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The Church and Society

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I was quite alarmed and somewhat irritated by a piece written by Joel Jack, which appeared in the Searchlight newspaper of February 22. The caption certainly caught my attention. I am not sure if it was done by the author or was the Editor’s interpretation of the piece. If it was done by the Editor, maybe it is saying much more than Mr. Jack wanted to say, but even that might not be so. If by saying “God commands subjection” he was referring to subjection to God, then I have no problem, but he clearly means something else.{{more}} After reading the piece I said to myself, but this isn’t the God I praise. The God who is my father is a liberating God, but Jack paints him differently. It was, therefore, pleasing to me to have read the piece in the News newspaper of February 25, 2011, that was submitted by Father Ulric Jones. His was an extract from the Report of the Social Action Committee of the Anglican Church that was ‘passed unanimously’ by the Synod of the Diocese of the Windward Islands in May 1975.

According to Jack, “The obedient child of God in this age will pray for and not speak evil of those in authority but will submit himself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” He states further or rather he asks, “Can a Christian who will not submit to the government under which he lives be pleasing to God?” What does he mean by speaking evil of? Evil means morally wrong or bad, and I will think that any immoral or bad action by a Government should be fought against. Furthermore, to say that man should submit to every ordinance of man includes accepting an ordinance that might be evil. Moreover, is he suggesting that those in authority always achieve their position of authority by just means? Does this include Dictators who do not subject themselves to democratic means? Has he not heard of unjust laws and oppressive governments? Are we to submit to these?

I am reminded of slavery, with the slaves being asked to submit themselves to the will of their oppressive masters. In fact, the Church was very divided on this matter. Many of them saw their duty as convincing the slaves to accept the laws imposed on them. They would eventually achieve their rewards in heaven. There were, fortunately, others who saw their roles differently and who struggled on behalf of the slaves against their masters and governments.

The Social Action Committee’s Report is diametrically opposed to what Jack is espousing. I now refer to parts of that report. On the issue of Christian Justice, it notes; “We recognise that there is a difference between Christian Justice and State Law and its enforcement, for whereas the latter’s chief concern is the maintenance of social order, the Christian recognises that social order does not automatically ensure justice and peace, so that it may well be that the greatest threat to peace may not come from those who stir up some conflict but from those who are in authority”.

It goes on to say that the Christian concept of peace has to do with freedom and that in the search for peace and freedom, “the Church must expect to be brought into conflict with the State from time to time.” It urges the Church to “condemn all that cheapens human life and any attempt at discrimination on the basis of sex, age or class”. This latter part probably also comes into conflict with Jack’s view that a woman has to be in submission to her husband, for to do otherwise will not be pleasing to God.

Its position on the Church’s role in politics is also another interesting one, which I will touch on shortly. If Jack’s view is representative of the Churches, one can understand the silence of the Church on a number of issues surfacing in the society, for the silence of the Church could be interpreted as siding with all efforts at oppression. Jack’s piece is also part of that, telling us we must accept any ordinance of man regardless of how oppressive it is.

Quite often we speak about the position of the Church as if the Church speaks with one voice. Clearly this is not so. But I want to move beyond this and really deal with the Christian Council which is the voice of the so-called established Churches, those that have been long established in this country. The Christian Council needs to be challenged. We have always seen the Church as an ‘arbiter’ in society, as a body that stands for good over evil, as a moral voice espousing and defending Christian values. These Churches have been complaining about falling membership and one can understand why, because they seem to stand for nothing. Have they lost their voice? Are they on the side of the people or is it their job to see that we abide by the ordinances of man, even if they contradict Christian principles and values? Maybe at this stage I should quote from the Social Action Committee’s view of the Church’s role in politics: “We cannot accept that the Church should be free from political involvement, for the Church is made up of people

who live and work in society, pay taxes and vote at election time. It is obvious that these Christians should take their Christian standards into their society. We deplore that at present there is no constant involvement of the Church in politics and that the Church’s role to date has been one only of protesting against evils after they have already been perpetrated and in many cases even legalised by the State.” (my emphasis)

Even this they are not doing. Does the Anglican Church still hold those views? It might be that the other churches see things differently, but they all stood together through the Caribbean Council of Churches in the 1970s and ‘80s espousing some of these values. Would the Churches show us that their role is not limited to whatever they do on Sundays? What is their role in society? They don’t even have to say anything but simply let us know where they stand by their actions. It is sad that an institution that once meant so much has now lost our respect. But on the other hand the Church is all of us, so the ball is in our court. What have we been doing with it?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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