Don't blame the media for the sins of the (Moravian) church

Sunday, December 03, 2017

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If the Rev Phyllis Smith Seymour, first woman president of the Moravian Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, had been the beneficiary of better public relations, she might not have indulged in that futile practice of beating upon the messenger.

Last week, while journalists were not looking — they were understandably busy celebrating National Journalism Week — Rev Smith Seymour used an interview with Nationwide Radio to lash the media for its prolonged coverage of the sex scandal which, in her own words, had “battered and wounded” the Moravian Church.

The scandal, no doubt, had struck at the heart of one of the great Christian denominations in Jamaica and it can't come as any surprise that its members, including Rev Smith Seymour, are pained and anguished.

Indeed, three of its senior members were accused of being sexually involved with underage girls, including Dr Paul Gardner whom she replaced as head of the church earlier this year and who has stoutly denied the allegations.

Former Vice-President Jermaine Gibson and Pastor Rupert Clarke were also casualties of the allegations.

That pain and anguish in the Moravian Church is still raw and the wound has now been reopened by the admission of guilt by Rev Clarke — the man who triggered the controversy — that he had sex with two underage sisters.

We had, however, been of the view that the church had been dealing credibly with a very difficult issue. For what it's worth, the denomination smashed centuries-old tradition and elected its first woman president.

Smith Seymour immediately struck the right chord: “At this time, we of the Moravian Church must assert our ongoing and unequivocal support for the rights of all people, and especially so of our children, to live free of abuse, and the threat thereof.

“Undeniably, recent events have left us battered and wounded by the allegations that have been made. We know that we cannot be completely objective about ourselves, and so have sought outside help and counsel, remaining open to criticism and corrections, towards meaningful change,” she reassured members at their 75th Provincial Synod.

The church also passed a Child Care and Protection Policy setting ground rules to be followed by church leaders and workers as well as volunteers in their care, and who interact with minors. The guidelines were supported by a programme of training and sensitisation of church leaders, staff and laity, in accordance with the Child Care and Protection Act of Jamaica.

Rev Smith Seymour should have left it at that. The media did not create the scandal, it reported it. It's what the media do. Beating upon the messenger is an age-old practice that shifts the blame from the perpetrator, and it is very wrong.

In that same vein, members of the Moravian Church cannot be blamed for the sins of the pastors unless, of course, they uphold those sins and stand in their defence. We don't think Mrs Smith Seymour is guilty of doing that.

But may we remind her of her own words: “…we cannot be completely objective about ourselves…and so have sought outside help and counsel”. And we suggest that she might well benefit from some of this help and counsel.




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