Caribbean Core Cultural Concerns & Challenges Series
THE KAIROS INITIATIVE
Series Overview/Rationale: In the C21, an ever more global age faces a choice between three competing world-systems: (1) Western Secularism, neopaganism and apostasy, (2) Islam and associated Jihadism, (3) the southern Christian Reformation. In that context, the Caribbean is a geostrategic hinge, and so will face a turbulent time in the days ahead. Accordingly, drawing on the rich heritage of the biblical, Abrahamic tradition and our own experience of liberation through the power of the gospel, this series of articles will speak to the Caribbean peoples and the church, calling us to the transforming blessing of Abraham through the seed of Abraham. A particular focus will be made on Jamaica, in response to the implications of the recently opened Emancipation park and the Redemption Song Nude Statue group it displays, coupled with the astonishing absence of any reference to the history, heritage and heroes of the liberation struggle in Jamaica; an absence that must be deliberate and which strongly suggests an antipathy for the biblically rooted heritage of Jamaica and the Caribbean on the part of the nation’s (and therefore also – given the institutional connections and networks -- the region’s) cultural elites. That is, the series serves as a call to action for the church in the renewed liberation struggle for the Caribbean.
1. The Gospel, Emancipation and Empowerment
2. On statues, idolatry and public morality
3. Where is the EMANCIPATION in the Park?
4. On the biblical roots of renewed liberty and blessing in Jamaica
5. Liberation struggles, past and present
6. Emancipation and Empowerment -- back to the future?
7. A call to National Repentance
The Gospel, Emancipation and Empowerment.
GEM 03:08:05, rev. 09:13
A half a millennium ago, the Christian Faith came to the Caribbean with the first European Discoverers, Conquistadores and settlers; at best an ambivalent situation.
At that time, the region was largely populated by Amerindians, though some islands were uninhabited. Especially in the larger islands, these inhabitants were reduced under the Encomienda system of forced labour, and suffered many abuses, so that they were partly destroyed, and partly absorbed into the general mass of the population.
Bartoleme de las Casas, the first man ordained a priest in the New World, became a champion of these oppressed people, along with many other church leaders. He spoke prophetically against Spain’s oppression, but in so doing he suggested the importation of black Africans to carry out the work. (He probably did not anticipate the consequences over the next several hundred years.)
Soon, there was a trans-Atlantic Slave trade, a complement to the long extant trans-Sahara trade carried out by the Arabs and Berbers (who preferred female slaves). So, over the next three centuries, an estimated 12 millions were brought across the Atlantic, under crowded and inhumane conditions, and auctioned off like cattle in the various slave markets of the Americas.
This trade, however, did not reach full stride until in the mid 1600s, the Caribbean underwent the so-called sugar revolution, when Dutch merchants from Brazil taught and afforded credit to go into the sugar industry. Consequently, slave populations exploded as field hands were now required in vast numbers for the plantations.
Spiritual Needs & the Gospel of Liberation
The spiritual needs of these slaves were responded to in different ways in the Catholic and English colonies. In the former, it was required that the slaves be christianised under Roman Catholic teaching, but in the latter, the settlers typically – but all too tellingly -- took a dim view of evangelizing the slaves because of the liberating implications of the Bible, such as in Galatians 3:13 – 14, 26 – 29, and 5:1, 13 - 15:
‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the [peoples] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit . . . . You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus . . . There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise . . . . It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . . . You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ [Cf. Acts 17:24 – 31.]
While these texts speak primarily to spiritual bondage, the implications for any species of enslavement are all too plain. If that were not enough, we can read in 1 Cor 7:21 – 23: “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”
This unmistakable attitude carries through in Philemon, written to accompany Onesimus, an escaped slave, now returning to his master who was also a convert of Paul:
‘I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains . . . I would have liked to keep him so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent . . . Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother . . . . So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back . . . I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.’ [Philemon 10 – 20.]
With language like that in the commonly available Protestant English Bible, it was no wonder that there was a considerable (and all too evidently self-interested and hypocritical) ambivalence among the English regarding slavery; and, no wonder the most torturous misinterpretations and manipulations were made over the Centuries to justify slavery by claiming, for example, that blacks were not fully human. For shame!
Moreover, the Bible also has choice words on the subject of the slave trade, which was the foundation for the plantation chattel slave system our ancestors suffered under:
The law is good if one uses it properly . . . [it] is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders [KJV: menstealers] and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. [1 Tim 1:8 – 11, emphasis added]
If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. [Deut. 24:7. Cf. Lev. 24:22: “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native born. I am the LORD your God.”]
