Peter Espeut | Trying to silence the Church
Earlier this week, I caught an interview on Nationwide’s This Morning with Jamaican rights activist Taitu Heron, head of the Women and Development Unit of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, based in Barbados. The topic was...
Earlier this week, I caught an interview on Nationwide’s This Morning with Jamaican rights activist Taitu Heron, head of the Women and Development Unit of the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, based in Barbados. The topic was abortion, and how to get Jamaica’s anti-abortion laws changed, bearing in mind that Barbados legalised abortion in 1983 – forty years ago.
Ms Heron was of the view that the main obstacle to legalising abortion in Jamaica was the Christian Church. She described the Church as a “bully”, seeking to impose its views on the rest of society.
She declared: “Every one of us may have a religion or we may not, right, but when it comes to public policy your individual religious beliefs are really not supposed to impact the decisions you make at the public policy level because you are making policy for and on behalf of the rest of the population.”
Presumably, Ms Heron may have a religion, or she may not, and if she takes her own advice, she should not seek to impose her religious beliefs – or lack thereof – on the rest of the population when it comes to public policy.
Of course, the exact opposite is the case. One thing I have noticed about so-called “rights activists” is that they seek to arrogate a raft of rights for themselves, while denying others the same rights. Here, she denies the Church the right to seek the incorporation of its values into public policy formation for the common good, while clearly claiming the very same right for her pro-abortion lobby. She wants to silence the Church so that her ideas may go unopposed.
She went on:
“When you allow your individual beliefs to interfere in the making of public policy … you are using your own personal power and your religious beliefs to override the public good, and I have seen that happen on several occasions over several years when it comes to the Church. This is not to say that the Church shouldn’t have a say, but it can’t become a bully in the determination of public policy.”
CLAIMS THE POWER
Here Ms Heron arrogates to herself the right – and claims the power – to determine what the public good is. Abortion, she would say, is a public good for women who wish to have sexual intercourse while avoiding the natural consequence of their actions (pregnancy), and she claims the right to forcefully proclaim this view (bully?); but she is definitely saying that the Church should not have a right to forcefully proclaim that the prevention of the killing of the lives of Jamaicans in the womb is a public good. And she calls that bullying!
Religious views – and the views of abortion activists and LGBT activists and partisan political activists – must promote the public good, not go against the common good. Where any group promoting its private agenda goes against the common good, the Church must vigorously oppose them.
In her intervention, Ms Heron defined a quietist role for the Church, which, she asserted, should be concerned only about the spiritual welfare of its members. Presumably to leave issues of bodily welfare to Ms Heron and her ilk. “Church: Know your place! And keep quiet!” she admonishes.
The Church has been engaged in this struggle for centuries, asserting its right – nay, its duty – to speak out for justice and right against those who would seek to shut her up. In Jamaica, elements of the Church spoke out against slavery, and suffered for it. The Jamaica House of Assembly passed laws to control “non-conformist” preaching; Baptist and Methodist ministers were jailed and flogged for ministering to the enslaved without a licence. Taitu Heron would wish to silence the Church when it speaks truth to power.
The 1971 Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome declared:
“Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
Commenting on this matter, the Catholic bishops of the Antilles declared in 1975:
“We cannot separate action for justice or liberation from oppression from proclaiming the Word of God. The expression of our religious faith must go hand in hand with our active promotion of justice. It follows immediately from this that the work of the Church cannot be confined to the sacristy or the sanctuary. On the contrary it is the Church’s vocation to be present in the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted. Christ clearly proclaimed that this was his own mission. It must therefore also be the mission of the Church He founded.”
DON’T EXPECT CHURCH TO BE SILENT
Sorry, Taitu! And other promoters of the culture of death: Don’t expect the Church to be silent on matters of abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, environmental degradation, political corruption, educational underdevelopment, and similar issues; and to try to incorporate its views into public policy. To be silent on this is to be untrue to the mission entrusted to us.
I would never presume to try to silence Taitu Heron and the pro-abortion lobby; they have a right to speak freely, no matter how unreasonable their position is, and how they may try to bully their views into law. I only wish they would engage in debate on ideas instead of just propagandising and sloganeering. If they believe in free speech for themselves, why should they seek to deny the Church the same right?
Speaking truth to power – whether to kings or presidents or prime ministers – can cost you your life. Ask Archbishop Thomas à Becket (who challenged King Henry II), Lord Chancellor Thomas More (who challenged King Henry VIII), and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. This does not deter us.
Peter Espeut is a development scientist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org