Jamaica PM Puts Pastors on State Boards

The new Prime Minister of Jamaica has a plan to end corruption in the country; the Jamaica Observer reports:

“I intend on Monday, at my first Cabinet meeting, to instruct my ministers that every board, when they are creating them, must have a pastor as chairman, or as a member of the board, to ensure probity,” [Portia] Simpson Miller promised a large congregation who attended her first church service since her elevation to the job as leader of the country, at the Kencot Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kingston.

…At the end of her address, the elders of the church gathered around Simpson Miller for the laying on of hands by pastor of the church, Merrick Walker and a special prayer of blessings by Evangelist Fitz [Henry].

Unsurprisingly, such an approach has provoked criticism:

“I think it was designed to curry the favour of the Christian community rather than a practical proposal for effective government,” said [Opposition leader Bruce] Golding…”There is nothing wrong with putting pastors on boards and we would encourage that, but we are uncomfortable with it being made a policy.”

However, there is also support from some Jamaican commentators. Here’s Christopher Burns:

In fairness to Portia, her desire to place men of the cloth on state boards, in and of itself, is not a very bad idea, if they are qualified and not selected on the strict basis of religion.

It is not a bad idea because sometimes effective leadership does not necessarily reside with the technically qualified, but with those who possess the soft side of management and who understand human needs and suffering. We all knew, before Portia won the presidency of the [People’s National Party], of her plans to lead a just government, and that a just government in her estimation recognises God as its head.

While Ian Boyne adds:

What we should fear is if we had any indication that she was elevating as public policy the sectarian views of any group or even imposing peculiarly Christian dogmas on the society. We have absolutely no indication that.

…The church is the major institution in what can be called the moral sector. Because of the pressing need to emphasise enabling values and attitudes, the Prime Minister is by the symbolic action of having pastors on boards saying that ethical issues must form part of the decision-making process, just as technical and economic issues are critical.

People ask what technical or board-specific skills the Pastors would have to warrant their being on those boards. They bring a moral sensitivity and an ethical grounding to the discussion of public policy…The view that issues should only be discussed from a technical, economic and narrowly operational way is itself reflecting of a philosophical stance and is not ideologically-neutral. It masquerades as commonsensical, but the truth is, as the postmodernist philosophers insist there is no “view from nowhere”, no Archimedean point. As Foucault says, we must unmask this power game disguised as unquestionable truth.

An unhappy choice of academic citation, perhaps, given Foucault’s support for the Ayatollahs. Boyne also wrote an essay a few weeks ago on Simpson Miller’s appeal, noting her “emotional intelligence” and her role as “a metaphor for the hopes and aspirations of poor, marginalised, despised, oppressed black people, particularly black women”.

Simpson Miller followed up her announcement with a reflection on her own position:

Simpson Miller sparked debate last week after declaring in church that she was appointed by God to run the country, and so expected the support of Jamaicans.

However, Livingstone Thompson provides a bit of context for this sort of thing:

The self-understanding of Jamaica, as a nation under God, is indicated by words of the National Anthem, ‘Eternal Father bless of land’, and the National Pledge, ‘Before God and all mankind.’ It is also true to say that our political leaders have had no reason to apologise for the references they make to God when they address the nation. Both the GG and the former PM ended their speech last Thursday with reference to God. So, in a sense PM Simpson Miller is not breaking new ground.

Thompson does, though, warn against how this could be distorted, “with so-called prophets claiming to have predicted the rise of Madam Portia to power”. One of these is Pastor Phillip Phinn, recently profiled by Mark Dawes (a Jamaica Gleaner journalist who has featured on this blog before):

The Rev. Dr. Phillip Phinn, senior pastor at the Word of Life Ministries International, which meets at 20 Hagley Park Plaza in St. Andrew, in an interview published in Mind&Spirit on April 30, 2005, declared that he and others had received divine revelation that Portia Simpson Miller would be the next Prime Minister of Jamaica [see here]…The Rev. Dr. Phinn, who is one of the leaders of the local Charismatic/Renewal movement, and chaplain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Office of the Prime Minister, has hosted annually since 1987 a prophetic conference where Christians can learn more about the office of the prophet as recorded in the Bible. He disclosed that Minister Simpson Miller had been attending these conferences for the past six years where she was told by himself and other prophets that she would become the next Prime Minister.

Pat Robertson must be green with envy…Phinn continues:

“…We have lied to the people. The absence of the prophetic ministry has helped to promote the rise of witchcraft, the rise in the occult, the new age movement and so on…If Christians had exercised this ministry, a lot of the flourishing obeah men [shamans], new agers – there would be no need for them. But I don’t think it is too late.”

(Some links via Christianity Today Weblog)