Jean Lowrie-Chin - Observer column - Monday 5 May 2014
Last Thursday church leaders gathered at a meeting called by our inspiring Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, in continuation of a joint appeal from himself, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition earlier this year, headlined “Call to all Jamaicans for Reflection and Reconciliation”.
Sir Patrick explained the significance of the day: ‘Thousands of years ago, May 1 was the spring festival celebrating earth’s renewal. A century ago May Day was linked with the worker’s struggle for social and economic rights and later became accepted as International Labour Day. The third meaning of May-Day is the international radio distress call used by ships and aircraft.’
‘These three meanings may be relevant to what we seek on this symbolic day to call on the church to unite our Christian family in the struggle to rescue Jamaica from the looming destruction of crime and violence. I repeat! Our island paradise is suffering from economic stagnation, declining values and is slowly sinking in the Caribbean sea of crime!’
We have to agree with Sir Patrick, when we consider the number of churches in our country, spouting the word of God from their pulpits, and the abject misery of our people – it gives us cause to pause. As a wise person once said, ‘we can be so heavenly focused, that we are no earthly good!’
The GG appealed: ‘As we move forward, my brothers and sisters, in one accord, we must work assiduously to be all-inclusive, listen to each other, complement initiatives that are already in progress and affirm and support those working to build our nation.’
‘I plead with you to leave your proselytizing, theological differences and contentions and other biases out of the equation …,”’ he urged. ‘I encourage you to collaborate with someone with whom you never associated before and experience the joy of knowing that we are not really as different as we think … ideas will emerge as to how best the Church can take the lead in steering Jamaica back to paths of truth, peace and good neighbourliness.’
Two days later we observed World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, and even as we congratulated ourselves as having such a high rating for press freedom in Jamaica, we need to ask ourselves how the media can participate in this healing process.
The GG noted: ‘Many of you are already using the media, in addition to the great work being done by our Christian radio stations along with LOVE, NCU and Power of Faith Ministries TV. I wonder whether we could contemplate joint sponsorship of programmes for fostering Christian values and attitudes, in ways which could grab the attention of our young people and adults alike.’
He asked them to ‘think of new ways for more effectively using print, electronic media and social media. For churches and denominations which have websites, you might want to consider enhancing them for greater impact on the unchurched.’
At the event, Helene Coley-Nicholson, journalist and a member of the Jamaica Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship noted our 2001 census figures for religions: ‘Church of God, 24 percent; Seventh-day Adventist, 11 percent; Pentecostal, 10 percent; Baptist, 7 percent; Anglican, 4 percent; Roman Catholic, 2 percent; United Church, 2 percent; Methodist, 2 percent; Jehovah's Witnesses, 2 percent; Moravian, 1 percent; Brethren, 1 percent; unstated, 3 percent; and "other," 10 percent.’
Helene said, ‘The category "other" includes an estimated 24,020 Rastafarians, 5,000 Muslims, 1,453 Hindus, 350 Jews, and 279 Baha'is. The census reported that 21 percent claimed no religious affiliation.’ The Multi-Faith Group, founded by Rev Ashley Smith and Professor Ajai Mansingh, mentored by none other than retired Governor General Sir Howard Cooke, and convened now by Dr Martin Schade, includes all of these religions.
I support Helene’s proposal that there be ‘a National Religious Media Production House’. We need to put the brains of all our religions to good use, not just to move people from the pulpit, but to move the country onto the path of righteousness. This requires the unity and openness called for by our Governor General. Let the Churches say …. Amen!