Shame on all churches


Shame on all churches

...not just the Moravians


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Nationwide Radio recently did a follow-up on a story that had gripped the nation concerning Moravian Church Pastor Rupert Clark and his sexual dalliance with underage girls in St Elizabeth. What emerged from this exposé is that little has changed in the circumstances of the victimised family. Even the house which was promised by the Government over two years ago has not yet been built.

But even more shocking was the revelation that the Moravian Church had not reached out to the family, neither to offer an apology nor to offer any assistance in the form of counselling or other resources to help the family. This, understandably, has spiked the ire and revulsion of people against the church, if not against Christianity itself.

Many have been appalled at the lack of compassion, especially on the part of the Moravian Church. They expected that since it was one of their senior clergymen who carried out the sexual depredations against the minors, thus furthering the social dislocation and disharmony within the home, they should bear the greater burden of the responsibility for helping the family to a place of comfort.

I have no problem with this viewpoint and, in fact, agree with it. The church clearly has dropped the ball on human compassion. As the servant of Christ, it has failed to render help in a situation that demanded it. Like the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan it has passed by on the other side, while the wounded and bleeding lie dying on the road. In that it has failed to live up to this responsibility, it has failed to understand the mind of Christ in one of the most significant identifications of who he is as a God of compassion.

But I would like to put the subject in a broader context. For while we may duly and rightly castigate the Moravian Church for its lack of compassion to the suffering, it should be said that this is a deficit from which not only the Moravian Church suffers. It is one which plagues the general Church community. It is easy to beat up on one church, a fledgling one at that, which is still nursing the wounds of sexual indiscretions allegedly inflicted by significant members of its hierarchy. But I would ask, how much different would the response have been had it been an Anglican, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, or any of the other churches, had it been one of their own clergy who was involved in the matter?

If they want to answer truthfully, would they have taken the family into their arms and wrapped the warm blanket of Christian love around their cold shoulders? Would they have provided pecuniary support to help them through the rough economic times they were experiencing? Would they have provided counselling support to help the family through the psychological trauma imposed on the family by the errant clergy person?

I ask these questions with a heavy heart for I seem to know what the clear answer would be. For I ask them against the background and certain knowledge that to this day no other church in the Jamaican Christian community has reached out to the family in the ways assumed by any answer to the above questions. If any has, then I stand corrected, with evidence appended.

The truth is that the Church has not often operated with the sense of divine compassion which should be at the centre of its overarching raison d'etre. I am not too sure whether it has a full appreciation of the depth of what this compassion embraces. In their insular, denominational mindset other churches may have concluded that it is a Moravian problem that they should not be involved in. Since it did not directly involve them, there is no need to get involved. Like Pilate, they absolve themselves of complicity, comforted by the thought that the 'poor' Moravian Church must carry the bag of travail. They too will criticise the Moravian brethren for their inaction and lack of compassion, while turning a blind eye to the suffering of this family, and by extension the Moravian Church.

But we are first part of the body of Christ before we are members of any denomination. In fact, denominationalism has often blinded us to a simple appreciation of this truth spoken by St Paul in describing the church as the Body of Christ. In his insightful discourse in 1 Corinthians 12 he sets out the functions of the body as an analogy for how the gifts of the individual members should operate within the Church as members of the body of Christ, under the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit. Then he makes the cryptic statement: “If one member suffers, then all suffer; if one rejoices then all rejoice.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26). Today it is the Moravian Church that is suffering. Who might it be tomorrow?

The bottom line is that when it comes to meting out compassion this is not the sole preserve of any denomination. It is part of the divine mandate that makes the church what it is. There is no greater identification of Christ's work and ministry than this. It is the basis of the revolutionary love that sent him to the cross and which he enjoins his disciples to fully embrace and engage. It is through this love that people will come to know that we are his followers. Therefore, compassion transcends denominational boundaries and, in this case, to reiterate is not just a responsibility of the Moravian Church but the entire Christian community.

The brief response to a question from Nationwide by the head of the Moravian Church, Rev Phyllis Smith, suggested that there was some administrative protocol involved in the drafting of an apology to the family or that might have precluded them from responding more robustly to the family. If this is the case, and I hope I have not mischaracterised the situation, I know of no protocol that could or should be contrived by any church in defining anyone's response to a situation demanding mercy and compassion. Indeed, there can be no church rule or protocol that should prevent either clergy or laity from reaching out to the sick, broken and suffering person.

It is never too late to engage compassion or to offer a word of apology where one is clearly required. Since the Moravian Church is directly involved by the culpability of one of its senior pastors, it has a duty to at least reach out to the family and seek to ameliorate its sufferings under the circumstances. It should spare no resources in doing so, especially where spiritual ministration is concerned.

The wider Church community must re-examine its own role in ministering divine compassion to the suffering family. Its seeming recalcitrance in the face of such suffering is part of a wider narrative of repentance that should be addressed.


Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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