Tuesday, August 31, 2004

On Gospel Power: Liberation, Reformation & Community Transformation
GEM 04:08:26

Thirty-six years ago, in 1968, “Black Power” was the talk of the day; and -- despite the preaching of the Rev’d. Dr Martin Luther King (the martyred prophet of liberation through gospel-based, non-violent strategies) – anger expressed through “any means necessary” was the main mood of the hour. For, all over the world, the shackles of generations-long prejudice, racism, exploitation and colonial oppression, and unjust laws backed up by abusive police forces and murderous armies were being directly confronted. Thankfully, by 1994, the last bastion of racist oppression of the black man had fallen, and Nelson Mandela, a heroic figure, became the first President of a truly free South Africa.

But, sadly, paradise did not arrive with majority rule in Africa, nor with Independence in the Caribbean. Instead, we have in the main had a generation of missed opportunities and frustrations; so that there has been a backwash of disappointment and in some cases even of self-induced economic, political and social disasters. For instance, Jamaica has somehow managed to move from being a fairly orderly and quiet (but quite unjust) society to one that (though it is far more egalitarian) has ruined its economy and has a murder rate of about 1,000 per year – many tied to corrupt politics, or to gangs ruthlessly fighting over the illicit drugs trade or control of communities and associated protection rackets. Similarly, mineral-wealthy, agriculturally rich Zimbabwe is on the verge of starvation; and, for all its mineral and industrial wealth, South Africa is so crime-riddled that even Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of the South African hero, was recently tried for complicity in corruption, kidnapping and murder. In short, economic stagnation and social instability in the face of a high-tech, global age are now major interacting challenges in the motherland as well as in our region.

What went wrong? How can we correct the problem?

The full answer would take a massive book, but its heart lies in the main point we discussed last week: we cannot sustainably achieve good ends by doing evil, as evil is deceptively attractive, but in fact is ruinously addictive, fast spreading, corrupting and destructive. So, the true way forward for individuals, families and communities lies through several often overlooked – but powerful -- gospel principles that lead us to a better path: repentance, mutual reconciliation and God-blessed reformation and community transformation:

1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” [Ps. 127:1.]
2. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure . . . I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct.” [Jer. 17:9 – 10.]
3. “[S]eek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and [your material needs: i.e. food, drink and clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well . . .” [Matt 6:33.]
4. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” [Matt. 7:3 – 5.]
5. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people . . .” [Gal. 6:8 – 10a.]
6. “[E]ach of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully . . . He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every kind of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . ” [Eph. 4:25 – 5:2.]

In short, in our justifiable rage at oppression and injustice, we all too easily forgot that we too are just as fallen and prone to evil as those who had long lorded it over us. Thus, true liberation must build on a solid spiritual foundation: repentance, reconciliation and mutual building up -- rather than bitterness, hate and violence. But, in too many cases, we failed to build with God, and we therefore built in vain – for, corrupt colonial elites were simply replaced by sweet-talking would-be political messiahs who then became the new lords of the same old plantation great houses. Even with sincere liberation leaders who did not give in to the temptations of power, there was often a want of sound knowledge and skill to build a prosperous, orderly, just community under God. Consequently, we usually followed after ruinous political and economic myths that ignored or derided the need to be productive, earning and paying our way in the world. But, thankfully, there are some partial success stories that can point a way forward, such as Barbados and Singapore. From such successes, partial though they are, and the above gospel principles, we have much to learn. So, now, let’s talk . . . AMEN

Saturday, August 28, 2004

LT12: On Godliness, Morality, Law and Public Policy
GEM 04:08:22

“Why not say . . . ‘Let us do evil that good may result’?” [Rom 3:8]

With this question St Paul summed up one of the central and enduring puzzles of morality: it often seems that the most effective way to achieve a good personal or policy goal is by doing something that is in itself morally wrong. As Machiavelli put it in his infamous book, The Prince: “The end justifies the means.”

But, does it? No, for that infamous Renaissance Diplomat was blind to the central problem of humanity -- sin: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . the evil that I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” [Rom 7:18b – 19.] For, evil is usually enticing (or even exciting), but it is in fact deceptive, addictive, contagious, corrupting and destructive. In the words of Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” [Prov 14:12.]

That’s fairly easy to see in our personal lives, but it also holds for public policy. For instance, when Hitler arose as a man of the people, and promised a way out of the economic ruin that had overtaken Germany after the 1st World War, few were asking questions about his rhetoric against the despised Jews. Likewise, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were simply rescuing the oppressed masses from the wicked capitalists and imperialists. Similarly, in the 1970’s in the USA, people were busy trying to rescue poor girls who made a mistake and were desperately resorting to coat hangers – and weren’t asking too many questions about the little bit of tissue that needed to be got rid of. Fidel Castro was liberating Cuba from a wicked, US-backed dictator. Over in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe is even now simply helping the landless poor to get back their land from those who stole it from their forefathers. The Gays and Lesbians are only demanding equal treatment: if Adam and Steve wish to be married, that’s really just the same as Adam and Eve. And, many, many more.