In short, there is no biblical defense for the “Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships . . .” – based slave system that was imposed on our ancestors by Europeans (who had the merchant ships) and the African, Berber and Arab traders who carried out the kidnapping and selling in Africa. But, plainly, the prospects of super-profits blinded the traders to the moral and theological issues at stake. So, instead of an indentured labour system, we ended up with plantation chattel slavery, with racism, and with torturous misreadings of the scriptures that were used to salve consciences.
In the case of the English, it had long been a common law principle that a brother Christian should not be held as a slave. Thus, the spiritual needs of the slaves in British colonies were as a rule neglected. (Later, jurists were to change this law, so powerful were the inducements of the profits to be made.)
In large part as a result of such inattention to the spiritual needs of the slaves, in Jamaica Myal and Obeah had emerged by the time of the 1760 Tacky pan-tribal slave rebellion; out of a synthesis of the various African animistic faiths brought to Jamaica by the survivors of the notoriously murderous Middle Passage. As the Baptist Faith would later serve, these belief systems formed a focus for cultural survival and resistance to the cruel bondage of plantation slavery in the Caribbean.
The Non-Conformist Missionaries & Liberation Struggles
Some two hundred and fifty years after Columbus’ voyages, the first serious attempts were made to evangelise slaves in the Anglophone territories; many of whom enthusiastically converted to the Christian Faith.
Even more of the slaves adapted to that faith through syncretism with their own Animist beliefs – reflecting the common theme of a High God, but retaining the typical Animist scheme of intermediary sky- and earth- bound spirit beings. (This manifests a typical pattern of conversion, adaptation and syncretism that is instantly recognizable to any culturally informed Missiologist. Chevannes  and Newman & Wade I & II  are the major sources for the survey that now follows.)
For instance, in the mission and native Baptist churches that emerged through a major facet of this process, there was a spectrum of beliefs from orthodox Christian faith to a syncretistic, Christianized Myal. Remnants of this blend remain to this day – more than one church has had a chicken or a goat sacrificed at the laying of its foundation!
In particular, in 1783, George Liele, a black American preacher and ex-slave who had been a leader in the African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia [reportedly the first black American independent church] arrived in Jamaica, to serve here until his death in 1828. He boldly preached the gospel, and planted many churches, sparking off a church planting movement across the island that resulted in the rise of Jamaica’s native Baptist church. As he got along in years, in the 1810’s, he invited the British Baptists to join him and the other native and American leaders in the work, so that Jamaica soon had Burchell, Knibb, and Phillipo labouring here as well.
But also, this process led to a trans-Atlantic alliance among evangelical believers that gave a powerful boost to the anti-slave trade and abolitionist movements in Britain. For, now, there was a network of credible leadership that could testify to the truth about that wicked trade and its associated system of chattel slavery. Thus, most critically, the voice of Wilberforce in Parliament, initially a lone evangelical parliamentary voice against slavery, had considerable reinforcement.
Over the period to the 1830s, increasingly, the Christian Faith and its native and missionary leaders would therefore become the protagonists of a long liberation struggle with the plantocracy and its allies in the West India Interest in Britain. Gradually the Abolitionists won over a reluctant Parliament to their cause, especially as the economic power of sugar began to wane. So at the turn of the 1830’s, Emancipation was in the air.
However, the struggle would come to a violent head through the Christmas 1831 slave strike demanding pay for work. The strike was led by Baptist Deacon Sam Sharpe; it turned into the “Baptist War” uprising because of the usual overly harsh repression by the local militia, issuing in the hanging of over three hundred slaves and the further terrorization of the over three hundred thousand slaves across the island. Among the executed was Sharpe, Jamaica’s first political martyr and national hero: he had acquired arms in advance of the strike, showing that he anticipated such a military struggle as a likely outcome.
But, their sacrifice accelerated the British decision to abolish slavery in the Empire, so within a few years of the strike-cum-uprising, emancipation occurred in 1834 – 38.
Thus, the gospel played a vital role in the liberation of the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica.
The dawning of full freedom was celebrated in the non-conformist churches, and these churches went on to foster the development of a free, independent peasantry through the free villages movement, Sligoville in the hills above Linstead being the first. (The free villages initiative was based on endowments used by the missionary leaders to purchase blocks of land that were parceled out into family-sized lots, with a church and school. Ex-slaves bought the land at a discount, under covenantal terms that every seventh year there should be a land Sabbath, and that there should be an annual harvest thanksgiving festival. Some of these practices survive to the present day in congregations all over the region.)
The transforming effect of these freedom villages has been aptly summed up:
These new settlements were created on abandoned or run-down estates which had been acquired by the Baptists and other members of the Anti-slavery Societies who in turn sold them in plots to groups of ex-slaves at inexpensive prices. As land of a certain size entitled the owner to a vote in the House of Assembly, the Baptist made sure to sell individual plots at or above regulation size . . . . There was also a conscious attempt in setting up these villages to ensure that each recipient of a plot was a church member in good standing. Thus there was a rash of baptisms and marriages in the period. Furthermore each village had a church and school, and so a greater number of moral, spiritual and educational opportunities were provided to complement the new found economic independence of these farming folk. [http://www.jbu.org.jm/origins.htm#free ]
In short, by breaking out of the plantation system through creating empowerment-oriented, Bible-based covenant communities, the church of the 1830’s and 40’s helped to transform the dynamics of post-Emancipation Jamaican society -- creating the basis for modern Jamaica.
