Columns

The principle of (good) authority

Al Miller

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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Increasing numbers of people, sectors and organisations want a world without rules to govern their behaviour. They want to be free to follow their feelings and ideas without restrictions. Whereas rights and liberties must be allowed, they can never be carte blanche and cannot be in contravention of wider governing principles.

Justice demands consideration and fairness to all people and justice must find its authority somewhere. Good order can only be developed and maintained in a structure of authority and responsibility. Every man, or even a few, cannot be allowed to do what is right in his own eyes without any accountability or submission to authority.

An accountability framework is vital for a healthy growth environment, whether for personal, organisational or national life. In building the new Jamaica, the matter of authority and responsibility is a conversation that must be had and the principle of it settled.

An important question that should be asked is: Who should have the authority and where does it start and end? Some would argue the least amount of authority, the better. Others would ask: Should that highest authority be Government, the constitution, the people, or organisations?

These questions should be asked, and all related conversations had, on the basis of the importance of authority as a clear principle. Fears, biases and other negatives cannot be primary considerations in the authority narratives. We must have principled dialogue.

Authority is a first principle

The battle of the ages has always been about showing all who has the authority. Wars are always over the issue of power and authority at the base. Our Judeo-Christian tradition maintains that the origin of evil was over the issue of authority. The creature, Lucifer, challenged the authority of the creator God to obtain power over creation. He lost the battle. Since then, the battle lines for humanity have been drawn and a constant squabble for control has been the order of the day.

Later on in human history, there is the record of a nation in which proper succession of authority did not take place. The result was a country where “every man did what was right in his own eyes”. (Judges 21:5)

Can you imagine such a nation? Can you imagine the lawlessness, the crime and violence, the chaos on the roads? It certainly would not have been a place to live, work, raise families, and do business!

Authority is a first principle which, if not respected, will result in disputes for control that, in turn, will only result in chaos and anarchy.

Authority must be good

This subject raises the question of heart attitudes, motives, character, integrity, trust, fear, oppression, pride, and humility. Authority should rightly be placed where there is a heart of love and humility, an active concern for justice, and a penchant for positive attitudes. If authority is formed or appointed without these attributes the abuse of power is inevitable. The consequence is corruption, injustice, oppression, and all forms of evil practices.

Great care should be taken in the selection of people to be placed in positions of authority so as to reduce the fear of authority. The historical abuse of power by those in authority has contributed to the general fear of authority and the rejection by many of the principle of authority. As a result, our world fights to remove as much power as possible from those in authority. This is seen as the way to solve the abuse problem.

Instead of trying to strip power from the authorities, best wisdom suggests that we ought rather to place a high premium on establishing good authority and demand the highest standards from those in authority. In other words, the thing to do is to ensure that we put in place the measures necessary to ensure that authority is properly exercised. We cannot merely continue to remove more and more power from Government and yet expect results from them in their areas of responsibility.

Authority or anarchy?

Where there is no authority, or ineffective authority, disorder and chaos and increased pain will result. When authority is absent, ineffective or disrespected, people start wanting to be their own authority. If those who are dissatisfied with the ineffective authority usurp the position of authority, very often they end up doing the same things of which they once complained; they do the very thing they feared in authority.

I hope we can see why this is an absolutely necessary conversation in which we as a society must engage. To destroy authority structures and our faith in them is dangerous. It undermines discipline and order in our society. The absence of good authority and respect for it is at the root of many of our social ills.

Look at the chaos on our roads. It is a prime example of what can go wrong when every man decides to be a law unto himself. The consequences are accidents, fatalities and other road safety issues.

Take a visit to some of our public schools. The academic underachievement and attending ills of many of our bright children are directly related to the absence of good teacher authority — or the absence of fathering in their families.

Data Protection Bill — Why not for you?

Another good example of wanting to reduce the power of those in authority and to exercise their own authority is the posture of segments of the media as it pertains to the Data Protection Bill. Both the press association and the media association would like to see the complete removal of the practice of journalism from the scope of the Bill. They are not alone.

An external body on press freedom advocacy called Reporters Without Borders [Rapporteurs Sans Frontiers (RSF)] has written to Dr Andrew Wheatley, minister of science, energy and technology and the chairman of the joint select committee of Parliament, expressing concern about aspects of the proposed legislation.

In an article titled 'International press freedom group concerned about Data Protection Bill', published on Thursday, May 17, in The Gleaner, it is reported that RSF's executive director for North America, Margaux Ewen, in a letter to Dr Wheatley, said: “A clear blanket exemption for journalists should be provided, instead of a handful of provisions from which journalists are exempt.”

I contend that anyone who wants a “clear blanket of exemptions” in a Bill designed to protect the rights of citizens, clearly understands that the Bill aims to protect sensitive personal data, including political opinions, philosophical beliefs, religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature, yet Ewen is apparently requiring that no limitations or controls of any sort should be required of journalists and media outlets.

She is really saying that authority and power must now be fully placed in the hands of journalists and media outlets. They must be their own authority to hold the governing, elected authority accountable. But then who will hold the media accountable?

No group in any society ought to be given blanket exemption to do whatever they want. That's a dangerous and preposterous request! Such a position is a danger to national security and to personal rights and liberties of citizens.

Kibbah Yuh Mout!

Here in Jamaica there is a saying, “Old people say is not everything good fi eat good fi talk.”

I recall a case a few years ago which one of our papers carried. It was a story of a shooting of a family by gunmen who kicked down the door and entered the house. They left thinking they had killed all who were in the house. A zealous reporter and, to my mind, an irresponsible editor, in their reporting, pointed out that their investigation revealed that the murderers missed a 13-year-old daughter who had been hiding behind the door. The end of the story was that the gunmen went in search of the 13-year-old and did what was entirely predictable.

We want freedom of the press but that cannot mean the freedom to be irresponsible.

Good authority is of god for the people

There is a controversial statement written by a first-century lawyer which I hold as true: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

“Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.” (Romans 13: 1-2)

The seat of authority in any society must have that statement as its foundation. When understood rightly, those who govern will exercise good authority and will govern rightly on behalf of the people. This is so whether you are parental authority, pastoral authority, community authority, or national authority.

When understood rightly by those being governed, and particularly as they see the benefits of good authority (justice, order, discipline, development), they should respond with cooperation and obedience to the authority.

In the new Jamaica we must determine the criteria for those we place in authority. We must also set in place the controls necessary to keep those in authority accountable. Nobody is perfect, and even legitimate authorities must be accountable. Let's not go the route of stripping them of power. That will render them unable to administer the responsibilities with which they have been entrusted. Authority must always have the power needed to fulfil its mandate. If you separate the power from the authority you end up with a situation in which it is the tail that wags the dog.

We must consider all things and find the balance. Conversation is the place to begin, action is the process to engage and begin to shape the future of the new Jamaica, land we love.

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

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