My recent suggestion that in light of the reported gruesome saga at that church in Paradise. Montego Bay, Church and State need to work together at a list of minimum criteria for any religious group within the country, no doubt shocked many.
The epithets that would readily be invoked by those who register negative feelings about my suggestion may include “freedom of religion/worship” and the “separation of Church and State”. Reasonable epithets but neither counters my suggestion because neither is absolute in sweep!
In a parliamentary democracy like Jamaica, all citizens and organizations are expected to respect certain rights that fall due to the people residing in the country. One of these well-attested rights is that of religious liberty. Besides its inclusion in our Bill of Rights, it is enshrined in conventions that our government has signed.
The right to the exercise of religious liberty (religious freedom) is of fundamental importance and should be honored always in societies like ours. However, this right, like other rights, is not limitless. One reason for this is that rights do sometimes come into conflict with each other. When this happens, one has to arbitrate how to balance the rights so that none is disrespected. Often, this necessitates a positive compromise.
The need to balance competing rights makes it legitimate for agents of the State, for example, to conduct raids in precincts where religious freedom is being exercised, if this is done to prevent unlawful actions or to secure evidence to support the establishment of justice.
Freedom of religion though a constitutional right cannot be interpreted as any and every brand/species of religion. Moreover, there is no legal right that is absolute not even the fundamental supreme one called the “right to life”, itself the weirdest ‘right’ for me, because no State can guarantee it. A State can only attempt to provide redress for its breach and that redress, as it is with life insurance, benefits only the relatives of the deceased!
Since you may be unaware, I share what an eminent Lawyer told me about the constitution’s caveat re the right to life. You can be lawfully deprived of your life but only by sentence of a court and such deprivation must be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Within a responsible society no organisation can be allowed unbridled freedom to do whatever it chooses since a major task of good government is to protect the wellbeing of citizens in general.
The popular American epithet “ separation of church and state” is best understood through the wording of the 1st Amendment to the American constitution “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, no state- religion or bar on religious freedom. This is not an absolute either given US state/federal action against religious groups that endangered the safety of US citizens despite the proliferation of several religions in the USA!
Then what of an overbearing or antireligious state? For Christians, the Bible and history provide models of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance.
What is dangerous for a democratic society that respects human rights is for governments to assume power to regulate the exercise of religious freedom beyond the boundaries of what is normally applicable to all citizens. When governments assume they have the power to target these institutions for ends that are usually not ethically defensible or are inconsistent with existing laws, they exceed their just powers and should be challenged and resisted.
The example of the Apostles in Acts is well known. They disobeyed an edict from the state approved Jewish leaders (the Sadducees) ‘not to teach in the name of Jesus’, choosing “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29).
A word on political elements in the book of Revelation should help too.
1. John’s Presence on Patmos
According to Tertullian, John was exiled on Patmos because of his Christian witness. John describes himself as, a fellow participant (with his addressees) in suffering and steadfast endurance (1.9) and as being on Patmos because of i.e. as a consequence of “…the word of God and testimony concerning Jesus…”(1.9b), i.e. as a result of his proclamation and presence being perceived as possibly seditious and subversive.
2. Denunciation of State Oppression
Dr. the Rev. Burchell Taylor mentions three elements of State oppression depicted and denounced in Revelation: the arrogance of power (13.1-17;11.7;14.9;17.3), the use of deception through quasi-religious propaganda (13; 1.9; 2.13;14.9) employed by the beast from the land and economic injustice through state monopoly (13.17).
3. John’s Political Description of Christians
-John affirms in 1.6 what the elders also affirm in 5.10 – by Christ’s atoning death, Christians constituted a ‘kingdom’ or ‘dominion’ and as ‘priests’. The words ‘kingdom/dominion’ and ‘priests’ were politically loaded terms in the 1st century: ‘kingdom/dominion’ = empire, ‘priests’ = bearers of sacred authority from the State.
– Christians will reign upon the earth (5.10), for a thousand years (20.6) and even forever (22.5).
4. Resistance and the Cry for Justice
-The frequent mention of ‘endurance/steadfastness’ (1.9; 2.2,3,19; 3.10; 13.10; 14.12)
-Christians resist the State to the point of martyrdom in 20.4-6.
-In 6.9-11 the martyrs died with a vibrant passion for justice.
5. John’s God is described as Supreme Potentate
– 1.5c, “…the ruler of the Kings of the earth…”
– 1.8 “…ruler over all…” (see also 4.8;11.17;15.3;16.7,14;19.6,15; 21.22).
– 4.8c “Lord God, ruler over all…”
– 4.11 whole verse but especially “…our Lord and God…” and the rationale for receiving glory etc.
– 5.10,12,13 especially v.13 with its universal acclaim for other than the Emperor.
– 6.9,10,11,15,17 especially the justice query of v.10.
The Rev. Samuel Rutherford, a Presbyterian, wrote his Lex, Rex: Or the Law and the Prince in 1644. The main thesis, as implied in the title, is that the law is king, and so the king is under the law and not above it, a notion that was regarded as treasonously contrary to the tradition of the ‘divine right of kings.
American Baptist clergyman, Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent campaign against racism in the USA is memorable.
Church and state can work together for the common good!