The Judeo-Christian tradition is very clear regarding ordered life in community as part of the will and design of God, and which has found expression in the evolution of various forms of governance for the good ordering of society. In the earliest biblical expressions this took the form of charismatic religious leaders who were subsequently succeeded by monarchs and varied expressions and methods of selection of national leaders. A further development was the systematising of the rights and duties of such leaders as well as the rights and duties of citizens which have been codified in constitutions in subsequent eras.
From a Christian perspective, an exploration and understanding of community and governance resides in the story of creation and as an expression of God's good created order. The biblical understanding of community and its organisation is however premised on an appreciation of the individuals who constitute community. All human beings are created in the image of God. This means that the wonder and beauty of God's creation is echoed in the diversity of human beings. Every human being is unique and constitutes a mystery of inestimable value and dignity. All acts and attitudes against the dignity of God's children are sin. Among such expressions of sin are the inequalities in access to land, health and education, unjust labour practices, mistreatment of minorities, human trafficking, religious persecution, pressures on those guided by their freedom of conscience, and gender-based violence.
In our thinking, as a nation at this point in our history, when we are envisioning a revised constitution, we must be clear that we need to evaluate and capture the best representations of leadership for the nation, with accompanying rights, duties and responsibilities, alongside a similar definition of rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens. Any serious examination of the biblical tradition will reveal that God not only is represented as creating human beings to live in community, but that God directed the process of nation-building for Israel, as he has done for other nations, as it moved from being a mere collection of clans to become a nation with the evolution of a system of leadership and governance.
As indicated, the monarchy provided one of the earliest models of leadership for the Israelite nation. However, these monarchs were initially appointed and challenged not to copy the pattern of kingship present among their neighbours which was characterised as oppressive, exploitative, and unjust. Instead, their pattern of leadership/kingship was to be God himself. So those who aspired to, or were chosen to represent the interest of the people in the life of Israel, were not to play God, but to seek to embody something of the very nature and character of God, and so lead with justice, righteousness, truth, and love in their dealings with their people.
Against this background, it is reassuring to be made aware of Christian voices being present in the public space now that the Government of Jamaica has put in place the long-promised constitutional review process, guided by the Constitution Reform Committee, which is tasked with reviewing the 1962 Jamaican Constitution with the goal of facilitating the country's transition to a republic, and which change will require a referendum currently scheduled for 2025.
It is important, however, to remind ourselves as religious voices speak, that we are not a theocracy, but a democracy in which there are many voices, each informed by differing moral and philosophical foundations. Theocracy, we may remind ourselves, is a system of government in which religious leaders or other officials rule a nation in the name of God or claim divine guidance in policies pursued and actions taken. There are manifestations of this in some Arab nations, such as Iran and Afghanistan.
One feature of such theocracies is the way in which they treat minorities with intolerance and little accommodation, as well as the way in which women are treated as inferior to men and subject to male domination.
Democracy, on the other hand, has been defined as a system of government by which the entire population is able to participate through elected representatives. This allows for a plurality of perspectives with differing voices, though in the long run the majority position generally prevails.
However, we cannot be oblivious to the fact that, in recent time, the lines of distinction have been blurred, especially by religious voices in certain leading nations across the world. Thus, religious extremists in Israel are pushing for legislation to allow the executive branch of government to have the power to overrule the Supreme Court decisions. While in the United States of America Christian religious affirmations have been converted into a political agenda that supports racism and the disenfranchisement of black and coloured citizens, the banning of literature which acknowledges the experience of slavery and its legacy and, among other things, support the position which allows for the indiscriminate arming of the nations with deadly weapons that shatter the lives and bodies of little children, while defending the gun manufacturing industry that is flooding our nation with guns as well, all in the name of defending and maintaining the purity of the gospel and the church.
At this point, the dominant Christian voices have been focusing on one issue, namely sexuality and gender identification, and to ensure that those determined to be on the wrong side of Christian thinking are not regarded as having any legitimacy and be represented in the review process, or shape in any way the nature of the revised constitution. If there is one principle which the review of the constitution requires, it is that every citizen has a right to participate and voice his or her perspective on the rights and duties which should be enshrined in the constitution.
See Part 2 in tomorrow's Daily Observer.
Howard Gregory is Anglican bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands as well as archbishop of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, primate and metropolitan.