By 1843, the ex-slaves began going as Christian Missionaries to West and Central Africa. As a result, perhaps a hundred Caribbean missionaries played a critical catalytic role in the founding of the Evangelical Christian Faith in this part of Africa. So much is this the case, that in a recent issue of the Journal of African Christian Thought, George Liele, the American Baptist missionary pioneer and former slave who came to Jamaica from Georgia to preach the gospel in the 1780’s is described as a black prophet and father of the church in the Americas and Africa.
However, in the 1860’s, the global awakening led not only to a new wave of converts in the churches, but to a revitalization of Myal through a synthesis with the less theologically sound elements of the native Baptists. Also, in 1865, when a protest broke out over harsh repression of suffering peasants in St Thomas, the Militia fired on the protesters, triggering the so-called Morant bay Rebellion, which led to extreme repression: 1,000 peasant houses razed; 600 flogged, 400 shot or hanged, including deacon Bogle who led the protest and riots, and Gordon, a native Baptist leader/church overseer and merchant who had been an activist pleading the cause of the over-burdened peasantry.
For survival, the Baptist church retreated from such activism as Crown Colony Government was instituted across the region.
Subsequently, the Christian faith has played a vital role in the Caribbean, well known as one of the most thoroughly churched regions in the world. However, in our time, that heavily Christian focus has begun to wane, under the impact of secularism, neopagan influences allying themselves to the animist elements of folk culture, and to the apostasy of many of the churches that have for decades been led by men who deride the Scriptures. This has been accelerated by the lack of cultural relevance of many evangelicals in the region.
Therefore, there is a crying need for the fullness of the gospel to once again be heard in the region, and for Christians to arise and lead our region in reformation.
Sculpture has again become a focus for controversy in Jamaica, because of a Laura Facey-Cooper nude group erected at the entrance to Emancipation Park, the site of a public protest over nude weddings in February 2000.
On the one hand, there has been much talk about how beautiful such statues are, and how lovely and spiritual the human form is. On the other, there has been concern over the heavily sexual (possibly even obscene) nature of the statues, and over whether they in fact connect to the cultural core issue of emancipation, the theme of the taxpayer-funded Park.
But also, over the past year, a somewhat more restrained but just as heavily sexually tinged group stood in the same site ever since the park was opened, and now sits at the location that had been planned for it in the 1960's: the Harbour View roundabout, at the root of the Palisadoes peninsula on which Kingston's main airport stands. So, this second statue would be the first monument seen by visitors to our capital city.
Further, in 1999, the National University, U.Tech, commissioned a Caribbean Sculpture Park (partially funded by taxpayers through statutory bodies), which contains a second Laura Facey-Cooper statue. So, a few dozen feet from the entry to the Chapel, aligned on an East-West axis stands a nude, Earth Mother goddess figure, arching over backwards in such a way that her larger than life pubic region is at eye-level for one approaching or leaving the Chapel. (09:13 NB: The statue has recently been moved a little further away from the entrance, and a second statue of a dancing female figure now stands closer, so the alignment is not so blatantly “in your face.”)
Art, Idolatry, Sensuality and Cultural Bondage to Sin
Clearly, a pattern emerges.
To better understand the pattern, we need to reflect briefly on sculpture, symbolism, idolatry and public morality. For, given that the first and foremost challenge of a community is to raise up its children to build a better future, societies have long agreed that there must be a family-friendly public domain that preserves children from a too early focus on matters that they are not mature enough to handle. (So, for instance, our laws have long held that what is suitable and proper for the privacy of one's bedroom is not necessarily suitable for display in the public.)
First, let us observe that statues -- whether realistic or abstract, in the round or in relief -- can be beautiful, and are powerfully symbolic. For, they evoke deep associations with the defining stories and themes of a culture. But by that same power, they can unfortunately become a moral and spiritual snare; pulling individuals, families and whole nations into bondage to lies and demonic passions and even destructive sensual or violent frenzies. Therefore, idolatry has long been associated with sculptural images -- and with grossly immoral sensuality.
For instance, we find in the Ten Commandments, circa 1300 - 1400 BC:
"You shall not have other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them . . ." [Deut. 5:7 - 9, NIV.]
