THE CHURCH: ITS IMPACT ON NATION-BUILDING: REAL OR IMAGINED?

BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH 60TH ANNIVERSARY LECTURE

NOVEMBER 11, 2015

Mr. Justice David Fraser, Rev Dr. the Honourable Burchell and Mrs. Taylor, Rev Norman Mills and Mrs. Mills, Rev William Edwards and Mrs. Edwards, other members of the clergy and their wives, invited guests, and brother and sisters in Christ all, it is more than a great honour that has been conferred on me to be asked to deliver this 60th Anniversary Lecture of the Bethel Baptist Church. Bethel is very dear to me. I thank God for this Church – all of its pastors, deacons, members and regular visitors. Their impact on my life is beyond verbal expression.

It is great gratitude that has compelled me to agree to take on the assigned topic: The Church: Its Impact on Nation Building; Real or Imagined? I have neither the formal theological, nor political science nor sociology training to explore the wide contours, deep depths, hidden caves and towering heights concealed by this Topic. The best that I can do is to share my thinking on the matter. Hopefully, the limitations of my thoughts will stimulate others more competent to continue its exploration.

Great God, Alpha, and Omega, Creator of the universe who lives in eternity, loving heavenly Father help me through your Holy Spirit to speak in ways that are consistent with your purpose for this occasion. Thy will be done in the name of Jesus our Lord, Savior and coming King, Amen.

DEFINITIONS OF TERMS

The assigned Topic requires brief working definitions of three terms. These terms are ‘the Church’, ‘Nation’ and ‘Nation-Building’.

The Church

The Church is very personal to Jesus. One of the very few personal, possessive and passionate outbursts of Jesus, using the pronouns I and my in close proximity, is Mathew 16:18 “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus also said ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’. He prayed for His disciples saying they are ‘in the world but not of the world’.

The Church, therefore, is the incredible body of Christ comprised of all believers in all places, whether dead or living, or yet to be born, who confess Jesus as the Christ, their Savior and Lord. The Church is spiritual, mystical, universal, and eternal. The Church is divine in origin but has human presence in the world. Christians are dual citizens, with primary loyalty to Christ.

For the purpose of this Lecture the Church is defined as Christian believers who have lived or are living in Jamaica since 1655. This definition accepts that while the church in Jamaica is ecumenical in spiritual essence, it is divided on doctrinal lines into denominations of believers in its presence in Jamaica.

The Nation or Nation-State

The nation is a human geopolitical construction. A nation or nation-state is defined by specific geographical coordinates; the assumption of political sovereignty; a constitution conferring rights to its members defined as nationals; an official language(s); and a sense of shared identity by nationals. In other words, nation-states have geographical, political, legal, linguistic and cultural borders. In islands such as Jamaica, these borders coincide and therefore reinforce each other.

The nation-state is relatively recent in human history. It is just about 500 years old. States existed before nations. The earliest states were city-states of the ancient world. In time some city-states became imperial by conquering or giving protection to others. These imperial city-states established empires that had dominion over vast areas and large populations of diverse peoples ruled by an imperial city with an emperor and a large professional army. City-State Empires appeared on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. For example, in the Mediterranean and North Africa there were the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medes and Persian, Greek and Roman Empires as recorded in the Bible; In West Africa the Benin, Ghana, Mali, and Songhai Empires; in our region of the Americas the Inca, Mayan, and Aztec Empires; and in China empires were called Dynasties.

Religious empires superseded City-State empires. In Islam, empires were called Caliphates. The Umayyad, Abbasid, Mamluk, and Ottoman were the most famous. In Christianity there were the Eastern Orthodox or Byzantine Empire and the Western Roman Empire. After about 1200 years of Religious Empires, nation-states began to emerge in the 15th century as Religious empires entered the period of their extinction.

As emerging nations warred some, as was the case with city-states, some became imperial and established empires replete with colonies. In Europe there were the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, Russian and Prussian Empires. Indeed, the British Empire was born in the Americas with the Caribbean colonies being initially its most valued possession. Decolonization following World War 11 brought the second wave nation-states as Imperial nations lost or gave up their colonies in the latter half of the 20th century. As of September 2015 there are 195 nation-states recognized by the United Nations.

It is against this background, I understand the exploration of the Topic ‘The Church and its Impact on Nation-building’ not as advocacy, but as a reach into the past in order to better understand present challenges and choices.

The Church and the Nation-State: Tensions in Nature and Perspective

In light of the defining features outlined, the following observations must be made:

  1. The Church is eternal. It has a Jesus guarantee. The nation-state is not so assured. It is one form of human social, geographical and political organisation and is subject to change.
  2. The Church is universal. It has no geographic or national borders. Belief in Christ transcends nationality. National and alien Christians in any nation are brothers and sisters in Christ. The secular state and the Church often collide, especially with respect to allegiance.
  3. No nation is by definition Christian. This would presume that every single national of that nation, or the vast majority, have chosen or will choose to be believers. The converse is more likely. That in every nation-state there will be some nationals, who have chosen or will choose to follow Christ.
  4. The impact that the Church can have on nation-states is for Christian witness to inspire the adoption and application of Christian ethics to national affairs and strivings.

Nation Building

The term nation-building is both new and old. Its current usage is with respect to actions taken after military interventions or civil war in countries regarded as failed or failing states. It is used to mean the reclamation of restoration of nationhood. In practical terms nation-building is the installation of a transitional government, the promise of democratic elections, investments to rebuild infrastructure, commitments to re-establish institutions and efforts and enterprise designed to build bonds identity and solidarity across previously warring factions. This definition of nation building is currently and commonly used in contemporary debates about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia and also with respect to Balkan countries following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

An older definition was with respect to decolonization in the post-World War II when European imperial powers granted their former colonies independence. Nation- building was associated with the paraphernalia of nationhood: flag, anthem, pledge, national identity, national airlines, national language, and development. Anybody in Jamaica over the age of 55 should have vivid memories of the explicit mission of nation-building which followed in the first two decades of following independence in 1962.

A more generic definition of nation-building is constructing capacities to ensure self-rule, self-determination, sustainable communities, participation in the democratic process and economic viability. We will use this definition to assess whether the Church in Jamaica has had any impact on the creation of the Jamaican nation-state.

