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Abortion anguish - US cleric wants Church to speak with one voice on controversial issue but local Christian leader says that’s unlikely

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Anti-abortion cleric, the Reverend Eugene Rivers.

United States-born anti-abortion cleric, the Reverend Eugene Rivers, has called on Jamaican church leaders to speak with one voice on the hot-button issue of legalising abortion, which is being considered by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.

Rivers, a Pentecostal Pastor of the Azusa Christian Community Center in Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, is a well-known anti-violence preacher working in black communities in the USA.

Two weeks ago, Rivers, on behalf of Jamaica and Churches Action Uniting Societies for Emancipation (CAUSE), addressed the private member’s motion brought by government backbencher, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, which calls for the repeal of the current legislation that makes abortion illegal.

In an exclusive interview withThe Sunday Gleaner, Rivers called for moral consistency on the issue by the Church and urged Christians to speak with one voice on the issue.

‘The unborn have rights’

“The issue of abortion should be on a larger public debate. Understood as a question of a defence of the unborn on one level and to articulate the proposition which has been generally disregarded, even in the religious community, that the unborn is a human, at some earlier level of development, who should have rights,” argued Rivers.

“There are all kinds of interest groups which advocate for their rights, and they should. Our argument is that if every other conceivable form of life among humans can make the argument that their rights should be respected, we are advancing morally and philosophically the notion that there should be a public consideration that the unborn have rights,” added Rivers.

He said that he was not a Bible-thumping religious fundamentalist with a partisan agenda, and he did not come to Jamaica to impose his views on anyone.

Rivers argued that Jamaica needs to have a rational conversation on the issue of abortion, even as he admitted that it is a challenge among the religious community on the issue.

“The religious people, God bless you, but if all you have is your Bible, that won’t do,” declared Rivers, as he underscored the need for a unified voice by the Church.

Unity unlikely

But president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Reverend Merlyn Hyde Riley, said while it would be great for the Church to speak with one voice, she does not believe it will happen.

“There are a lot of church-related issues, which, if we could achieve one voice on issues, perhaps we would only have one church. We have different theological positions, traditions that inform perspectives on the issue. So I don’t think we will necessarily have one voice on the issue of abortion,” Hyde Riley toldThe Sunday Gleaner.

“It would be nice to have one voice, but I don’t know if that will ever be accomplished, because of various religious convictions, and also other considerations which they would normally apply in making decisions on these matters,” added Hyde Riley.

In the meantime, Major Richard Cooke, one of the members of Jamaica CAUSE, said that while there will be differing views on abortion, fundamental to the group’s advocacy on the matter was the destruction of a human life.

“It is unnatural for a mother to destroy her own child. But lives are destroyed, and the abortion itself has destroyed lives, sometimes irreparably,” said Cooke.

Cuthbert-Flynn, an Olympian, now legislator in the House of Representatives, wants that body to take steps to repeal sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, which makes abortion illegal, and substitute it with a civil law, The Termination of Pregnancy Act.

The replacement was recommended by the Abortion Policy Review Group in 2007.