This was not a prohibition on sculpture as an art form -- in Numbers 21:4 - 9 God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so that those bitten by snakes could "look and live" -- but equally, the same statue had to be destroyed centuries later by godly king Hezekiah because it had become an object of veneration. [2 Kings 18:1 - 4. NB: The Middle Ages in Europe, sadly, provide another example of this, and the Reformers were forced to destroy a large number of fine works of art because of such abuse. In many of these cases, the very donors of the works personally smashed them.]
In short, there is a fundamental problem: we are easily distracted from reality by attractive symbols, and so Paul aptly comments:
". . . since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator . . . . Because of this, God gave them over to shameful [perverted] lusts . . . . since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." [Rom 1:19 - 32. Circa 55 AD.]
Paul later echoes and amplifies these shocking thoughts, as he calls for the people of God to live above such a gutter level:
". . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. having lost all [moral] sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
"You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. you were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph. 4:17 - 24.]
From these two texts, we see opposed personal and social dynamics at work: (1) ingratitude to God, leading to substituting the creature for the Creator, thence moral coarsening and captivity to sensuality, violence and evil; vs. (2) renewal of our minds, lives and communities as we follow the holy God in Christ.
Clearly, the question now before Jamaica is which of these divergent paths we will choose as a nation. Let us pray that our people will choose wisely, that our Eternal Father may once again renew his blessings in our land.
The controversial Laura Facey-Cooper nude statue, Redemption Song, is at the site of a major international protest rally held on Feb. 13, 2000 against the first Hedonism III/Playboy Cable TV Porn Channel mass nude wedding.
That insensitivity to community feelings is in itself a measure of the depth of the rift in our society.
However, there is a deeper problem with the park as a whole: where is the EMANCIPATION in it? For, as I confirmed by a visit last week, as of August 7th:
§ Nowhere in the park do we see a display of the history of plantation slavery, the liberation struggle that was energized when the evangelical Missionaries began preaching to the slaves in the late C18, or of how it culminated in Emancipation and the enduring challenge to live in a free and well ordered community.
§ I did not see key National Symbols displayed, such as: Our Motto, Our Coat of Arms, Our National Pledge, Our National Anthem - all of them high points in Jamaica’s heritage.
§ As Mr Michael Morris protested in a letter to the editor published in the Gleaner on Aug. 19, 2002, the very date of Emancipation is missing.
§ There is no Visitors’ Centre/Museum that would help educate our children and visitors to our Nation on our heritage, heroes, history and core national values.
Given the resonance of emancipation in our as yet unhealed history, such a cluster of omissions is utterly astonishing. But, if emancipation, education and the challenge of building a free, orderly and productive society have been left out of the Park as a whole, it is then no surprise to see the emerging consensus that the commissioned statues are irrelevant and offensive to a broad -- but often derided, censored and ignored -- cross section of the community.
Perhaps the best way forward is to view the Park as a work in progress, and in that light I wish to suggest the following:
(1) That the present storage house be converted into a visitors’ centre with artifacts and a multimedia presentation. Print and multimedia educational materials should be available for sale at a modest cost.
(2) That the jogging path be converted into a history and heroes walk, by developing a list of “heritage stations.” (The utility as a jogging/walking path should not be destroyed by this addition.)
(3) That these stations present the history of slavery and emancipation accurately, fairly and tastefully, highlighting the often unsung people, initiatives and institutions that helped us find liberation and empowerment -- not to mention, the ongoing challenges of freedom, order and productivity in a largely Christian community. [Cf. Ephesians 4:17 - 24, Galatians 5:13 - 15. By the way, why is it that George Liele, founder of the indigenous Baptist church that has played such a foundational role in the liberation of Jamaica, is not a recognised national hero?]
(4) That at the entry of the Centre, the key national symbols be prominently displayed, as a shrine to the values and visions that will help build our future.
(5) That the controversial statues be removed to the National Gallery, and replaced by one similar to the well-received liberation struggle monuments in Barbados, Guyana and Haiti.
(6) Similarly, that the all too similar statue group at the Harbour View Roundabout be reviewed as to its suitability for that site, as the FIRST monument seen by visitors to our city, and again one sited at a major intersection.
Then, perhaps, we can begin to heal the wounds of the past by acting with true respect for all and coming together to build a future under the blessing of our Eternal, Thrice Holy Father.
“Freedom.” The very sound of the word is exhilarating to the point of being heady. And, the dictionary definition absolutely bursts with possibilities and opportunities: “the condition of being free or unrestricted . . . the power of self-determination, independence of fate or necessity.” [OED]
No wonder then, that the idea of an Emancipation Park as a celebration of the key moment in Jamaica’s history was greeted with such a surge of joyous anticipation. For, freedom is the first point of being truly human, so much so that in Professor Orlando Patterson’s telling comment, slavery is “social death.”