KINGDOM OF GOD OBLIGATIONS: INDEPENDENT OF NATION-BUILDING

There are three obligations of the Church that are independent of the type of human geopolitical organisation. These are Christian obligations that apply to all forms of human geopolitical organisation. These are Kingdom of God obligations. These are:

  1. Proclamation of the good news of the Gospel. The measure of God’s love for human kind is that He sent his only begotten Son to pay the price of their sin such that whosoever will can be reconciled to God.
  2. Care for the marginalized. Jesus captured this mandate in his statement in Matthew 25: 40 “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Without any expectation of reward or repayment Christians are mandated to engage in acts of practical assistance to the marginalized in society: the widow, the fatherless, the poor, the alien, social outcasts, and those in prisons.
  3. Prophetic utterance inspiring people to embrace a noble and righteous vision of society or calling an errant people back to the narrow way.

THE CHURCH ITS IMPACT ON NATION-BUILDING IN JAMAICA

On August 1, 1838 the population of Jamaica stood at approximately 389,000. Of this number approximately 15,000 were white; approximately 63,000 were coloured, black and Jewish who previously had the status of being free people; and approximately 311,000 had been enslaved. At emancipation, Jamaica was on paper a free multiracial society,  complete with constitution, laws, bicameral Legislature, Vestries for local governance, central and local government elections but also with deep racial, social class, economic divisions and a history of hostile relations punctuated by violence. The mission was to create a free society of citizens with equal rights and justice for all where previously 80 per cent of people were previously enslaved and a small oligarchy controlled the affairs of the society always to their considerable benefit. Moreover, this small oligarchy had been opposed to emancipation that had been imposed by the Imperial government.

Employing the definition of nation-building as constructing capacities to ensure self-rule, self-determination, sustainable communities, stable political mechanisms and economic viability, we will explore the impact of the Church on nation-building using five examples.

SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES

During slavery there were three types of communities: towns, plantations and pens. Consistent with their policy for self-sufficiency plantations allocated to slaves provision grounds were located on lands not suitable to growing cane, so that slaves could feed themselves. Provision grounds were invariably located at a distance from slave housing. Slaves could grow any crop or raise small animals on their provision grounds; exchange surplus with others or sell their surplus in markets. Slaves had Saturday afternoons to look after their provision grounds. Sunday was market day.

English, Scottish and Irish small settlers were the first to grow ground provisions. They sold these in markets first established in the 1670s. By 1750 slaves had come to dominate markets selling ground provisions including fruits, vegetables, fish and meats in every parish across Jamaica. Where feasible some chose to grow European fruits and vegetables as well as to sell handicrafts. The market in Kingston was the largest. Every Sunday it attracted thousands of people from all strata of the society. Sunday was market day. This was one of the few areas of tension between non-conformist missionaries and the enslaved.

Slaves could pass on their provision grounds to others as well as money they had saved from sale of their produce. This was one of a few areas of the slave society where slaves were not treated as property. In a nutshell, through enterprise and ingenuity the enslaved had carved out a very modest stake in Jamaica through the loophole left by plantations in minimizing their obligations to feed them.

Knowing that some of the enslaved had accumulated capital through income earned from markets and artisan trades and anticipating that land would be central to the interests of freed slaves, prior to emancipation, a Baptist and Quaker alliance in England in the 1830s started to purchase lands, often secretly, with the agreed intention of making these lands available to freed slaves on a not-for-profit basis. Burchell, Knibb and Phillippo were party to this alliance. But there were two things that the Quaker Baptist alliance did not anticipate. First, that many planters would impose horrendous rents on slave housing and provision grounds, or even evict some, as part of their strategy to keep the newly freed on their plantations. Second, that several plantations on hillsides or in the interior would go into bankruptcy, or fearing foreclosure, would be cut up and sold at very low prices.

When the anticipated and the unexpected coincided, it stimulated a Baptist/Quaker led movement to create wholesome sustainable communities of the newly freed in what came to be called free villages located on many hillsides and in the interior. Phillipo created the prototype. In 1835 Phillippo purchased 25 acres for 100 pounds in the area of St Catherine called Sligoville. He divided the land into quarter acre lots which were sold to the newly freed for three pounds each. The free village was a holistic concept of sustainable Christian community: freehold land ownership, church, Sunday worship, family based on marriage, home, small farm, and school. Land tenure, home ownership, Christian family values, economic viability, educational provision and the Gospel were integrated.

The Baptist/Quaker free village idea was adopted and implemented by Congregationalists, Methodists, and Moravians, who often jointly formed villages. The concept simply took off. By 1844 there were 116 free villages across the island with 18,365 houses. Assuming four to five persons to each household this would mean that in six years free villages accommodated about 70,000 to 90,000 of over 311,000 newly freed. Within 20 years Saturday had become market day and Sunday the day of worship. There has never been a more successful community development initiative in the history of Jamaica. Yet under 30 per cent of the previously were able to afford to be part of the free village movement.

The Church, through the free village movement accomplished four profound outcomes. First, it enabled many among the newly freed to successfully reject the attempt of many planters to use slave housing and provision grounds as leverage to continue the conditions of slavery. Second, enabled the newly freed to use capital saved and expertise developed during slavery to expand and consolidate the space that they had carved out in the domestic economy through enterprise and ingenuity. Third, it laid the foundation of wholesome rural communities and the black middle class of Jamaica. Fourth, the free village idea was constructive, radical and transformative. It allowed previously enslaved to move away for the scene and site of their degradation and humiliation, to debunk the myth of their indolence, to affirm their personhood, to live with dignity, to worship with freedom and to embrace the opportunities of education.

