Ronald Thwaites | That moral revolution
Despite official touting, multisectoral support and massive security deployment, the brazen bloodletting has continued beyond the zones of special operations and, now, even the state of emergency.
No one expected a quick fix, but the nagging question is, what else will help?
This was the backdrop of last Thursday's annual National Leadership Prayer Breakfast attended by several hundred persons thought of as leaders of Church and State. The event has supporters and critics. I attend because I welcome any occasion to join others who, despite whatever other motives and horrible personal failings, want to gather to pray sincerely for the nation and hear a good exhortation.
Also, although brief, the occasion provides an opportunity for interdenominational contact. One of the greatest cramps to national unity and hopes for peace and justice in Jamaica is the chronic separation of earnest religious adherents into denominational silos, each, no doubt, offering good witness but overall failing, because of the weakness of separateness, to offer the collective strength towards the moral revolution, the profound cultural shift that must undergird personal and social reconstruction.
That is the cause to which the Rev Astor Carlyle called the nation in his excellent sermon on Thursday. Celebrating the deep and spontaneous generosity of spirit of most Jamaicans, he contrasted the conflicted attitudes and behaviour patterns that manifest in gross inequality, lack of trust, hopelessness and pervasive antisocial conduct.
I contend that the competition, and often the commercialisation and anti-scriptural otherworldliness of our churches, have weakened the pungency of these institutions to contribute more to the healing of the nation.
Take the schools, for example. Easily a half of all the educational institutions in Jamaica are owned or sponsored by religious organisations. But how much do these owners and sponsors influence the moral tone, the values and attitudes that are inculcated in their schools?
It bears frequent repitition that given the looseness of family bonds, weak church attendance and a feckless mass media, the school has become the premier institution for the transmission of civic and social principles now and for the foreseeable future.
Years ago, Prime Minister Patterson wanted to entrust the flagging values and attitudes (read 'moral revolution') campaign to Jamaican churches. Divisiveness and a lack of urgency cooled that endeavour. But which other national institution has the capacity to try again and again?
The Ministry of Education, the representatives of the churches that sponsor schools, must agree a core of behavioural standards, an aggressive civics curriculum and personal development programmes pervasive enough to withstand the selfishness of economics, the opportunism of politics, and the hedonism of popular culture.
SIMILAR TO NINEVEH
It sounds like a long shot, but what else except cruel repression do we have to try? Which other Jamaican institution can mobilise hundreds of thousands of persons on a consistent basis?
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Holness read the first lesson from the Book of Jonah about his prophecy of the destruction of the unrepentant and morally degenerate Nineveh. In an editorial prologue to the reading, Andrew suggested that we substitute Jamaica for Nineveh and interpret the Bible story as happening now.
A ripple of concern could be felt and heard when he read the prophecy of the city being destroyed in 40 days. With the murders spiralling and the state of emergency all but announced, that part sounded too real for comfort.
But then he continued to read about the ruler of Nineveh, who, on understanding the fate of the state, abandoned his finery and lay down in the sackcloth and ashes of repentance.
Does he realise that he was reading about himself and all of us in the political class? When does he plan to follow the example of that ruler?
As of now, the effort by civil-society groups to foster a unified response to raging anarchy has not got under way. Will it? And in any event, for the effort to be anything but superficial, it will have to encompass the cause of moral revolution in all its complexity, which is what Rev Carlyle's preaching was all about.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central, opposition spokesman on education and training, and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.