But, equally, there is the balancing truth – freedom entails responsibility for the consequences of our actions:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . . . You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Gal. 5:1, 13 – 15, NIV. Cf. 1 Cor 7:20 – 23, Philemon vv. 10 – 21.]
Thus, there is a delicate biblical balance between the God-given freedom of the individual and her/his responsibility as a member of a community of people under God. For, irresponsible abuse of liberty can easily turn into mutual destruction of the community and those in it.
So, we must now ask: could this be the tap-root of Jamaica’s surge in violence, deteriorating quality of life and adverse community and economic trends?
The Tap-root of Chaos
Perhaps, the idea of a “right” is the best place to begin: for, if you have a right to your life, your property, or your reputation; that is only because I have a duty to respect your life, property and reputation. That is, liberty rests on a moral foundation and is ultimately rooted in our Creator who made us in His Image and placed us in a moral world in which our choices have real consequences.
Thus, freedom requires justice, and justice is based on our mutual duties, duties that have been aptly summed up by the biblical law of neighbour-love:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Rom 13:8 – 10, cf. Exodus 20:1 – 17, i.e. the Ten Commandments.]
It is not hard to see, then, that in a community where one cannot live free from fear of imminent threats to one’s life, family, property or reputation, there will be little incentive to take the risk of investment in the economic and social activities that build a prosperous, orderly, just, free community. So, it is to the advantage of the community as a whole that Jamaicans should live by the principles of the Ten Commandments: loving respect for God and man (made in the image of God), leading to behaviour that cherishes, builds up and protects life, reputation, property, family.
But equally, an individual in a given situation may think that it is to her/his advantage to abuse the trust and work of others: lying, cheating, stealing, even murder. Therefore, we can see how a trend of lawlessness can spread across a community with astonishing rapidity as more and more people in it begin to act in lawless ways that undermine the community as a whole.
The resulting chaos and destruction of hopes for progress are all too familiar: we can see them all around us.
Is there a way out?
It is easy enough to see where we have gone wrong as a nation: currently epitomized by an Emancipation Park that is empty of the rich, Bible-rooted heritage and history that have brought us through liberation struggle into the blessings and responsibilities of liberty. (In the park we may easily find plaques to the ornamental plants, and a controversial nude Ancestral Spirits monument with the proud claim that “None but ourselves can free our mind” [sic]; but there is not even so much as a plaque to the date of emancipation, much less a heritage museum or a statement on the responsibilities, values and challenges of sustainable liberty!)
We could easily belabour such issues and point accusing fingers, but the real challenge is to find a road to reformation and to renewal of the blessings of godly nation-building in Jamaica in our time.
The Apostle to the Nations points the way:
“The God who made the world . . . From one man . . . made every nation of men . . . and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men might grope for him . . . for in him we live and move and have our being . . . now he commands all men everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:24 – 31.]
[God] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the [Nations] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” [Gal 3:14. Cf. Col 2:3: “in [Christ] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and 1 Cor 2: 9 – 12: “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God . . . We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”]
That is, the key to restoring the prospects of Jamaica lies in the blessings and wisdom of God, that we may access through repentance and trusting Christ as our Saviour, Lord and All-Wise Guide. Then, we may find through his discipleship a way out of the chaos triggered by our irresponsible, sinful abuse of our freedom that was hard-bought by the blood of Daddy Deacon Sharpe and the other martyrs of the Emancipation struggle.
In short, godly reformation is the key to moral renewal and wisdom, the keys to any prospects for the restoration of a blessed, orderly, just and prosperous nation.
But, are we willing to pay the price: repentance and national reformation?
The history of the liberation struggle that ended slavery in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean records that, from church planters such as George Liele and Moses Baker, to activists such as Deacon Daddy Sharpe, to the British Missionaries such as Knibb and to politicians such as Wilberforce, evangelical Christians were in the forefront of gospel-driven liberation and reformation, thus of God-blessed cultural transformation.
So much is this so, that the slaves celebrated their glorious triumph by attending the dissenting chapels on the night of July 31, 1834:
As congregations gathered in every chapel across the island, the Negroes arriving for worship at Falmouth at 11p.m. on 31 st July found a huge banner bearing the word Freedom across the entrance to the chapel. Knibb [who had in 1833 gone from Jamaica to England on an anti-slavery tour and so had addressed public meetings and testified before parliamentary committees] counted every last second till midnight and, as the final stroke died away, cried with all the fervour and relief of the bitter struggle finally won: “The monster is dead! The Negro is free!” [Cited: http://www.broadmeadbaptist.org.uk/people.php, cf. Sherlock & Bennett, The Story of the Jamaican People, (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1998) pp. 224 - 228. ]
Why, then, are the spiritual heirs of such stalwart gospel champions now so often derided and demonised by many local pundits, church leaders and cultural elites as socially irrelevant and/or as potentially dangerous – or even possibly violent -- extremists?
