Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Rules are rules

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2022 | 12:08 AM

Rules are not just about discipline. Rules serve different purposes! When we push the notion of rules as teaching discipline, we feed the appetite for punitive approaches.

Rules may also be teleological in function; specifically designed for a purpose. The rules of the lab or the kitchen are especially designed for safety. They are not intended to discipline children. In fact, they apply to everyone.

Paul Bogle broke the rules. Sam Sharpe broke the rules. Louise Bennett broke the rules. Bob Marley broke the rules. The point here is that it is not sufficient to appeal to the “rules-are-rules” approach if we want young minds to develop critical-thinking skills in a country marked and shaped by crimes against humanity and ongoing human rights abuses.

Many of our most corrupt citizens have beautifully maintained adherence to grooming rules. Many never forget to call for prayers at the start of a meeting. Many are standard-bearers for the church! Many have donned some of the most-tailored suits complete with clean shave!

Let me let you in on a little secret. Many from the space of religion have been limited to a deontological approach to rules. This means, they are often prone to only seeing rules as set and of necessity to be obeyed. If the rule says, blacks should not sit at the front of the bus, then you must obey it. If the rule says apartheid, then you must obey it. Maybe this is why the space of church has often been the last place for certain rules to change.

The sleeveless rule has been promoted by some because it felt like the Christian thing to do. The same thing has happened with the policing of women’s bodies and clothing.

The grooming confusion continues, and the African hair discrimination prevails in Jamaican schools since stakeholder consultations are in progress and there are grooming and dress-policy guidelines. Principals continue to “rightly” proclaim, “rules are rules”.

Jesus was often a disappointment to the status quo. He never told people that “rules are rules”. Instead, he showed that life and the service of humanity were far greater than the keeping of rules and laws and religious obligations. An acronym that became popular some years ago was WWJD – what would Jesus do?

Jesus certainly would not behave in the way many Christians do today. He was never into “othering” people. His lessons were inclusive whenever he depicted the kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom it did not matter what your religion or cultural tradition, or season. It was a Samaritan who understood and practised being a good neighbour. It was often on the Sabbath that Jesus did various healings, much to the disgust of the religious elite. Since that was not enough, Jesus would also break taboos and engage a woman in theological discourse at a well. In fact, he often empowered and liberated women, much to the chagrin of his disciples.

We have not begun to understand the depth of Jesus’ overturning of taboos in the gospels and how the real miracle exceeded the individual stories. The stories are about society. The stories are about us! The two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is about us. Some of us are rule-keepers and some are rule- breakers. In fact, maybe both sons may be seen in each of us.

Some rules should always be kept. An example of this is to never hold a hot pot with bare hands. However, rules about dining etiquette may be tweaked. Jesus’ disciples were in for a grand reprimand and public opprobrium when they ate with unwashed hands. Jesus used the Pharisees’ display of self-righteousness to teach them that what was most important, was what was in the heart.

Jesus was upbraided another time when his disciples, picked ears of corn on the Sabbath, rubbing same in hand as they ate. We are not told if they had washed their hands or if in the group of men, one or two had stopped to urinate while passing through a field.

Traditions have their place. Tradition should, however, be our servant, and not the other way round. In a tropical country it is perfectly okay to chill your red wine if you prefer to have it that way. The tradition of keeping one’s pants on the waist in public, instead of below the underwear, is basic decency and welcome decorum. However, to do otherwise is not a concern to the gods.

General guidelines for grooming in schools will not suffice when many in administration lack the capacity to define what may be consistent with general guidelines. It is one thing to say that children are important stakeholders. How are their views being practically used to inform policy?

Let us continue to teach our children how to observe rules in a realistic and teleological way. That is, assessing the practical purpose and intended result of a rule. There is a place for the deontological approach. Let us beware though of limiting ourselves to this approach only. That is, having the rule as a starting point and serving the rule regardless of the outcome! Let us create critical-thinkers who appreciate the value of clean, comfortable fitting and tailored clothing versus the burdensome preoccupation with tape measures and European aesthetic as guide for African hair presentation.

 Fr. Sean Major-Campbell is an Anglican priest and advocate for human rights. Please send feedback to and