Allow me a personal anecdote to illustrate the community values that have persisted in rural districts modeled on free villages. In 1986 in responding to World Bank pre-conditions the Ministry of Education closed eight small schools, which would result in the dismissal of 36 teachers. This was one of the issues that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) was dealing with when I became president. Secretary General Colonel Woodurn Miller and I decided to visit each of these eight schools. We immediately discovered that they were not on the way to anywhere. You had to go to them. The first school we visited was in the hills of St Mary. After we drove into the small school yard a barefoot lady eventually came out. She assumed that we were from the Ministry of Education and started to give us a tongue lashing. After we succeeded in calming her down and telling her we were not from the Ministry, she asked, ‘who is you sirs?’  We told her we were from the JTA and would be trying to get the school re-opened. In the conversation that followed she asked: ‘What is a community without a school, a church and JAS branch?’ She insisted that removing the teacher endangered the church and the JAS branch. This lady of very modest means, with limited mastery of English grammar had a profound understanding of rural communities in Jamaica premised on the free village concept. This is 150 years after its prototype established by Phillippo at Sligoville.

Colonel Miller and I visited all eight schools. Six were located in hills in deep rural areas. In five of these everything was intact. Not a single piece of paper had been removed even though doors were not always secure. In the sixth school a toilet had been removed. The community found the person who had removed it, had him return it and appointed a watchman at its expense. The seventh school was not in any community. It was at the foot of three hills on which the students lived. That school had been vandalized. The eighth school was in a community at the end of four miles of a road with sugar cane planted on both sides. At this school all furniture, appliances, windows, and doors and the roof had been stolen. Only the four walls and concrete floor remained. The contrast between the legacy of the free village and the plantation could not have been more stark.

Currently rural village communities are challenged by urban migration, modern transportation, political neglect, economies of scale in agricultural production, persistent poverty, reliance on remittances and increasing crime.

The Education System

The involvement of the Church in the history of schooling in Jamaica ought to be well known, hence, I will only give a brief summary.

  1. During slavery there were individual charity schools such as Wolmers, Mannings, Titchfield, and Ruseas; single-teacher private schools in some towns run mainly by Jews; and private tutors, giving lessons. All schools offered elementary education, but there was no system of education. The wealthy sent their children to England and Scotland for their education.
  2. Moravians were the first to adopt a systematic approach to the delivery of education to the enslaved which started with Sunday Schools and which also taught literacy to the enslaved; Day and Evening Schools for the newly freed and Teachers’ Colleges to train native teachers.
  3. Starting Apprenticeship in 1834 and with the Negro Education Grant from the English Parliament, churches entered into a partnership which created the Denominational System of Education designed to provide elementary education to the children of the newly freed. That system had three elements: elementary school, teachers college and theological college. Initially the progression was from elementary school student, to pupil-teacher, to teacher college student and finally teachers entering theological college to become ministers of religion.
  4. Most of the Negro Education Grant went to the Anglican Church which imported teachers. Baptists adopted a policy of financing their schools and colleges and along with the Moravians and Mico, trained local teachers. When the Negro Education Grant expired in 1845, Anglican schools declined and Baptist schools became more prominent and influential in the Denominational Education system because of their policy of self-financing through fees and contributions from the churches.
  5. Following the Morant Bay Rebellion, and the introduction of Crown Colony Government, state funding was provided to the Denominational Education System which allowed it to both expand and improve in quality. By 1900 Jamaica was the 14th in the world in providing elementary education to its population. Jamaica was only surpassed by Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and nine countries of Western Europe. Rivalry for church membership undermined the financial viability of the Denominational system as several denominations insisted on having their schools in the small community instead of agreeing to ecumenical cooperation. The state stepped in and saved the system through free elementary education in 1892. Denominations agreed to close their small schools in some communities in favour of a single government school. Denominations chose to concede to the State rather than to each other. However, because Denominations still owned most of the schools, the public system because the State System of Education with denominational management.
  6. Following Crown Colony Government the State reorganized the nine charity schools into high schools, built Jamaica College and later Cornwall, and created the public high school system managed by the Jamaica Schools Commissions. Of the 44 high schools that were part of the public system of high school education at independence in 1962 eleven were founded by the Anglican Church; nine by Trusts; eight by Roman Catholics; four by the United Church; three by Methodists, three by Government; two by Baptists; one each was by the Society of Friends, Church of God, Associated Gospel Assemblies; and one jointly by Presbyterian and Methodist.
  7. The point that must not be missed is that while a virtual apartheid system of education existed until Ministerial Government was introduced in 1953 with Prep School and High School serving social successors of the free people before emancipation and the elementary school/teacher’ college/ theological college served the descendants of the previously enslaved, the Church was the major owner of elementary schools, teachers colleges and high schools. Government had been the minor player.
  8. In the latter half of the twentieth century the Church has joined the movement to build capacity in nursery care and early childhood education mainly through the establishment and operation of basic schools. However, with respect to the general education system it is the Seventh Day Adventists that have adopted and practiced the Baptist posture of the post emancipation period, of financing their own school system: prep schools, high schools and university. Indeed, it is only the Seventh Day Adventist that has upgraded its college into University and the United Church that has attempted to establish a University.

No accurate account of the education system that currently exists in Jamaica excludes the impact of the Church in its creation and operation until independence. Government as the major provider and operator of the education system is a phenomenon since independence in 1962. From emancipation to independence the Church was the prime mover in creating education capacity. Since independence the Government has expanded and improved the capacity established by the church. It has Education is a crucial capacity in any nation. The instrumentality of the Church in creating and building education capacity in Jamaica is beyond dispute.

Participation in the Democratic Process

Jamaica has had elections for an Assembly since 1663 and for Vestries, local government, since 1677. The franchise to vote to elect members of the Assembly or the Vestries was restricted to persons who were white, male, 21 years or older and owned a freehold of a particular value. The qualification to run as a candidate for a Parish Vestry was the same as to vote. To be a candidate the requirements to run for a seat in the Assembly was higher and such persons were required to own a freehold of not less than 300 pounds or must have a personal wealth of not less than 3000 pounds or paid direct annual taxes of not less than ten pounds.

A parish Vestry was comprised of 10 elected Vestry men, two elected church wardens, the Custos of the Parish and all the Magistrates appointed by the Governor for that parish. Spanish Town, Port Royal, and Kingston elected three members of the Assembly while the other parishes elected two members each. In 1830 there were 21 parishes hence the Assembly was comprised of 45 members. Free coloured and blacks won the franchise to be voters and to be elected to public office in 1830 and Jews won the same in 1831.

