Columns

Don't misunderstand authority

Al Miller

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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What will it take to motivate us a nation to change the status quo? We should all agree that the current situation in Jamaica is untenable. How much worse does it need to get before we commit to do all what's necessary to create the new Jamaica?

Last week I dared to look at that established status quo called separation of powers and some people almost lost their Sunday dinner. Some took umbrage at my suggestion to revisit and readjust the system if necessary, with a view to improve governance. One reader even stated that I was out of my depth and accused me of trying to subvert, impede, breach, circumvent, and encroach on the principles of separation of powers.

Some people are so enslaved to what is that they are unable, it seems, to consider what could be — even when what is has lost its ability to facilitate or contribute to our national development. Our nation is rife with status quo issues that need transformation.

The recent controversy with the acting appointment of a chief justice has definitely sparked much debate and brought to the fore the need to revisit some long-standing status quo issues or principles for transformation. In particular, the issue has highlighted a most fundamental governance principle important to the welfare of our nation — the principle of authority.

What is authority?

Authority is the power or right to rule, to make wise decisions, to give directions, and enforce obedience; the right to act or command. The acceptance of God as the supreme authority makes a world of difference in our attitude and behaviour. For it is by accepting this that we come to realise that all authority comes from Him and must represent Him.

If we accept that all authority originates with Jehovah God then we would also have to accept that everyone in authority represents God's authority. This being the case, everyone in positions of authority would be required to exercise his or her authority based on the pattern of the supreme authority he or she represents.

Those who are in authority should then be aware that they do not represent themselves, but the authority of God, so they should take great care to represent Him well. Such a mindset would revolutionise both how authorities relate to the people and how we relate to authority.

The right to act

The fundamental rules of the principle of authority are that those in authority have the right to act and that right must be accepted and respected by the people. Authority or the right to rule in a democracy is granted by the people to their elected officials. They then rule by the consent of the people. In turn, the people must respect the right of their Government to act in exercise of the responsibility granted to them.

Having the right does not necessarily mean that those in authority are always right in their actions, and indeed history is replete with unrighteous authorities. But this does not remove the need for the principle of authority to operate.

Those in authority should have a clear conviction to do right if they operate from the knowledge of the character of the one whom they represent.

Authority misunderstood

Authority is a first principle on which nations are built and around which society is organised. Although it is so basic, it is often not properly understood or applied by most citizens. Even for those of us who understand this principle, there is still the desire to rebel against authority from time to time.

Operating in ignorance of, or disregard for authority is courting disaster, whether you are an individual, organisation or a nation.

Authority, if correctly understood and applied, should only flow from a love which chooses to seek the best interest and welfare of those the authority serves. In addition, if those in positions of authority correctly understood and applied authority, most of the problems of society would not arise. And if they did arise they would certainly be easily resolved.

The practice of a kind of loving authority would remove the fear of abuse, malfeasance, and murder. Wrongly exercised authority has been so dominant that once we hear the word authority we associate it with oppression, corruption, bondage, and other negative connotations. We need to establish true, loving authority. We must seek to get it right.

Authority absolutely necessary

Authority in society is a must. It will either be disciplined, responsible and controlled authority or irresponsible, oppressive wrong authority which will be negative and create mayhem. Could the unclear authority issue from the very top of the stream be what is manifesting itself all the way down the line in the general breakdown of law and order? Where authority is unclear, weak or absent, evil authority will always fill the gap for nature abhors a vacuum.

The fact is, no society can function without the principle of authority and clear authority structures. Law and order, peace and justice can only be maintained with a strong authority framework. Whenever authority breaks down, disorder and chaos reign.

One of the key markers of a society devolving is the existence of different factions with no one being able to ultimately rule or control the whole of the territory. Every man does what is right in his own eyes, and multiple fiefdoms spring up in an effort to fill the vacuum the lack of authority creates.

At the heart of our current crime debacle is the breakdown of true authority and the supplanting of it by illegitimate power structures. So, in our society, where fathers have been absent from the home our children have grown up wild — boys given to violence and girls to promiscuity. Our political authorities have been more interested in maintaining power than in serving the people, and so they created tribalism and division. The police have been corrupted and their disregard for the law has unleashed a general lawlessness in the society. So in some neighbourhoods dons arise to act as executive, legislature and judiciary in one.

If authority fails, society fails

The failure of the constituted authorities to act in a clear, strong, responsible, and respectable way has led to the significant breakdowns we see in so many areas. Breakdown in family, breakdown in communities, breakdown in schools and churches, breakdown in business are always rooted in the issue of authority.

Authority is the place from which order and discipline flow, and through which the character of the ruled is developed and the character of the ruler is revealed. The absence or disregard of authority among a people spells devastation.

The principle has to be a most cherished concept for a healthy society. Every citizen should respect authority to the max and therefore be under authority. There ought to be no organisation or person in any society who is allowed to operate outside of established societal authority.

Authority must be righteous!

Those in authority must carefully represent the authority of God, who is supreme authority, by honouring the fundamental laws of God which are love of God and love of neighbour. The people then show their submission to authority and to whatever the authority structures set in place, such as family, school, church, organisation, and governments. This basic principle should be inculcated in the minds and hearts of all citizens.

If we, as a nation, are to reap the attendant benefits of authority (discipline, order, good justice, safety and security, real progress and prosperity), we must individually make a commitment to embrace and express this nation transformation principle of authority. We must begin to respond positively and supportively to the systems of authority which are part and parcel of our government.

The proper balance must be found so that authority and its corresponding responsibilities at all levels can be clear and as a consequence followed happily by those under the authority.

Authority ought not to be something to be feared but something which engenders love and respect. At the same time, those in authority must behave in a manner that engenders respect and love from those they rule; inspiring them to participate in an ordered society of progress and prosperity for all.

In addition, government (all three branches) must commit to being righteous in the exercise of their authority. I am reminded of an old adage, found in Proverbs 29: 2, which says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”

Jamaica has groaned for too many decades and and in too many spheres. Isn't it time for a new day and a new Jamaica? Will this new-era prime minister and younger generation Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica authority figures usher in a new day for us? This is my prayer.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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