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Don't blame us - Church leaders say they are doing their part in the fight against crime

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

( L - R ) Richards, Thomas, Panton

AS THE nation continues to struggle to find answers to the crime problem, more and more fingers are being pointed at the Christian church for its perceived failure to play a lead role.

But the church leaders who are slated to meet with senior members of the police force this week say much of their work to reduce crime and violence is going unnoticed.

Vicar general of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Monsignor Kenneth Richards, argues that the church has played a significant part in crime-curtailing efforts, but he accepts that more could have been done.

According to Richards, there is a measure of hypocrisy involved in the expectations of the church as interventions by religious groups are often rejected.

"I think the Church has been doing a lot. The problem is, crime is a complex issue," asserted Richards. "To suggest that the church can solve the problem is unfair."

Richards argued that the situation would have been far worse without the intervention of the church.

"Everyone wants to shift the blame to someone else for what is happening. This has added to the complexity of the situation," he contended.

Richards cited the efforts of the Downtown Ministers' Fraternal, which has been instrumental in peace marches, forging peace initiatives and quelling anger among gang members in some volatile communities.

"The organisation has done much to mitigate and curtail the escalation of crime in the (downtown Kingston) area," declared Richards.

"It is the authorities who now need to act by getting to the source and cutting off the supply of illegal weapons."

Family life

Richards also cited church programmes which ensure that members of vulnerable groups are gainfully engaged.

However, he said the church, including the membership, could do more in the way they lead their lives.

"The membership needs to wake up and look at the way they administer justice and how the Gospel impacts family life."

Richards is getting support from leaders of other Christian groups, which are to meet to look at ways they can do even more in the anti-crime campaign.

"The groups have put aside their doctrinal differences to try to come up with a united approach to the problem," Bishop Everton Thomas of the Emanuel Apostolic Church said. "We are looking at a more cohesive approach to crime fighting."

Thomas told The Sunday Gleaner that the Jamaica Council of Churches is collaborating with the World Council of Churches to support ongoing peace initiatives by the Jamaica Baptist Union in the volatile 100 and Park lanes in the Red Hills Road community.

Curtailing crime

He disclosed that the joint umbrella grouping would be meeting with the Peace Management Initiative, led by the Reverend Everton Jackson in the western end of the island and Bishop Herro Blair in the Corporate Area, as well as the police and other stakeholders to determine how the church could be of assistance in curtailing crime.

That is good news for former chaplain of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Reverend Vivian Panton, who is not convinced that the Church is doing enough.

"The question that keeps plaguing me is that Jamaica is often described as the most religious country in the world based on the number of churches per square mile, but it is also regarded as one of the most violent societies in the world," the man renowned for his candour told The Sunday Gleaner.

"If the Church is being effective, how do you explain that?" queried Panton at the same time declaring, "therein lies the answer".

Panton suggested that Christians should hold up Jesus as the model because the crowd who followed The Lord and whom He embraced was primarily the marginalised.