Frank Phipps | Church, slavery and reparation
Below is a lightly edited contribution to St Andrew Scots Kirk on December 10.
I came to you as a stranger and was warmly welcomed by the church. I hope that what I say will not move you to get rid of me for coming too often and overstaying the welcome.
Recently I spoke at a function where I challenged my colleagues in the legal profession on their responsibility to this land we love. I reminded them that the life that God gives to each of us is not for our own glory, it is for service to others in our different ways. I pointed to the media reports of relentless murder and allegations of corruption in office that are destroying the nation, and submitted that we should accept these challenges as a call to each of us for service to build a New Jamaica.
Looking around the city of Kingston where Scots Kirk has been serving for more than 200 years, we still see derelict humanity, despite the best efforts of the Church. Too many of our brothers and sisters were left behind on the road to independence - idle young men on the corner and hopeless bodies rotting on the roadside. A few misguided ones see crime and corruption as the way out of their misery. You may well ask what is accountable for this persistent poverty.
Before Independence in 1962, Jamaica was ruled by the British for more than 300 years with 10 generations of slavery in those years. Great Britain became extremely rich over and over from slave labour on the plantations. The Church of England has apologised for slavery, but the British have not; they offer us a prison.
The Sunday Herald of April 27, 2013 stated, 'Time for Scots to say sorry for slavery': "... [D]espite the fortunes made from stolen lives, they were quick to demand compensation when slavery ended - Glasgow got 400,000 pounds - hundreds of millions in modern terms. Thirty per cent of Jamaica's plantations were run by Scots. The enslaved people, our ancestors, got nothing. They were cast out penniless and not knowing the way back home to restore their dignity as human beings. Jamaica's call for reparation is in the demand for repairing the damage to the people who still live in social and economic inequality.
The Jamaica National Council on Reparation has been doing much to honour the memory of those who served in the struggle for freedom, some with their lives. What remains is to compel those who profited from slavery to make amends for the horrors they inflicted on others. Beside the apology, Great Britain and Jamaica must together institute a binding programme of compensation for the victims of slavery, whether it be by goods, services or financial support to build the New Jamaica.
The Bible gives directions for the way forward in the glorious hope for a New Jamaica.
Isaiah 58: 9-12 (KJV)
9: Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10: And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
11: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
12: And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
What the prophet is saying to each of us: Call on the Lord and He will guide you continually, cut out personal vanity and fingerpointing at each other, look after the hungry and afflicted souls; then you and those with you are repairers of the breach that will raise up the foundations of many generations. This is the challenge to the offender and the victim for the birth of a New Jamaica where all can live in dignity, with peace and security.
Can the Church carry this message to save the body and soul of the nation?
- Frank Phipps, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.