But, over a hundred million people paid with their lives for the sins of the Nazis and the Communists. The toll of innocent lives sacrificed in the name of “choice” in the USA has now reached 44 millions and counting. Castro’s Cuba is in fact a brutal dictatorship in which you can go to jail for simply opening up your personal collection of books for others to read. Lawlessness, murder and famine now stalk Zimbabwe. And in those countries that have been unwise enough to try to legitimise sodomy, we already see where people who object on principled, biblical and moral grounds are now being jailed as hate-driven criminals.

Why is that so? Because – as Scripture, history and experience jointly warn us -- good ends cannot justify evil means; for evil is always deceptive, corrupting, addictive and destructive. So, if we in Montserrat or in the wider Caribbean resort to evil, we will set loose demonic forces that will run destructive riot across our lives and communities. For, our bad example will encourage others in evil (and one evil invites many others): that is, evil is also contagious.

Worse, as we become increasingly addicted to evil, we will soon be forced to use lies and twisted arguments: to make ourselves sound good and to get others to go along with us. Next, we may then all too easily find ourselves usurping the force of law to silence, crush or drive out those who dare to oppose our evils. Finally, such people become handy scapegoats for the disasters that always flow from evil as it spreads like a raging wildfire across our community. In short, godliness, morality and especially justice – which is a moral virtue! -- cannot safely be separated from law and policy.

[SIDEBAR: Now, we are not here speaking to any one specific policy proposal, for our theme is general: Godliness, Morality, Law and Policy. But, we would be negligent or cowardly if we did not make a few fair – though quite sad -- comments on the fact that gambling is an acknowledged, addictive evil; but it has been proposed that by introducing it here in Montserrat, we would be able to “cream off” up to $50 millions per annum from “the rest of the world,” to support poor relief and other social services. So, we must ask: (1) Why has the church been ridiculed and brushed aside for pointing out (in part through a petition signed by some 600 of our residents), that it is not wise nor right to do evil in the hope that good may come of it? (2) Our official, democratically adopted SDP policy vision statement seeks to redevelop Montserrat on a wholesome, sustainable, God-fearing basis; why, then, have so many Civil Servants and ordinary citizens alike felt that they were expected to suppress their moral and social concerns about the gambling proposal? (3) Why is it that some callers to Let’s Talk -- ignoring the wide range of issues we have discussed since June and the fact that gambling undercuts the national SDP vision -- have told us that we are obsessed with gambling and that if we are to have any credibility, we must speak on other issues instead?]

In short, evils – whether in our personal lives or at the policy level – are often enticing, but they are deceptive, addictive, corrupting, contagious and destructive. Therefore, wise communities and governments will base policy and law on sound principles of godliness, morality, and justice; and so will use the force of law to restrain rather than promote evil. That’s quite a challenge, but one we have to take up. So, now, let’s talk . . .

Thursday, August 19, 2004

On God, Caesar and Government
GEM 04:08:12

“Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” [Matt 22:21.]

With these startling words, Jesus rebutted the Pharisees and Herodians, who had hoped to trap him with a trick question: “Is it lawful to give tribute [tax] unto Caesar, or not?” Had he answered, “no,” Jesus would have been an open rebel against Rome. If he had answered “yes,” most Jews would have branded him a traitor. But instead, he called for a tribute coin and asked whose image and inscription were on it: “Caesar’s.” So, very wisely, our Lord told them to give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God, what belongs to Him.

There is, however, a subtle issue in the answer: Who decides what properly belongs to Caesar – or any other governmental official -- and why?

Of course, Caesar is not competent to answer that question: for, he has a major conflict of interest. Equally clearly, raw power or trickery or unjustly imposed decrees cannot properly be trotted out in the name of “law” or “custom” and passed off as the answer to a question of rights and justice. Nor, can a nation be simply a matter of property to be handed over from one ruler to another, for that would be mere slavery. (In fact, the Romans had been invited into Judaea by one side in a power struggle, and simply had never left: so, their C1 rule of Judaea was rooted in trickery, lies and naked force.)

