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The role of the Church – varying approaches

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Tue Sep 16, 2014

by G E M Saunders

For some time now, I have been contemplating the role of the Church here in SVG, where there now seems to be a growing consensus that the Church ought not to continue to simply sit back and confine itself to its weekend church services, while closing its doors to issues of the nation on weekdays.{{more}}

In this regard, the Catholic clergy, including Bishop Jason, Monsignor Mike, Fr George and the Anglican Bishop Leopold Friday must be lauded and supported for their recent pronouncements and for recognizing the need for a heightened prophetic role of the Church in these modern times. They have all cited the political divisions, the increase in lawlessness, loss of respect, the social ills and injustices and the growing crime and violence as issues for serious reflection and concern.

Interestingly though, there have, however, been varying approaches employed by both the Anglican and Catholic churches in carrying out their respective prophetic assignments. Bishop Friday’s recent decision not to join in the public condemnation of what was clearly inappropriate behaviour in a church may have unfortunately been viewed by some as tacit approval for that kind of action. There is, however, a very good chance that the Bishop opted for a more judicious approach to what was clearly a political issue, preferring instead not to publicly humiliate or offend. In so doing, he must have hoped that the perpetrators would have seized an opportunity for both introspection and redemption.

Fr George of the Roman Catholic Church, however, had a slightly different reaction to the same event, where he, in no uncertain terms, condemned the behaviour in the church with an across the board, outright application of his religious, Christian, Catholic principles. Inappropriate was inappropriate and required, in his estimation, a public rejection, if not rebuke.

Following on Fr George’s pronouncements, the Catholic clergy, coming out of retreat, issued a very important letter to its diocese. The letter reminded the diocese of the prophetic responsibility of the Church and lamented many issues of concern, including the silence of the clergy, the growing levels of disrespect, the environmental abuse and the lawlessness, crime and violence. There was also lamentation about the political divisions and the divisions and fragmentations within the Church itself and among Churches. The Catholic clergy also chose to highlight social concerns, singling out two issues for emphasis.

While it was correct in its findings, it was rather interesting that, given the myriad of social issues and concerns facing our country, the Catholic clergy cited their two foremost social concerns as two issues that, unfortunately for them, fell squarely in the eyes of the public on one side of the very political divide of which it complains and wants desperately to bridge.

Having delivered this “shot across the bow”, the Catholic clergy may well be challenged to maintain consistency in going forward. Would Bishop Jason now continue to publicly represent and decry other corporate and individual actions and injustices suffered by members of the society, invariably prioritizing Mary over John, or do they pull back from taking on individual and personal issues from the altar, choosing instead the mediatory role?

Whatever is decided, the Church definitely has to exercise its authority and influence and to go even beyond what it now sees as its prophetic role. It must intercede directly, using emissaries and mediators at the appropriate time and place. It cannot be that the Church will merely add its voice to the daily media rhetoric; it must remain out of the fray and be ready to represent the poor and marginalized and be an integral part of the resolution of even the gravest of disputes, and injustices.

Whatever the variations in the approach to prophesising, the Church must remain as it always has been, the great equalizer, the sacred, NEUTRAL ground where differences are set aside and reconciliation and love are promoted and allowed to thrive. It must, as Monsignor Mike implies, promote tolerance where there are differences.

This could well mean that if the Church is serious about achieving reconciliation and reducing divisions in a politically charged society, it may well be in its interest to be judicious and measured when it speaks and acts, while at the same time ensuring that the Lord’s priorities triumph over individual pursuits.

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