The Acts of the Jamaican Legislature in 1830 and 1831 that entitled freemen, coloured and blacks, and Jews to their civil rights, including the right to vote and to be elected to the public office on the same bases as whites, placed Jamaica on the very frontiers of electoral and democratic reforms in the British Empire and in the world.

The Jamaican Assembly was not being visionary in its outlook on democracy, noble in its thinking about elections or even progressive in seeking to enhance the legitimacy of the legislature. Conceding civil and voting rights to freemen and Jews was intended to coopt and recruit support for their opposition to the abolition of slavery.

The first coloured men to win seats in the Assembly did so as a result of by-elections held in October 1831. Price Watkis was elected to the Assembly to fill a vacancy of a seat from Kingston and John Manderson was elected to fill a vacant seat from St James. The first Jew to be elected to the Assembly was Alexander Bravo. He was elected in a by-election in 1835 to fill another Kingston vacancy in the Assembly. The first black elected to the Assembly was Edward Vickars in 1847. He too was elected in a by-election, but to fill a St Catherine vacancy in the Assembly. He had previously been elected to the Kingston Common Council. To understand why it took 16 years after the first coloured men were elected to the Assembly and 12 years after the first Jew, it is necessary to take account of the Baptist-led mobilization for the newly freed to participate in the electoral system the following emancipation.

In late 1837 the Colonial Office commissioned Captain J. W Pringle to carry out an investigation of prisons in the West Indies. On his visit to Jamaica the Mayor of Kingston refused to give Pringle access to the prison. The Governor had no authority to over-rule the Mayor, since prisons were the responsibility of Vestries. In response the House of Commons passed a bill to enable British Officials to investigate prison conditions in the colonies. Taking the position that the House of Commons had infringed its rights, the Jamaican Assembly was to refuse to approve any funds or do any business that would allow the Governor to run the colony. The prison matter was just the trigger for the showdown that the Assembly wanted with the Imperial Government.

Sir Lionel Smith, Governor, dissolved the Assembly and called a General Election. The General Election of 1839 left the Assembly virtually unchanged and unrepentant in its position. Baptist missionaries condemned the Assembly for not providing the means by which the Governor could run the affairs of the colony. They organized protest meetings in Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, Trelawny, St Ann, St Mary, St Catherine, St Dorothy, Clarendon and Kingston. One planter newspaper called the Baptist missionaries promoters of misrule and strife. The Baptist Herald called planters slave tyrants and the Assembly their hired servant.

The Colonial Office reached the conclusion that the white planter class in Jamaica was incapable of governing the colony as a free multiracial society. The Colonial Office recommended to the British Cabinet to rescind the Jamaican constitution and impose Crown Colony rule. The British Cabinet drafted a Bill to the House of Commons that would suspend the Jamaican constitution for five years during which the Crown would govern directly. When Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister took the bill to the House of Commons it was defeated.

Lord Melbourne resigned as Prime Minister. The Jamaican Assembly had prevailed. Queen Victoria accepted Melbourne’s resignation and invited Sir Robert Peel who declined the invitation to form the Government. The Queen invited Melbourne to form another Government, which he did.

The continuation of Lord Melbourne as Prime Minister, and of the Whig/Radical/Irish coalition, mitigated the appearance of outright victory of the Jamaican Assembly. But victory for the Assembly it surely was. Chastened by this experience the Colonial Office became very reluctant to tangle with the Jamaican Assembly regarding encroachments on the Assembly claimed as rights and its privileges: that of running the colony for the benefit of the planter and merchant sectors.

Sir Lionel Smith was recalled as Governor in September 1839 and replaced by Sir Charles Metcalfe. Baptist Missionaries were heartened by the fact that one of the first acts of the new Governor was to make a donation to the rebuilding of the Baptist Chapel at Savanna-la-mar, which had been destroyed by fire. Relief turned to dismay when Governor Metcalfe signed into law Acts passed by the Assembly dealing with vagrancy, tenancy, peddlers, and fisheries, all of which would be adjudicated by locally appointed magistrates and offered no protection to tenants with respect to crops grown on provision grounds. Dismay became alarm when a dispatch written by Governor Metcalfe to the Colonial Office, three weeks after his arrival in Jamaica, became public knowledge. In the dispatch Metcalfe had been highly critical of Baptist missionaries, particularly William Knibb, and accused them of meddling in politics and acting like a political party instead of paying attention to religious matters.

The immediate response of Baptist missionaries and deacons was to denounce Governor Metcalfe from the pulpits of Baptist chapels across the island. The rhetorical question asked was how could Baptist missionaries be accused of meddling in politics when the Anglican Bishop sat on the Legislative Council and Rectors and Curates in each Parish were ex-officio members of Vestries? Some in the Colonial Office were not averse to the stance taken by the Baptists. However, its official response of the Colonial Office was to chide the Baptists for their verbal attack on the Governor.

Dr Swithin Wilmot documents the fact that chaffed by the public chiding by Colonial Office Baptist missionaries decided to launch a campaign to change the composition of the Assembly. The main elements of this Baptist-led political campaign were to:

  1. Target the General Elections due in 1845.
  2. To get newly emancipated who owned six pound freeholds to register to vote.
  3. Mobilise small settlers across the island to participate in elections.
  4. Use the annual emancipation celebrations to promote voter registration and voting as a responsibility of freedom
  5. Engage in public education about voting and elections through public meetings
  6. Focus on the issues of taxation to finance importation of East Indians and cost of the Established Church to taxpayers.
  7. Lead the campaign through the activities of the Western Baptist Union which included Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, Trelawney, St Ann and St Mary.

The political significance of their action resided in the fact that the planter strongholds were in rural parishes. Freemen, coloured, blacks and Jews, had resided in towns: Kingston, Spanish Town and Port Royal in the South and East. Baptists were taking the fight to the planters in their strongholds in the West. The political campaign was launched at a meeting in Falmouth in April 1840 which was attended by missionaries and deacons from the Western Baptist Union.

The language used at the meeting was emotive, strident and unforgiving. Rev John Clarke Baptist missionary said “in St Ann’s we shall have 300 to 500 good and true voters and who shall we send to represent us? Shall we send Hamilton Brown and Dr Barnett; those fornicators; these oppressors; these robbers of the people’s rights and privileges?” Hamilton Brown was a leader of the disbanded Colonial Church Union which had committed numerous atrocities after the Sam Sharpe Rebellion. Baptist missionary had not forgotten or forgiven. They planned to repay such misdeeds through the ballot box.

