Thursday, August 07, 2003

On visiting Emancipation Park

NB: Before anything else, I must add my voice to the many who have expressed sadness over the action of the Episcopalian Church of the USA which ahs this week confirmed as a Bishop a man who abandoned his family to live in open and perverse adultery. For shame!

Those who have entertained the apostasy that derides the Scriptures should therefore take note as to where that path ends: in open defiance of the Word of God that is not satisfied untli it bends Religious Institutions to suit its perverse and pernicious ways.

But, God is not surprised, nor over-awed. For, he has set a day in which he shall judge the world witrh perfect righteousness.


Yesterday, as promised, and along with several others, I visited Emancipation park where we prayed, proclaimed, read Scriptures and discussed among ourselves and with passersby. Arising from this visit and discussion, several things are apparent about that park:

1) Despite its name, it has no public inscription displaying the history of emancipation in Jamaica, not even key quotes. (Apart from the very flawed one at the base of the controversial statues.)

2) Similarly, key national symbols such as our Anthem, pledge and even Coat of Arms are missing. (One is led to wonder, given what has been highlighted -- ancestral spirits and a heavy emphasis on their sexuality: perhaps, these are too obviously judaeo-christian?)

3) The statues could be "redeemed" by simply building up the skirting wall another 2 or so feet, covering the pubic area from view by the general public on the road or sidewalk.

As a preliminary step towards supplying a summary on the history of slavery and emancipation, with a highlight on the kley role of the Gospel, I attach the following.


DRAFT Notes on the Gospel & Emancipation in Jamaica



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!

As a result of the 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

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 [1998] and Newman & Wade
I & II [2002] 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 planted 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.

Beyond Emancipation

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.)

By 1843, the ex-slaves
began going as Christian Missionaries to West 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.

--END --

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