The Psalmist has a better answer: “The earth is the Lord’s . . . and all who live in it” [Ps 24:1] – for he is our loving Creator. So, clearly, all government must be established under (and should acknowledge) God, as we see in Rom. 13:1 - 6:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established . . . Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted . . . For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

“The [civil authority] is God’s servant to do you good.” That is, s/he is God’s servant, i.e. accountable to God. Next, such a ruler is tasked to do you good – and in vv. 8 – 10, Paul then points out that “[l]ove does no harm to its neighbour” and therefore fulfills God’s Law. Thus, the first duty and qualification of the ruler is justice, in light of God’s law of neighbour-love: s/he is to be concerned to promote the right and good, and to restrain those who would do wrong. That is why rulers bear the sword to defend justice and have a right to collect reasonable taxes to support the work of government. In short, it is God who assigns to his servant, Caesar what properly belongs to Caesar; that he may promote justice. So, as Daniel Chs 1 - 6 show us, it is God who, in his wisdom that is far above our human understanding, raises up Governments; and as Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius’ satraps learned the hard way, God is not afraid to judge, punish or even overthrow rulers who become arrogant, blasphemous or unjust -- especially those who dare to persecute the people of God.

But, what about democracy – the rule of the people? Now, first, the people do not directly rule as a body, for that lends itself to the fickle tyranny and brutality of enraged crowds and the demagogues who manipulate them – the downfall of ancient Athens’ democracy and the root of the Reign of Terror in revolutionary C18 France. Instead, as the Bible and history jointly bear witness, free people should choose their leaders and set up laws as the framework in which government acts justly, under the supreme rule of God. Then, since sometimes governments are not merely incompetent, but are tempted to steal from the public purse, or may willfully undermine the public good, or may even use the force of the sword to attack the rights of the people or set out on imperialist conquest, we have a collective right to use the vote to reform government, by removing such mis-rulers and if necessary changing our laws, to correct the underlying fault.

We can therefore sum up the lesson of the past five hundred years: just and wise government, under the rule of law, in the fear of God [cf. 2 Sam 23:3], and with accountability to the people through regular elections – that is, “a truly democratic and God fearing society” -- is vital: for, the alternative is chaos, tyranny, and oppression; leading to recurrent and futile coups, civil wars and bloody revolutions.

As this has been increasingly recognised over the past several generations, we the people of the Caribbean, under God’s providence and blessing, have been set free from slavery and the worst excesses of colonial rule, and we have embarked on our own experiment of liberty and democratic self-government. Clearly, if we are to make a success of it, then, we must seek God’s wisdom and grace. So, now, let’s talk . . .

PS: A more detailed discussion, which will guide the next several sessions of Let's Talk as we discuss how Montserrat may become a truly democratic and God fearing society, may be found here . (It also is a wide ranging discussion of government and governance under God as the world rushes to the culmination of History.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

On Emancipation, Liberation and the Gospel
GEM 04:08:04

This weekend, the Anglophone Caribbean celebrated the 170th anniversary of the emancipation of our ancestors from chattel slavery. Perhaps, we can best recall how it felt to our forebears by looking at a midnight celebration held in Falmouth’s Baptist church, in Trelawney, Jamaica:

As congregations gathered in every chapel across the island, the Negroes arriving for worship at Falmouth at 11p.m. on 31st July [1834] found a huge banner bearing the word Freedom across the entrance to the chapel. [Missionary William] Knibb [who had narrowly avoided being hanged as a suspected leader of the so-called “Baptist War” rebellion of 1831/2 and had then gone from Jamaica to England on an anti-slavery tour in which he addressed both public meetings and 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. ]

Clearly, many of our ancestors saw freedom as a precious blessing from God, one that had been won at bitter cost. This is aptly summed up in the words of Paul, teachings that inspired many of our ancestors:

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. [1 Cor 7:21 – 23.]; and . . . .

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.]

How, then, did men from lands that had been Christianised for centuries enslave our ancestors? To see why, let us first note that the Bible has choice words on the slave trade, the foundation for plantation slavery:

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 . . .”]

In short, there is simply no biblical defense for “Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships . . .” and the resulting chattel slavery imposed on our ancestors by the Europeans (who had the merchant ships) and the Africans, Berbers and Arabs who carried out the kidnapping and selling in Africa. But, greed for super-profits plainly blinded the traders to the serious moral and biblical issues at stake. So, instead of creating an indentured labour system, which the OT tolerates and regulates (and which was how for instance the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts), the Europeans resorted to plantation chattel slavery and racism, backed up by unjust laws passed in the interests of the powerful. Then, they suppressed, ignored or twisted the scriptures and persecuted those who protested, to silence their uneasy consciences.

Thank God, many dissenting Christians dared to stand up stoutly for the liberating truths of the gospel in England, in America and – starting with black American Missionary George Liele, who came to Jamaica in 1783 as a refugee fleeing re-enslavement -- here in the Caribbean. Fifty-one years after that date, “the Monster” was dead. Then through an endowment from the people of God in Britain, a network of free villages was formed, starting the process of economic liberation. And, within five years of “full free” in 1838, a hundred Caribbean Missionaries went to West Africa -- the land of our ancestors -- with the gospel.

How, then, can we do less in our time? So, now, let’s talk . . .