Is Biblical Faith a Threat or a Blessing ?
Perhaps, the best answer is that true biblical faith is both: (1) a threat to those who (perhaps unwittingly) are serving the cause of bondage and oppression, and (2) a blessing to those who seek to build true liberty:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery . . . . You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Gal. 5:1, 13 – 15, NIV. Cf. 1 Cor 7:20 – 23 on slavery and emancipation, also: 1 Tim 1:8 – 10 and Deut. 24:7 (NB: Lev. 24:22) on the slave trade.]
Nearly two hundred years ago, these liberating implications of the gospel and the Bible were so threatening to the Jamaican Assembly that it passed bills forbidding all except those licensed by the Bishop of London from preaching; thereby silencing black American church planters such as George Liele and Moses Baker -- men who had laboured among the slaves since 1783. These men then had to bring in white British Baptist Missionaries, such as Phillippo, Burchell and Knibb, to further the work of the gospel. The new Missionaries continued the preaching of the biblical message to Jamaica’s enslaved masses and then called for their liberation from the chains of slavery when it soon became all too bloodily clear that plantation chattel slavery and the gospel were irreconcilable enemies.
The historic pattern -- the biblical gospel as both threat AND blessing -- continues today. To illustrate this, we may examine what the Rev. Dr Roderick Hewitt, now United Church Moderator, has recently written:
The [9/11] human tragedy in USA has also served to bring into sharp focus the use of terror by religious fanatics/fundamentalists . . . . During the twentieth century in particular we have seen . . . extreme conservatives who have sought to . . . roll back the impact of the theories of evolution, rationalism and textual criticism . . . They opt for a belligerent, militant and separatist posture in their public discourse that can easily employ violence to achieve their goals. [ Gleaner, Sept. 26, 2001, italics added. URL: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20010926/cleisure/cleisure5.html . ]
The USA and its local allies . . . sought to empower the younger churches [in Jamaica] . . . to counter the influence of liberation theology with a traditional fundamentalist theology . . . . many of the younger churches saw their fight/struggle with the older churches as saving the true church from 'a serious heresy/error' in which leaders were making too many concessions to the secular world and its godless ideology of socialism and the rationalising influences . . . They unleashed the religious version of capitalism . . . [ Gleaner, Jan 1, 2003. URL: http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030101/news/news1.html ; cf. Papal Encyclical on Liberation Theology: http://www.newadvent.org/docs/df84lt.htm ]
Here, we must first note how the ugly smear-word “fundamentalism” allows Rev. Hewitt to easily glide over the vast and obvious differences between jihad-crazed suicidal terrorists (or even anti-progress American sects) and Bible-believing Christians in Jamaica. Similarly, even in the few remaining Marxist countries such as Cuba and China, the importance of free enterprise in an era of rapid change is now acknowledged. But most importantly, does not the apostle warn: “If you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”? What are these words, if not a grim reminder of the fruits of violent extremism?
But equally, we see that Jamaica’s “younger” churches are identified by Mr Hewitt as those that view the Bible as the Word of God, which would thus reflect His unlimited, liberating and transforming love, power, purity, knowledge and truth. In short, Jamaica’s “younger” churches are in fact direct heirs to the Baptists and other dissenters of two hundred years ago. It is thus no surprise to see that today’s Bible-believing churches – just as the dissenters of the nineteenth century -- are growing rapidly among the masses and even the educated classes, while they are being accused of blocking (or even betraying) nation-building; through allegations that:
(1) they emphasize the salvation and transformation of the individual (rather than the attempted “salvation” of the [soul-less!] community) as the church’s CENTRAL – but obviously not its sole -- message, and
(2) they point out that some of the leaders of our churches have drifted into Bible- and gospel- denying rationalistic heresies (tellingly similar to those of the infamous Jesus Seminar) and tyranny-prone Marxism-derived socialist ideologies and/or theologies (which collapsed in ignominy after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989).
Similarly, one could pointedly ask why evangelical churches and movements that are full of accredited seminary graduates, scientists, teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, economists and other professionals could reasonably be accused of ignorance of the facts relating to the basic credibility of the Bible and its relevance to Jamaica’s challenges – charges made by pundits who then all too often manifest appalling ignorance of the true facts about the Bible, current global trends and even basic Logic. [Cf. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/kairosfocus/resources/1st_Easter_Timeline.htm ] That is, once the “anti-fundamentalism” rhetoric being promoted in our local media is put in context, it falls of its own weight and so exposes the fallacies embraced by those who view the traditional view of the Bible as a threat.
Is it then any surprise to see that the new Emancipation Park has in it an embarrassingly controversial naked Ancestral Spirits monument; but is all too tellingly empty of the actual history of our liberation struggle, much less the underlying biblical vision and values of a free and God-blessed community that drove it?
