I’ve been inspired to write about faith again this month.
A little earlier this year my evangelical Christian sister put my whole name in her mouth over at the Express.
They gave her a platform — in the spirit of free speech, I guess — to recycle an old blog post of hers espousing strident views against free speech. The media, she argued there, should never write without censure about behaviours or “accommodate” views (like mine) that are “ungodly.”
I imagine this also means other faith views and those faiths’ acceptance or their practice.
Who decides ungodliness? I guess sister imagines she has been so appointed, since she titled the blog where the screed originally appeared Heaven’s Viewpoint.
I’d hope her position would be transparently outrageous in a rainbow nation like TT. Faith scholars have a name for it: dominion theology. However, in these post-truth, cancel-culture times, where social-media posters who disagree with your point of view feel the need to erase your value entirely, one can never be sure.
I can only hope the shout out of me has boosted readership for this column.
I’m not sure if the sister is still responsible for press releases by the evangelical churches’ trade association. The church council has been fairly busy in the media — talking mostly about control others should have over LGBTI people’s lives, most recently whether they should be allowed to parent their own children. But I’ve noticed they’ve started talking about other things.
This week they released a remarkable statement on crime. It encouraged every citizen to take responsibility for addressing crime, arguing it is not only the government’s responsibility.
It also called for synergy and teamwork among diverse actors (families, schools and churches; from athletes to doctors to maxi drivers), and stated boldly “a solution to crime can only be found when...politicians work together.” It defined crime as “a societal problem” and “a result of our human nature” — “I must ask myself what my contributions to the cause of crime are. Am I part of the problem or solution?”
That’s frankly a more visionary start than the politicians have managed.
But ultimately it shifts to a view of crime as “first of all a spiritual problem,” and the heart of its solution in a “return to traditional family values as taught by the Bible,” because crime “can only be brought into control...by abiding by the word of God and by spending time in prayer.” Citizens must “first look to the Lord,” and “stop complaining.”
What a pointless prescription. “[I]f governments could solve crime; it would have been solved already.” Well, if prayer could, wouldn’t it equally? I guess the real argument is if everyone became an observant evangelical, crime would end. Well, duh. Even setting aside the third of the population who aren’t Christian, or twice as many Christians who aren’t Full Truth, that would be a feat. While the churches work on rooting out sin among their faithful, the practical fight against crime continues.
The same paper that gave the sister the platform dragged the release.
“Evangelical Council has crime solution: Bible. The pervasive problem of crime in TT can be solved through reading the bible and praying. This according to the TT Council of Evangelical Churches.”
But the boldness of their statement did make me sit and ponder the value of faith. Like sister, I too bring some recent online musings into this column.
Faith cannot replace criminology, competent policing, or any number of social justice measures that would prevent crime. Having faith, also, must not replace holding various institutional actors accountable for their roles in addressing crime.
Further, faith communities can do far more in using their considerable wealth and reach to deliver interventions. Not just fervent rhetoric and prayer that strengthen family, support parenting, and fill the enormous gaps in the state’s failure to address structural inequality and the neoliberal dismantling of the social sector, Rhoda Reddock highlighted in a recent opinion piece. Preaching about traditional family values does little for the ketcha** families face in real life. And it’s through their works that the Council and its member-congregations will be judged.
Most important of all, faith can play an unparalleled role in helping citizens cope with the unavoidable sense of siege that crime — compounded by the failure of myopic state responses — is wreaking among citizens. Faith is a powerful tool in mental health. (Unless it is used to teach hate.)
Finally, sometimes bully pulpits are important. Faith is reckless when it seeks to displace responsibility for solving crime away from humans and the systems we have created and control, and onto vague forces of decline and evil. Conversely, faith leaders and communities of faith can create a powerful voice as a force for accountability, demanding social justice as a political norm and not just the current neoliberal approaches to crime.