Lord Elgin, who succeeded Metcalfe, was a Tory Member of the House of Commons. He seconded the motion that had brought down the Government of Lord Melbourne in 1841 and that brought Sir Robert Peel to serve his second term as Prime Minister of England. Elgin was a man of the establishment. He was not disposed to the prospect of a black majority in the Assembly.

The creation of the Parish of Metcalfe in 1842 is suspicious in both it’s naming and timing. There appears to have been no urgent reason to create an additional administrative unit in Jamaica. The only urgency was political: the mobilization of blacks to vote in the next General Elections. St Mary was a stronghold of non-conformist denominations. An additional parish created new two seats in Assembly, increasing it from 45 to 47. Metcalfe was carved out of St Mary and St George. The parish of Metcalfe could indeed be the first instance of political gerrymandering in Jamaica, the boundaries being altered by Parish boundaries. At the time it was created Metcalfe was the smallest parish. It is also the Parish with the shortest life-history. It was abolished in 1870 when the number of parishes was reduced to 14.

Baptists formed an Anti-Church State Convention with Congregationalists and some other missionaries. The Convention held its first meeting in Spanish Town in May 1844, at which it was declared that it was the Christian duty of freeholders to vote for candidates supported by the Convention. A black candidate from among the newly freed was elected to a vacant seat on the Vestry of St Thomas-Ye-Vale. Three days after a similar Convention met in Kingston in August 1844, Lord Elgin dissolved the Assembly and called General Elections one year earlier than due. Given that the electoral law at the time required that once a General Election is called only those who were registered by the Island Secretary one year prior to announcement of the General

Electors who were eligible to vote had to be registered by the Island Secretary prior to August 1843 to be able to vote in the General Elections called for August 1844. Planters and supporters of the Established Church applauded the Governor for using executive action to thwart the Baptist-led Campaign.

But the Baptist-led Anti-Established Church Convention was confronted with other problems. In addition to strong opposition from planters, Methodists and many coloured, including George William Gordon, were distrustful of the Baptist-led campaign. Further, the higher property and wealth requirements to run as a Candidate for the Assembly meant that few blacks met them. The Baptist-led coalition therefore supported several Jewish candidates in the 1844 General Elections.

The Anti-Church State Convention candidates had only limited success. They won the seats to the Assembly in the parishes of St James, St Mary and St Thomas in the East. The elections in St Mary were voided on the grounds of malpractices, hence only three Convention members sat in the forty seven-member Assembly, and none was black.

Although the efforts of the Baptists to mobilise newly freed blacks to become a force in the General Elections of 1844 had been blunted, they had succeeded in qualifying and registering significant numbers of smaller settlers in several parishes across the island who became eligible to vote in subsequent elections. The first success of the Baptist Campaign was in the Vestry Elections of Trelawny in 1845 where black freeholders were instrumental in electing their candidates to fill all ten seats for vestrymen. The second success was the election of Edward Vickars, in the 1847 by-election to fill a vacancy of one of the three seats in the Assembly of the Parish of St Catherine. He was the first black man elected to the Assembly. The third success was in the General Elections of 1849 when Charles Price, from St Johns, a black man was elected to the Assembly, for the first time Coloured, Jews and Blacks were in the majority in the Assembly and Dr Charles Morales, a Jew, was elected Speaker of the Assembly. A third black man, Christopher Walker from Portland was elected to the Assembly in a by-election in 1851. Between 1849 and 1854 Coloured, Jewish and Black Assembly men outnumbered whites 28 to 19.

The Baptist efforts to mobilise small freeholders to qualify and register to vote fell off after the 1844 General Elections for several reasons.

  1. Baptist lost three of their foremost pioneers of the establishment of free villages and their most dynamic, effective and widely respected leaders. Rev William Knibb died in 1845. Rev Thomas Burchell died in 1846. Rev James Phillippo was sidelined as a result of being ousted, from the thriving church he founded in Spanish Town, by the missionary he left in charge while on sick leave in England.
  2. Land values were revised downward, especially in St Ann’s, so that many freeholders who had qualified to vote no longer met the freehold criterion of six pounds.
  3. Many of the coloured and Jews elected to the Assembly were either planters or merchants or had their personal livelihoods tied to the export of sugar. They formed a multiracial majority that continued to maintain the status quo. The multiracial planter/merchant majority was opposed by a multiracial minority of whites, coloured, Jews and blacks. Put bluntly the Baptist campaign had changed players but not the play. The racial composition of the Assembly had changed but the dominant economic was unchanged.
  4. Some Baptist missionaries became disillusioned by the fact that black freeholders did not vote as they expected. Missionaries claimed that some freeholders sold their votes to the highest bidders. At that time voting was by done by voice and not by ballot.
  5. Baptist missionaries were among the best-paid clergy in the island. Some lived in big manses. Some were accused of being more interested in feathering their own nests than in the well-being of the colony.

By the mid-1850s it may have been concluded by missionaries that the Baptist-led campaign to register and encourage small settlers to vote and to run as candidates had failed. However, with the benefit of hindsight and history the Baptist-led campaign to register voters succeeded in changing the Jamaican electorate fundamentally and permanently. The descendants of the previously enslaved had become the major participants in the democratic process

HOME OWNERSHIP THROUGH BUILDING SOCIETIES

The Morant Bay Rebellion was a ‘small settlers’ uprising. By 1865 small settlers’ hopes and aspirations were transformed into frustration and disillusionment. The promise of emancipation had been deferred. The oligarchy had deliberately disenfranchised them with respect to eligibility to vote; discriminated against them in the courts; burdened them with a high proportion of taxation; limited their access to education; failed to implement basic public health measures even after disastrous outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever; and ignored their protests and objections to these injustices and neglect.

Missionaries many Baptists had try to work within the system and failed. Literate petition-writing small settlers of St Thomas led by native Baptists took to the streets and exploded in riot in Morant Bay in October 1865.