The Liberating Gospel
It would be easy to belabour such points, but it is better to focus on how the unfettered gospel may yet restore Jamaica’s fortunes. For, the core evangelical message and our own emancipation history jointly point out that souls are saved, minds are renewed and lives are transformed through the gospel; then -- as revival spreads -- communities and institutions are reformed and transformed through liberation struggles, bringing blessings to the people as a whole.
Further, the uncensored message of the Bible is historically central to that liberation process. For, in the barbarous Dark Ages the people were systematically kept from having the Bible in their own language. But the sacrifices of martyrs such as Tyndale -- betrayed and burned at the stake in 1536 for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English -- unleashed the force of the gospel by putting the Bible in the hands of ordinary people. This led to centuries of reformation and liberation, as brave people boldly stood up for conscience, for freedom, and to end age-old social injustices: tyranny and conquest; colonialism and slavery; child labour; barbaric prison conditions; the oppression of women. And that is exactly what we should expect, given the redemptive, liberating, life-transforming focus of the gospel.
Therefore, let us take heart and move on from over-heated, deceptive debates to renewing the true ministry of the church in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean: saving souls, transforming lives and reforming and blessing communities as we re-build our nations under God and by the light of his liberating Word: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. ” [Gal 5:13.]
Emancipation and Empowerment – back to the future?
On August 2, 1838, the day after ‘full free,” the ex-slaves were still largely based on the plantations.
So, they were legally free but still economically dependent on their erstwhile owners and oppressors. This was obviously a volatile situation. At that time, the church’s answer was to create free villages as an alternative to the plantation system.
The free villages
For, starting in 1834 – 35, the Baptists and other dissenting church leaders took the lead in securing endowments to purchase tracts of land. This land was then cut up into family-sized tracts to form covenant communities -- the free[dom] villages. Thus, the church took the lead in economic and political empowerment, and in education and moral upliftment:
These new settlements were created on abandoned or run-down estates which had been acquired by the Baptists and other members of the Anti-slavery Societies who in turn sold them in plots to groups of ex-slaves at inexpensive prices. As land of a certain size entitled the owner to a vote in the House of Assembly, the Baptist made sure to sell individual plots at or above regulation size . . . . There was also a conscious attempt in setting up these villages to ensure that each recipient of a plot was a church member in good standing. Thus there was a rash of baptisms and marriages in the period. Furthermore each village had a church and school, and so a greater number of moral, spiritual and educational opportunities were provided to complement the new found economic independence of these farming folk. [ http://www.jbu.org.jm/origins.htm#free ]
In short, by breaking out of the plantation system through creating empowerment-oriented, Bible-based covenant communities, the church of the 1830’s and 40’s helped to transform the dynamics of post-Emancipation Jamaican society -- creating the basis for modern Jamaica.
A hard act to follow?
However, today’s Jamaica is largely urban, and agriculture is among the least productive sectors in the economy: it reportedly absorbs 30% of the workforce to create 7% of GDP.
So, while agricultural renewal is one part of the answer to breaking out of Jamaica’s current economic and social dilemmas, we cannot just copy the free village of circa 1840 to find a way forward for Jamaica today. Instead, we need to understand underlying principles and broaden the base for action.
Proverbs 31:10 – 31 is an excellent place to begin – virtuous entrepreneurship:
[C]onsider . . . the virtuous woman — let's call her "Ruby":
"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands . . . She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes . . ." "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable . . . She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." [Prov. 31: 13 & 24; 16 - 18a, 26, 27.]
Ruby starts small, and matches her skills and efforts to market opportunities. She integrates agriculture and light manufacturing, then enters into trade. She saves, invests astutely, diversifies and feeds growth. She watches profitability, and manages the people and processes under her care with wisdom. She exemplifies virtue leading to success, and shares the lessons she learns with others. No wonder she achieves God-blessed success.
But, Ruby is an individual: what about the community level?
Back to the future?
Enterprise-linked, church-based initiatives can also spark community renewal and transformation under God. For example, ministry projects can be funded through short income-generating projects done by the men’s or women’s or youth fellowship.
Such projects can then serve as pilot projects for launching businesses based on godly principles:
§ Idle lands and idle hands can be brought together, producing cash crops and developing skills and business opportunities at the same time. For instance, what about hydroponics?
§ Through a construction skills project, urban or rural housing can be refurbished or even built, and furniture can be restored or even manufactured.
§ Light manufacturing, such as of clothing, accessories and footwear, ceramics, simple construction supplies such as tiles or blocks, or even electronics equipment and computers, can be undertaken.
§ Information Technology based services, especially web site and E-Commerce support, can be offered.
§ Second-chance education for school-leavers, “extra lesson” services and even further and higher studies are possibilities.
