, his executive would have taken action. I believe, therefore, that as a responsible church leader, Gardner should at some point declare, or be asked to declare what he knew, when he knew it and what he did about it.

The broader supra-legal issue which arises from this entire episode is one of moral leadership. Moral leadership is as much about courage as it is about conscience. Thus B. Bass (1985) describes moral leadership as the kind that "helps followers to see the real conflict between competing moral values and the inconsistencies between espoused values and behavior and the need for realignments of values, changes in behavior, or transformations of institutions". W. Roepke (1995) agrees, noting that the most pressing need in society today is for moral leadership. The reason moral leadership is in such great demand is based in the fact that cowardly and inconsistent actions are so commonplace that only courage and conscience can cure.




The key element of the scandals in other parts of the world is that the leadership knew about questionable conduct by ministers but covered up by shielding ministers through re-assignment. The behaviour of the leadership of the churches in these situations may be reasonably attributed to the lack of moral leadership resulting from the absence of courage or a functioning conscience, or both. While accepting that courage and conscience may well be needed in the Moravian Church, as in all others, until the members of the church and the wider public are told, or told otherwise, the posture that must be adopted is that the leadership of the church was not aware of any reports of sexual misconduct involving minors, associated with the minister.

Dr Gardner has also indicated that the mechanisms for greater accountability in the church are to the revisited and strengthened. This is a good position to pursue, but the declaration of such intent is only as good as the consistency of the church's position in treating with these matters.

If the Moravian Church in Jamaica is to be a source of inspiration and is to shine as an example of moral leadership, it has a duty, in my view, to not only take the swift and strong action that it has taken in suspending the minister, but it has an even greater duty to open up itself and declare what it knew before this public incident, if anything, when it knew it, and what it did about it. Taking such a step will indeed be courageous and a display of moral conscience.

- Dr Canute Thompson is a certified management consultant and lecturer in educational policy, planning and leadership at the School of Education, UWI. Send comments to canutethompson1@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.