Governor Eyre responded with draconian measures and brutality which was far in excess of the violence of the riot. These included the execution of Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Samuel Clarke, several elementary school teachers and many members of the native Baptists whose houses and churches were destroyed. The oligarchy panicked as they feared another Haiti was at hand. The Assembly dissolved itself and invited a Crown Colony Government in 1866.

Governor John Peter Grant literally adopted the small settlers’/working classes grievances as his reform agenda for the colony. These included the reform of the judiciary; the abolition of the militia with its exalted ranks; the settling up of the Jamaica Constabulary Force; the establishment of a public health system; the expansion of the teachers’ college/elementary school system; and the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in 1870.

Rev William J. Gardner, Minister of the North Street Congregational Church, in his book History of Jamaica, first published in 1873, stated that the first building society was founded in 1864 by a ‘few friends anxious to promote the wellbeing of the working and middle classes.’  He stated “Its income at first was small, but in 1871 profits were for the first time declared, and shares, upon which sixteen guineas had been paid by installments of four shillings per month for seven years, were found entitled to five per cent interest making 20 pounds, and a bonus of five pounds nine shillings and six pence in addition. The safety of the project thus proved, great numbers has since joined and its income in 1872 was about twenty thousand pounds. It is purely mutual in its character, and provided many people with excellent homes they could have obtained in no other way.’ What Rev Gardner did not say in his book was that he was the leader of the few friends and the founder of the first building society in Jamaica, the Kingston Benefit Building Society.

The stated goal of all building societies established from 1872 onwards was to assist the ‘working and middle classes’ or ‘middle and working classes’ or the ‘working classes’ in-house purchase and home improvement. They were the classes that earned income but not enough to purchase property without accumulating savings. In today’s terminology, between 1864 and 1871 Gardner, and his other anxious friends, provided proof of concept of building societies as a viable, feasible and workable means of house purchase and home improvement for people who otherwise could not do so.

The core values of the prototype building society can be captured and summarized briefly as follows:

  1. Membership as a requirement of participation in the society.
  2. Consistent saving by members as the means of purchasing shares over time
  3. The pooling members’ saving and the prudent investment of pooled savings
  4. Accountability and transparency with respect to investments of pooled funds
  5. Declaration and sharing of benefits to members as the source of at least the down payment for house purchase or home improvement

After 1871 the building society concept spread rapidly. Rev Henry Clarke was the earliest adopter in leading the effort to found the Westmoreland Building Society in 1872, followed by Rev Cork in 1874 with the founding of the St James Benefit and Building Society, and in 1878 the Rev Douglas Downer Rector of Kingston with the founding of the Victoria Mutual Building Society. By 1900 almost every parish had a building society for example the St Ann Benefit and Building Society; the St Elizabeth Benefit and Building Society the Manchester Mutual Building Society; the Trelawny Benefit and Building Society and the St Mary Benefit and Building Society.

It is important to note some important facts and common features of these early building societies. First, the idea of building societies originated in the church started by a missionary of the Congregational Church. It was spread quickly by Anglican clergy but also included other groups. In other words, the early building societies had strong connections with the church and gave every appearance that they were firmly grounded on an ethical base. Second, consistent with being mutual societies all the building societies founded in the latter three decades of the 19th century established common, clear and transparent processes for management and accountability. These included electing officers such as President/Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer; appointing trustees; appointing auditors; appointing arbitrators; naming their banker and holding annual members meetings. Third, Professor Patrick Bryan in his book Jamaica People: 1880-1902 that the largely white oligarchy of the times was largely represented in the structures of the building societies. While this was true, account must be taken of the fact that respectability politics, so labelled by Robert Osborn and Edward Jordon in mid-19th century, was still in vogue at the end of the century. Building societies in their infancy clearly made use of this politics of respectability. Clergymen and men of known financial means and high reputation often shared the directorships; men of known financial means and high reputation were most often trustees; while clergymen were most numerous among the arbitrators.

Home ownership has meaning to individuals in at least three interrelated ways:

  1. Sovereign control over the space in which one lives and how one lives in that space, physically and socially. The common and emphatic expression ‘This is my house’ illustrates this meaning.
  2. Status and stability in relating to the community in which one lives. One’s home establishes the boundary and a border in relating to others in community.
  3. Reward and justification for work, especially in circumstances in which work is not personally meaningful, enjoyable or satisfying. The goal of owning a home through income from working mitigates the daily grind in hopes of the expected achievement.

Owning a home through a lifetime of work has become a standard for assessing equity, fairness and worth in compensation earned from various occupations in society. For example, if small farmers, teachers, nurses, police officers, ministers of religion and mid-level civil servants are unable to own a home after a lifetime of service then their compensation is deemed inequitable in comparison to their service to the society. Home ownership is an integral element of nation-building and Building Societies have been one of the main instruments of this aspiration. Clearly this is yet another example of the Church making a real impact on nation-building.

National Identity, Self-Rule and Self-Determination

The primary ingredient of nation-building is the glue that binds its people together: shared identity, bonds of solidarity and the desire for self-determination. If the Church has made a real impact on nation-building in Jamaica, in what way has the Church contributed to shared identity, bonds of solidarity and the desire for self-determination in Jamaica? The position taken is that the Church contributed to the national identity, bonds of solidarity and the desire for self-determination primarily through what it is in Jamaica.

General Fortescue, who was part of the capture of Jamaica in 1655, wrote to Cromwell just before he died. His letter stated that Jamaica was a fruitful and pleasant land that others wiser than him regarded as the best land they had ever set foot on. All it wanted was godly society, and for the present, bread. Clearly General Fortescue had been captivated by Jamaica, as many others who have since come to its shores and chosen Jamaica as their land. Its long-term priority was for godly society but the urgency was for bread.

General Fortescue’s plea for bread from England to build Jamaica did not materialize. The bread that settled Jamaica came from the plunder of Spanish possessions by pirates, privateers and buccaneers who chose to relocate their operations from Tortuga to Port Royal. It came from planters like Governor Thomas Modyford, Governor of Barbados and Governor Luke Stokes of Nevis who had made considerable fortunes in those islands but chose to reinvest those fortunes in Jamaica. They brought their families, lived, died and were buried here. It came from those merchants of Port Royal who made full use of the strategic location of Jamaica in commerce with England, North American colonies and Spanish, Dutch and French possessions. While some made it rich and returned to England, others made it rich, stayed and reinvested their capital in financing the plantation system. In a nutshell, initially Jamaica was built by theft, investments from other Caribbean islands and the capital earned by those merchants who settled here and engaged mainly in slave trading.

