THE head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica has supported the Jamaica Urban Transit Company's (JUTC's) ban on bus preachers, saying that some Christians have misinterpreted the Scriptures to mean that they have a duty to win souls by coercion.
In his column published in The Agenda in today's Sunday Observer, Bishop Howard Gregory writes that the church has a mandate for mission, which involves preaching.
He points to Matthew 28:18-20 in which Jesus charges His apostles to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you".
However, the question, Bishop Gregory says, is how the church fulfils that mission.
"Unfortunately, there have been many instances in history when the church has understood this to mean the coercion and mandatory conversion of persons to the faith," he says.
"These are sad chapters in the life of the church and to which the church in this age should not lend its support. This kind of approach to the exercise of the mission of the church is inconsistent with the way in which Jesus exercised His ministry and [how] the early church of the New Testament exercised its mission as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles," he adds.
"There was never any attempt to corral an audience and then present the gospel to them, but rather, a recognition that the appeal of the gospel is voluntary and must not be presented to people in ways that are boorish and an imposition."
Bishop Gregory's comments are the latest in the raging debate triggered by JUTC Managing Director Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin's proscription of preaching on the buses announced a few weeks ago.
According to Bishop Gregory, the new policy has so angered some members of the religious community that the only thing left for them to do is label Lewin the 'anti-Christ'.
However, the Lord Bishop insists that there is a legitimate time and place for the church or any of its members to engage in its mission, and there must be limits to the ways in which that is undertaken, "which should not require external enforcement, but should be seen as inherent in the very gospel which is being proclaimed".
He says that there is a spiralling level of invasiveness taking place in hospitals across the country in which self-appointed preachers and untrained representatives of some religious congregations are now introducing their own culture of "noise-making" by undertaking evangelistic services on the wards, contradicting the medical prescriptions of medical staff, and attempting to induce religious experiences and responses in patients which are most inappropriate.
"I am aware of situations in which such persons attempt to take very sick patients out of hospital beds in order to get them baptised by immersion. The situation has become unbearable," Bishop Gregory reveals.