Editorial | The pastor’s invocation of Buju
We can't claim to have clarity on what the position of Northern Caribbean University (NCU) and, by extension, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is on a specific allegation that one of the church's pastors may have incited, or come close to inciting, violence against gays in a recent sermon at the NCU's Kingston campus.
What we have is a waffling wall of obfuscation from the university director of corporate communication, Byron Buckley, an experienced journalist who was lately an editor at this newspaper. We do know, on Mr Buckley's say-so, that the NCU doesn't "endorse uncivilised or unprofessional conduct by persons who represent the institution in public". In private, too, we expect.
"Our core values include diversity and respect," Mr Buckley wrote in a letter published on Saturday, the day of worship for Seventh-day Adventists.
The issue is how the far the NCU and its parent organisation, the Jamaica Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, does extend that diversity and whether that respect is all-embracing. Do inclusivity and respect cover all Jamaica, including gays and others in the LGBTQ community?
That is the uncomfortable issue raised by letter-writer Malick Mangaroo, to which Mr Buckley responded. Mr Mangaroo claimed that at a function at the NCU campus, "the main speaker, a young pastor, went into a rant against gays".
He quoted the unnamed pastor: "I hear dem releasing Buju Banton (from prison in the United States), and I can't wait for his return because him have a song weh seh boom bye-bye ... yuh know I can't say di words." The phrase for which the pastor preferred to insert an ellipsis is from the dancehall artiste's controversial song about shooting gay men in the head.
On the face of it, such a statement, especially by a pastor, would seem vulgar, uncivil, lacking in charity and compassion, inciting, and downright dangerous.
By Mr Buckley's explanation, however, the pastor's message focused on society's deviation from the standards set by God, manifested in things such as "skin bleaching, lack of prayer, dress, alternative sexual practices, evolution, etc".
The reference to Boom Bye-Bye and Black Hypocrisy, a song about bleaching, by another dancehall artiste, Spice, according to Mr Buckley, was "only a communication tool to get the message across to the audience and was not meant to support bleaching, or adultery, or violence".
Added Mr Buckley: "In the circumstances, we understand how the preacher's comments could be misinterpreted as being uncivil." In other words, it was a problem of cognition on the part of Mr Mangaroo. He misunderstood. And he might have.
However, there was no offer of an extended verbatim account of the pastor's remarks to support the argument that he was quoted out of context. It is curious that the NCU conceded that there may have been a basis for a mischaracterisation of utterances. This might seem a small issue. It is not. For several reasons.
NCU AND THE CHURCH
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest, and, by most accounts, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in Jamaica. The church, we accept, is, by and large, a moral force for good. Through the NCU, it provides tertiary education for large numbers of Jamaica's young people, thereby helping to shape their lives and establishing, or reinforcing, moral codes, including for those who are not members of the church.
The church's interpretation of Christian values may not include an acceptance of gay love. But neither do we expect it to include hatred of people because of who they choose to love nor inciting violence if that love is between persons of the same sex. Further, words, too, can have dangerous consequences. People of influence have a responsibility to be careful in the deployment of their words.
In the circumstance, the pastor in question has a duty of care to be fulsome and truthful about his remarks, without the intermediation of PR officers, and just apologise if he misspoke.