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Stabroek News

What's so wrong with prayer?
published: Sunday | April 9, 2006

"I, Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller do hereby commit myself to God and the people of Jamaica and do solemnly promise to be fair and just to my opponents, even as I seek to serve the common good of our nation."

November 20, 2005, The Kingston Parish Church.

I DON'T object to prayer. In fact, I quite like them. Morris Cargill used to say it was the only uncivilised thing about me.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller has a taste for prayer too, even though the chattering classes seem to think it mediaeval. In Morris' case, he didn't believe in God at all, and said he was a Buddhist. He tried hard with me, but Morris wasn't much for singing either and both of us hated Bible thumping.


Our new prime minister is not doing that. Hers is a date with destiny that she believes was willed by God. In November last year, the Anglican Bishop of Kingston the Right Reverend Robert Thompson, blessed her in the Kingston Parish Church. One of the promises she made then was to be fair and just to her opponents, and I think she meant all of them everywhere and at all times. Even in the next general election. The prayer is very short and was written by the Bishop himself according to the Christian traditions.

As soon as she was installed, she asked him to bless her new Cabinet at its swearing-in at King's House. What's wrong with that?

If an ecumenical objection is being made, it should be noted that the Prime Minister asked the Roman Catholic Archbishop, the Most Reverend Lawrence Burke, to bless the first meeting of her Cabinet. But not before she worshipped in a Seventh-day Adventist Church and two Pentecostal churches on the weekend, and stayed for the whole service.

Are the critics of these activities suggesting that the Prime Minister's devoutness as a Christian is interfering with her duties? Or is it merely that for the first time they've noticed that she's in and out of every church at every opportunity?

Mrs. Simpson Miller has been sustained by her deep faith in God throughout the darkest times in this journey to office. Even Morris Cargill would have doubtless agreed that she seems none the worse for it. She sees herself as having a lot to be thankful to God for, and believes that the steadiness it has provided in her own life can also be of use to governance.

Some of her critics say that we've tried everything else, so we might as well try God. Many of them fear, however, that the drive sometimes, for filthy lucre and sexual trysts among some of the pastors and clerics, might distract them from the task at hand.

The sociologist Max Weber sorted it out long ago when he wrote the seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. According to him, it was the reason why the industrial revolution took place in England, Holland and Germany and not in Spain, France and Italy, which were Roman Catholic. To that, I wish only to add that the former, religion also nurtured the greatest composers, and the latter, the greatest painters and sculptors the world had ever known. So what's wrong with Christian religion?

I have always been partial to the Anglicans myself, because they drink liquor, smoke cigarettes and can get married if they want.

They also have a historical and cultural tradition of secular activism where they sit on and head boards in the wider society in academics, art, culture and business. Now the only time we seem to think of them is when somebody needs to be buried.


Nevertheless, there ought to be no doubt about the business acumen of the church. None of them has ever come to any of us to borrow money, despite their considerable pastoral and real estate obligations. Why should a pastor, therefore, be less worthy of a board appointment, or less skilled than a businessman? One could say that the contribution of a pastor under these circumstances is actually value added. Pressing them into service might help cause a renaissance of public life at many levels. Only a fool or a pedant could have a problem with that.

Mrs. Simpson Miller apparently doesn't have an Americanised view of governance. There, school teachers have to ask the court's permission to say the Lord's Prayer with their students. Her traditions are those of the Westminster model, and here in a country where 80 per cent of our citizens are Christian. She is not saying that all pastors are always better than lay people. She is merely saying that they must be considered and given a role in public governance.

She might also have added that they are the only group outside of politicians and union men with social reach, and the latter categories are on every board. So, at least, pastors come with some experience. Doubtless, if they fail to pass muster they can be fired, and we won't have to wait until an election to see it.

It is more than a little ironic that this newspaper which wrote asking all the PNP contenders for their visions, should editorialise last week, "Prayer can be effective but private visions can be suspect." And this, as a caution to Prime Minister Simpson Miller.

Perhaps they, and other detractors alarmed at her for so orienting her government, fear that she might become a megalomaniac. It's a little late to start worrying about that. But, I suppose, it's better than worrying about her being a nincompoop which is what they usually do. Or perhaps they've merely exchanged the one for the other in a kind of simple-minded analysis for which some enjoy a deserved notoriety.

Since Madame has the final say whether they like it or not, she's already made the assumption that all who serve on her boards will do so with probity. I doubt she's asking the church to be the new policeman on government boards. Above all, I doubt that Mrs. Simpson Miller intends to delegate that responsibility to anyone, no matter how sweetly they might call for it.

Don't look for time-wasting experimentation under her watch. There'll be no need for crystal balls and tarot cards, even though men will still prophesy. Bobby Pickersgill, 'Mr. Wrong Jungle' himself, has been given the only super ministry of Housing, Transport and Works. I congratulate him because I think he'll do a splendid job in all three areas. In the past, whenever it worked, it was always because of Bobby. And now, at last, he has the chance to prove it in the public domain.


I'm also glad that water has been returned to Roger Clark and agriculture. It makes me hopeful that we might have water in our pipes, irrigation (though $8 million for immediate drought alleviation is not much, even if the new Information Minister, Colleen Campbell, says it will rise) and eat food. If that happens jobs cannot be far behind.

Maxine Henry-Wilson churlishly complained in public about culture being removed from her education portfolio. But it was an inspired move to make it more exciting and relevant by putting the subject with Tourism and Entertainment. Mrs. Alone Assamba is sure to do a better job.

All this will give the Prime Minister a lot of time to focus on general elections and enumeration. I see that Danville Walker, director of elections, has just announced a new window on the latter. Madam Prime Minister is taking no chances. For all her muscular faith in God, she never has.

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