One of the defining features of those early settlers of Jamaica, who provided the bread, was a strong sense of self-determination and infuriating audacity. In the formative years of the institution of civic governance in Jamaica, Englishmen who dominated its early settlement insisted that the Jamaican Assembly had the same rights to govern Jamaica as the House of Commons had in England. When the Lords of Colonies and Plantations conceded the same constitution that had been granted to Barbados, the Jamaican Assembly refused to make annual grants of revenue to the Crown in exchange for the royal approval of laws it passed, as had been accepted and done in Barbados. The Jamaican Assembly continued to refuse granting the Crown annual revenue for over 50 years. It continued to maintain its equality to the House of Commons for nearly 200 years. This is not a justification of actions of the English oligarchy, because one of its main motivations was getting and keeping all the bread. It is, however, stating the fact that self-determination is almost aboriginal to Jamaica and that its first exponents were Englishmen who settled the colony.

Another defining feature is that every ethnic group that came, were brought or emerged in the formation of Jamaica has had a mantle of inferiority imposed on them. This includes those early settlers. This mantle of inferiority demeaned their humanity, devalued their worth, questioned their personhood and despised their significance as people.

Edward Ward, a prominent writer of London, visited the island and recorded his opinion of the English, Scots, and Irish that settled Jamaica in a pamphlet titled: “A Trip to Jamaica: With a True Character of the People.” This was published in London in 1698. Among the phrases used by Ward to describe the “True Character of the People” were: dunghill of the universe; refuse of the whole creation; the receptacle of vagabonds; emblem of chaos; a shapeless pile of rubbish; a sanctuary of bankrupts; and a close-stool of the purges from our prisons. The earthquake of 1692 that almost destroyed Port Royal and did serious damage in St Andrew, St David, and Spanish Town was widely regarded as God’s pronouncement and punishment of the character of people.

The enslaved Africans were brutes just a little higher than beasts. They were uncivilized, lazy, incapable of education, immoral, and best suited for manual work. The Maroons injected the first caveat to this assessment. Through courage, cunning and competence in combat Maroons fought the British Army to a standstill leading to the first the First Maroon treaty of 1739. This carved out physical space for people of African descent to practice a measure of self-determination. However, Treaty terms created ambivalence between Maroon autonomy and Jamaican nationality. While runaway slaves always bolstered their numbers, Treaty obligation required Maroons to return them to their plantation, fostering distrust, resentment that restricted Maroon autonomy from fully inspiring wider Jamaican nationality.

Mulattoes, brown people, also had a mantle of inferiority placed on them. They were first regarded as mules: the hybrid of two pure species: black and white. It was held that Brown people could only produce children in relations with blacks or whites. Any union between a brown man and brown woman that produced children was the result of a ‘jacket’. Edward Long the progressive 18th-century writer conceded that unions between browns could produce children but that those children were weak, sickly and effeminate and did not live past 20 years old. Browns were jeered by both blacks and whites as having no country. Defiant browns claimed Jamaica as their country and therefore claimed Jamaican identity, uncompromised by dual citizenship.

Every ethnic group in Jamaica came or have come to have at least one denomination that was its apologist, ally, defender or champion. Initially, Anglicans came with the English, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) with the Scots, Roman Catholic with the Irish, Moravian as ally of the enslaved; Methodists were the first to challenge slavery and became allies of Browns; and African American Baptists invited English missionaries to aid in the cause of defending the enslaved. In being apologists, allies, defenders or champions of ethnic groups each denomination has had to confront and address the mantle of inferiority imposed upon that group. Through an application of the Christian doctrine that affirmed the image of God, the inestimable worth of each individual, personhood, and importance of each human being each denomination defied the inferiority to impose on their adherents. Each denomination also engaged in what Prof Rex Nettleford, has termed ‘smaddidization’. That is, elevating every member to be somebody. This elevation came to members through roles and functions with appropriate titles such as acolyte, representative to synod, presbyter, choir director, choir member, organist, cantor, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, lay preacher, elder, deacon, evangelist, prophet, and president, secretary and treasurer of various ministries of churches. Indeed, as denominations have come to join the ranks for the so-called established churches and opportunities for ‘smaddidization’ have plateaued, other denominations have arisen that expanded opportunities thus attracting left-out members of the established churches to leave to join them. Sheep stealing has often been related to ‘smaddidization’.

Initially, all denominations in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were led by white missionaries or clergy, notwithstanding the ethnic group for which the denomination was an apologist, ally, defender or champion. Further, for reasons of doctrine, all denominations attracted members other than those that constituted the majority of their adherents. These two factors meant that no denomination was exclusive of one ethnic or social group. Jamaica never had a white church, a brown church or a black church. Despite the societal differences, conflicts, and tensions each denomination has been multiethnic in fellowship and communion at the Lords Table.

Every denomination that came to Jamaica before 1962 has had to address the issues of creolization and nativism/Jamaicanisation. Creolization was the process that unfitted those who reside in Jamaica over generations from living comfortably in the societies from which their ancestors originated. Creolization has been the process that created the common language of internal communication: the Jamaican language with its West African morphology, syntax and body movements and largely English vocabulary. A good example of creolization comes from the Trelawny Maroons. In the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, they started the Second Maroon War in 1895 with the hope that they would stimulate insurrection. They received no support from other Maroons or from among the enslaved. As punishment, the British deported them to Nova Scotia and after a short while to Sierra Leone in West Africa. After emancipation, some Trelawny Maroons and several of their descendants returned to live and work in Jamaica.

Nativism, Jamaicanisation, began following, emancipation as there was the demand to train local teachers for schools and ministers for churches. By the closing decades of the19th century to the native ministers began to express views, develop voice and vote within their denominations and teachers began to organize as happened with the formation of the Jamaica Union of Teachers in 1894. These trophies of missionary grace now espoused self-rule and self-determination without fracturing ties to their denominations.

