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Bishop Gordon’s challenge to us!

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There was no better way for me to have started the New Year than to have listened to the Catholic Bishop’s homily that issued a challenge to the Church and to our people generally. What he was, in fact, speaking about was the role of the Church in society and our failure to speak about social injustice. It touched me because he was on to my favourite topic. Matters of this kind I follow, because I have been paying some attention to Pope Francis and the impact he has been having not only on the Church, but by extension the wider global society.{{more}} Recently President Obama spoke about the role he played in creating the opening for normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. He has been getting plaudits, even from people who identify themselves as agnostics and from many outside of his church. Of course, there are those conservative elements within who are livid and who can only see the path of destruction.

I see him as allowing a fresh breeze to enter the church. I wondered to what extent the Church in the Caribbean and in particular SVG would be guided by the path he is taking. Bishop Gordon has taken up the mantle. It might be that he was already moving in that direction, but in any event his voice is ushering in a measure of hope and a freshness that we have long been missing in our society. And I am thinking here of the Caribbean Conference of Churches of the 70s and 80s. His homily, delivered on New Year’s Day, which is also recognized by the Church as the World Day of Peace, used the Pope’s conversation on slavery as a point of departure for part of his sermon.

Like the Pope, he looks at modern day slavery not only in its more extreme form of human trafficking and physical bondage, but involving people being shackled to different things, to ideas and systems. Slavery exists, he declares, when there is un-freedom and to that extent SVG fits in, particularly when we place other things and people before God. He drew attention to some elements in the Church and by extension the broader society who felt that the Church was becoming too political because statements were made about social justice. He suggested that the Church had the responsibility to speak about social justice and to do so did not mean making party choices. To him, when things are wrong and the Church cannot speak to what is wrong and ‘if the faithful cannot hear a voice of truth speaking to what is wrong,’ then slavery exists. He pointed out to his congregation and those listening to him on air, as I was, that we have enslaved ourselves to political parties and in so doing were selling our souls short, displaying symptoms of mental slavery.

There are, he continued, those who believe that certain elements in the society cannot do wrong and that to say anything about that is like saying something against God, a form of idolatry, he reminded them. Freedom to him means that when something is wrong, we should be able to say it is wrong. For that reason ‘the peace of this country is troubled, very troubled, because those who know better have chosen to be silent rather than say what is right, do what is right, and witness to what is right by their lives’. For him the silence with which we have all been complicit is deafening to the country right now.

Bishop Gordon warned that in the future, 10 years, perhaps, we might ask how we have reached there, but now is the time to ask questions; what are we doing to build this country, what are we doing to restore integrity to public life and to restore integrity to the land and people? When a statement agreed on by clergy of the church was read sometime last year, it created a stir within the church. Some people were upset, too, because he spoke out. He declared boldly that those who were upset then would have to continue to be upset because he would not be silenced. He said this to applause from the congregation, which must say something about his message.

In a country where the Church only makes occasional knee-jerk reactions and where many in positions of authority within that body have compromised and sold their souls, the Bishop’s interpretation of what is happening within the country and church and his challenge to all of us is quite refreshing. One has to ask if many of the ‘cloth’ really believe what they preach. They seem not to be driven toward spreading the word of God, but are misled by other forces and obstacles. The Church is more than the clergy and so all of us who profess to be Christians, while at the same time being part of the ‘deafening’ silence are complicit in the ills of the society.

The Church is made up of all kinds of people of different persuasions and understandings, and driven by different impulses. But one thing about which there should be no misunderstanding is the right to speak about social justice. The effort by some to isolate the Church from what is happening in society is a mere cop out. The Church historically has been complicit in colonialism and slavery. It is time that it lends itself to our mental liberation. During the slave era, some urged the slaves to accept their subjection because freedom comes in heaven. It is little different today. Accept your suffering now, for the real freedom is in the beyond. Amen!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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