§ Young people in the church and wider community can be mentored, or do workplace-based internships or modern apprenticeships. (Thus, through education and business training, they would be discipled in godly living and empowered to be productive.)
§ To support these initiatives, a business development cooperative or business incubator can be launched, if the churches in a community have people with the skills and can attract funding.
Such initiatives empower people in the congregation, providing opportunities for people to build their lives and make a good livelihood. They move our charitable outreach from “giving a man a fish,” to “teaching him how to fish.” They transform lives and families, giving hope for the wider community – potentially sparking revival as people respond to the good news of the gospel at work. Most of all, they set Christian discipleship in real-world contexts towards filling “all things” with Christ’s glory. [Eph 4:9 – 24.]
Thus, a 21st Century evolution of the historic free village movement could convincingly demonstrate the relevance and community-renewing power of the church and the gospel, leading to community and national reformation, blessing and transformation.
So, let us prayerfully ask: “Why not now? Why not here? Why not us?”
Jamaica’s National Anthem cries out to God: “Justice, Truth be ours forever . . .”
Thus, we implicitly accept that our history has been one of the painful -- and as yet unfinished -- struggle to achieve justice based on truth. In that long struggle, stalwart people of God, armed with their Bibles and a Spirit-inspired burning fire of liberty within, have again and again had to confront hostile elites that viewed liberation through the power of God-inspired truth as a threat to their economic and power interests. So, our trail has been marked with the blood of martyrs unjustly put to death, some of whom are now remembered as national heroes.
In our time, while our elites have been significantly less oppressive than the colonial overlords, a surging tide of criminality has led to a murder rate that sometimes climbs to in excess of a thousand per year. A similar carnage obtains on our roads as many drivers and pedestrians are impatient of safety rules. Eighty-five out of a hundred children are born out of wedlock. Our cultural, economic and political elites indulge in an orgy of consumption and sensuality: epitomized by an Emancipation Park that is empty of our godly heritage but has an offensive naked Ancestral Spirits monument that cost J$ 4.5 millions, even as the country and its economy spin out of control. (It bears noting that the statues stand at the site of a Feb 13, 2000 church-led public protest against rising immorality in our tourism industry!)
At the same time, Jamaica proverbially has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world.
How can such be, and how can it be corrected?
The Dynamics of Judgement
In our Pledge, Motto and Anthem, we acknowledge that we are a nation under God, that is under his judgement. For, our founding fathers and mothers saw the enduring truth in Paul’s prophetic proclamation to the Athenians:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth . . . From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being . . . . now he commands all men everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:24 – 31.]
Here, we see God’s sovereignty in action. For, God creates the world and its peoples, allots space for the nations to have their place in the sun, and so controls our times and crises that we are brought to the point of groping for him, however blindly. And, through Jesus and his spokesmen, he has now called all men to repentance in the face of impending judgement in the Day of the Lord.
However, such judgement is not just at the last day. For even now, our sinful rebellion against the God who made the world – which therefore has a moral order just as it has biological and physical orders – brings us to crisis that forces us to grope for God, even blindly. Thus, God judges the nations even now:
1. Consequences: We live in a moral world, so our ideas and actions have consequences. As Scripture warns: “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” and “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Thus, our sinful lifestyles lead to crises that force us to grope for God, perhaps without understanding that it is God we grope for.
2. Correction: In his mercy, God sends his prophetic spokesmen to the nations, correcting our ignorance and calling us to repentance, reformation and God-blessed national transformation. Thus, each person and nation is confronted with the choice of whether or not it will heed the loving voice of God our Father.
3. Destruction: In the end, God is absolutely holy, and must destroy the cancer of evil – but as loving Father, he does not wish that any should perish. So in love he sent his Son, that we may have a way of rescue and redemption. However, in the end of days, that Son will sit in judgement of men and nations, with perfect justice – a terrifying thought, for absent the grace of God, we are unjust! And, in the case of nations that so defiantly pursue evil that their cup of iniquity overflows, such willful sin can cause their destruction even now.
The obvious question is, has Jamaica reached that terrifying threshold in our day?
Judgement, mercy and Jamaica
Few nations have been so privileged with the Gospel as Jamaica, and few nations have been so careless of their blessings from God as we have. The chaotic, bloody consequences are all around us, and threaten to doom us in an orgy of blood, anarchy and tyranny as a strong man emerges on the promise to restore order and safety.
So, then, the issue is plainly not whether Jamaica is ripe for destructive judgement, but whether our loving God and Father yet extends his mercy. Thus, our challenge is plain: will we heed the voice of God and repent, or insist on following a path that all too plainly leads to destruction?
By God’s grace, we yet have the choice – for he has so far restrained the forces that threaten to doom us. But, it is equally clear that the dam is cracking and leaking even as we speak. Therefore, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Heb 4:7b.]
For, tomorrow is promised to no man, nor nation.