While through white leadership of all denominations, addressing the mantles of inferiority, creolization and Jamaicanisation created shared identity and bonds of solidarity and desires for self-determination in the multi-ethnic congregations within each denomination, cooperation in other areas of nation-building promoted ties that reached across denominations. For example, denominations cooperated in the setting up of free villages, the political campaign to mobilize small settlers to vote and in providing education. For 25 years Bethlehem Teachers’ College was the only college training female teachers in Jamaica and had no religious requirement for students. Churches and schools of different denominations comprised villages that developed their own bonds of solidarity as villagers. Building Societies did not only hold savings and gave loans to Anglicans or Congregationalists.

This is not to argue that it was only the Church in promoting a godly society that created a shared identity, bonds of solidarity and desires of self-determination in Jamaica. Indeed, markets selling group provisions was first social space on which all ethnic grounds met and shared fellowship beyond sales. Sexual unions and liaisons involving blacks and whites; Jews and Arabs; Indians and Chinese; and Brown with everybody have as much claim. So too do rum-bars with their regular Friday evening fellowship and bacchanal parties particularly on Saturday nights. These have for generations brought together Jamaicans of all ethnicities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds to share and to bond, even if the spirit was ungodly.

In more recent times trade unions advocating and acting to ensure bread for workers and their links to political parties and sports especially cricket, athletics, football, and netball have made their unique contribution to national identity and bonds of solidarity. The argument here is that the Church through what it is has impacted nation-building through fostering shared identity and solidarity. Operating as denominations with prescribed liturgies which affirm the common humanity of all made in the image of God and the inestimable worth of each individual; providing space through the structures for persons to be somebody; being creolized and by developing local clergy and pastors have all made a clearly discernible impact on Jamaican identity, solidarity and desire for self-determination as it worked to promote godly society.

MAJOR LESSONS

The five examples cited are all from the period following emancipation and leading up to independence in 1962. They are part of the story of how the Jamaica nation came to its official status as a nation-state. In other words, they are part of how the Jamaican state was mobilized to become a nation and ways in which the Church contributed to that mobilization.

Since 1962 the nation-state has become the prime mover in nation-building. This is, the nation-state has assumed prime responsibility for building capacity in education and training systems, community development, housing, for the health system, for cultural development, infrastructure development and for engendering national identity and solidarity. Further, the nation-state has become the regulatory of the private sector in ways that that sector contributes to nation-building.

In my view the participation of the Church in nation-building since independence has been primarily by invitation or cooption of individual Christians from various denominations to serve on boards, participate in projects and programmes, and to help to bring peace in troubled areas. When individual Christians serve in particular enterprises, projects, programme and peace management exercises, this could be conceived as the Church being the mystical body of Christ, especially if Christians recognize each other as such and work together, prayerfully, cooperatively and supportively. Secondarily, in several Ministries, agencies and institutions of the State Christians have formed prayer, worship, and witness groups with the specific intention of applying their faith in ways that make their entity more effective as well as to testify to the Grace of God. These groups serve as the presence of the Church within the structure and functioning of the State.

In my view it is far too early to make any meaningful assessment of the impact of the Church in nation-building since independence. This, not only because of the length of time, but also because of the proliferation of Christian denominations during this period as well as the emergence of ministries pioneered and operated by particular individuals, or groups of individuals claiming to be non-denominational.

Probably the best that one can do is to draw some major lessons from the five examples cited where there can be little doubt that the Church’s contribution to nation-building was real and not imagined. These major lessons are:

  1. The state, colonial or imperial, was never neutral. The state took sides as groups contended for power, resources, status and cultural preeminence.
  2. In pursuing godly society, as they understood it, different denominations took sides as ethnic groups and social segments contended. There were always some denominations that were allied to the state and some that were in opposition to the state.
  3. Contending denominations employed Christian doctrine and teaching in championing or defending the side to which they were allied. As a result the Church assisted every ethnic group to resist and overcome the mantle of inferiority that was placed on each group or segment.
  4. Denominations led in creating capacities in community development, education, participation in the democratic process and home ownership and in the process served all contending sides in the society. Overtime, these capacity building initiatives fostered ecumenical cooperation and collaboration between denominations.
  5. When denominations confronted each other directly, frontally and uncompromisingly their efforts in nation-building either stalled or were diminished. Such was the case when Baptists, Congregationalists fought Anglicans and Methodists over voting in elections and when all denominations sought to maintain small schools out of concerns for proselytizing and would conceded only to the State.

CONCLUDING COMMENT

It is folly to believe that the nation-state is the terminus of human geopolitical organisation. As the number of sovereign states has grown, in the latter half of the 20th century, so too has the idea of regional cooperation between nation-states, fledging attempts at the multinational state comingled with regional trading blocks. Currently there is the African Union of 52 nation-states and two kingdoms; European Union with 28 nation-states; The Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, with 10 comprised of nation-states; CARICOM with 14 nation-states; the Union of South American Nations (USAN or UNASUR) with 12 countries and the Arab League with 22 nations. These regional groups of nations are all premised on cooperative political, cultural, economic and sometimes military actions.

Almost simultaneous with regionalism, globalization has also emerged. Goods, services, money, capital, information and communication now traverse national borders with far greater speed and ease than people. In other words, national borders restrict the movement of people especially between nations commanding great wealth. Fiber optics, microchips, satellites, Internet and digital technologies have allowed smart electronic devices to interconnect almost instantly and with increasing reliability, clarity and power efficiency. Global consumption is now the order of the day.

The journey of human civilization can be written in movement from nomads to villagers, to citizens, to believers, to nationals, to multinationals, and to consumers. Yet, none of these formations have disappeared from the earth. However, they have been compounded, confounded and even confused. What is clear is that today shopping malls are in ascendance. Week-end attendance at shopping malls is in the millions. Banks are places when transactions take place with solemnity and in hushed silence. Daily publication of exchange rates between currencies is tracked by most. Business is pre-eminent. Everything is a brand.

The challenge of the Church in the 21st century is not with respect to nation-building but rather with respect to fostering godly society and building capacities as groups of diverse types contend within the context of rapid, confounding and confusing change in human geopolitical organisation.

 

Errol Miller

Nov. 11, 2015