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Lausanne Global Analysis

January 2017 · Volume 6 / Issue 1

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A Caribbean Perspective on the US Elections

Five Key Areas to Watch

caribbean-us-elections

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

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In the context of the powerful Roman Empire, Paul’s pastoral concern for the role of the church in society was expressed pointedly in his advice to his younger leader and protégé, Pastor Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

Pastoral advice for the church

His pastoral advice has two dimensions to it. Firstly, he calls attention to the power and importance of intercessory prayer for political and civic leadership in the state: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. Paul emphasises prayer as God’s resource for releasing divine aid to everyone, especially to those in authority.

Secondly, he pointedly makes reference to the important end-goal or objective of that leadership: that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. Paul emphasises the importance of leadership because leadership in any field of endeavour matters. It influences and carries consequences.

He urges Christian engagement rather than a piety of withdrawal or ignoring the issues of the day. The church should intercede with deep prayers of supplication and intercession for those in leadership. He urges this action for the greater good of society, to the end that ‘we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’. Peace, a quiet life, and dignity before God are his ideals for his people and his created order of society.

Observing the US election

As people inside and outside the United States observed the conduct of the 2016 presidential election campaign, there was bewilderment, angst, and fear. Those who watched it from a distance may have thought they were witnessing a remarkable race to the lowest level of political contests for power. The expectation was that the US election would be an example to the world of democracy-in-action, with all the robust cut and thrust of the politics of democratic change. Instead, a new kind of politics came into full public view, the politics of personal character destruction of opponents and the pursuit of power by any means. Along the campaign trail, an avalanche of untruths and known falsehoods and deceptions were advocated as though they were gospel truth.

Oxford Dictionaries has recently announced its international word of the year for 2016: ‘post-truth’. This, it says, is because of ‘the rise in false statements by political leaders in major elections around the globe and the use of the word in the English language by over 2,000% since 2015’. It describes the use of language that appeals to and influences people’s emotions and value judgements, over against the objective rationality of known and demonstrable facts. In the campaign, it seemed that the widespread use of ‘post-truths’ pointed to the overthrow of a moral and ethical code where wrong now had to be accepted as right and right had become wrong.

It raised questions. Was this the future of American politics and, by extension, global politics? Was this what we should expect of American leadership and influence in the world? Do morality and ethics still have a role to play in political campaigns and platforms?

Caribbean concerns

Throughout the Caribbean, there is real apprehension about the conduct and outcome of the election. There are serious repercussions for US-Caribbean relations. As church leaders and other civil and political leaders in the Caribbean reflect on the process and outcome, they have identified five particular areas to watch, from a Caribbean perspective, in a new dispensation of American politics and leadership in the world.

1. Our climate future

The beautiful Caribbean countries are among the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).[1] They are anxious to know the direction of the new US administration in the global fight for a more sustainable climate future. Such a future, they believe, can be secured if global leaders agree and strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, limit future temperature rises, monitor our carbon future, limit the burning of fossil fuels, and deliver cleaner energy. From the perspective of small developing states that are extremely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate change, Caribbean leaders are adamant that they will never allow the overwhelming evidence of the realities of climate change to be obscured and rejected by those who deny or seek to obstruct it for selfish ends.

Across the region, several Caribbean leaders have indicated that are prepared to fight for the region’s economic and environmental survival. Leading up to the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 and afterwards, the Caribbean’s ‘1.5 to Stay Alive’ campaign was a plea for its survival. The COP21 Global Agreement was a significant achievement.[2] Caribbean leaders believe it must be upheld and the US must be held to its commitments.

For the global church, Lausanne’s The Cape Town Commitment (CTC, 2010) is a landmark document. It encourages Christians worldwide to ‘exert legitimate means to persuade governments to put moral imperatives above political expediency on issues of environmental destruction and potential climate change’ (CTC II-B-6). Such strong words to the global church were based on the conviction that ‘we cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance’ (CTC 1-7).

Care of creation is important in every context, but especially so in the Caribbean where the Lausanne Jamaica Statement was issued in 2012.[3]

Evangelical, Pentecostal, and ecumenical church leaders in the Caribbean are being mobilized to advocate for a more sustainable climate future. They recognize a common cause for the sake of the One True and Living God who owns the universe and mandates his people to steward his creation for the well-being and sustainability of all humanity.

2. Global trade policy

The election campaign witnessed many ‘post-truths’ being spoken against global trade, alleging it to be against the US national interest. The alternative proffered was US protectionism, isolationism, and ‘me-and-my country first’. To leaders in the Caribbean, this does not appear to be a good example to the world.

As small developing states, the Caribbean nations are dependent on good trade relations with their big neighbour. Our region cannot afford to be ignored, neglected, or ill-treated by its neighbour or anyone else. If this happens under a new insular, protectionist US administration, the region will suffer a steep decline. Poverty, crime, and therefore, migration flows will increase.

Global trade is vital. Every country is reliant on trade to boost economic growth, create jobs, ensure social well-being, and create opportunities to restore dignity to the lives of the poor. The churches in the Caribbean have been struggling with this issue for more than two centuries. They want to help their congregations find jobs and be able to look after their families. They believe that nations should strive for free and fair trade and ensure better wages for workers—‘the worker deserves his wages’ (1 Tim 5:18). So they have become even stronger advocates for global trade.

The region wants and needs US engagement and leadership in bilateral, hemispheric, and global trade agreements, especially in our multi-polar world. Caribbean leaders are insisting that the bigger economies, including the US, protect, defend, and look out for the weaker ones and help them to grow and develop too. At the same time, they are concerned about the long-standing US trade embargo against Cuba and the effect of grinding poverty on children and families in Haiti.

US leadership is required, especially in an era of rising global super-powers such as China, whose interest and influence in the Caribbean and elsewhere have become quite extensive.

3. Marriage equality

One of the big campaign issues was so-called ‘marriage equality’. The Caribbean is one of those regions that has been pressured by the US State Department to adopt marriage equality and same sex unions under the US foreign policy aid and human rights agenda. Government and church leaders across the region have been specifically courted by the US government to enact legislation to this end.

There have been strong reactions from the church across the region to this pressure. In June 2014, Jamaican church leaders held a public rally called ‘Jamaica Cause’ and mobilized a crowd of some 30,000. The Caribbean church and society are generally opposed to US promotion of lifestyles and family constructs that they consider inimical to their culture and well-being.

While some sections of the church, particularly the older and more established churches, argue for a more conciliatory approach, many pastors in the evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and ordinary citizens, are strongly resistant.

The presidential elections seemed to have highlighted issues of abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and the extent of tolerance in a diverse and very pluralistic society. These issues are of concern in the Caribbean and for the Caribbean church. Here again, The Cape Town Commitment provides very useful guidance for the global church, urging all Christians to reject ‘disordered sexuality’ (CTC II-E-2), while showing Christ’s love and compassion to all people.

4. Migration and Globalization

Illegal immigration was one of the hot campaign issues. Many of the illegal immigrants in the US are of Caribbean origin. As far as organized crime and criminal gang-networks are concerned, there are undeniable links between the Caribbean and the US. These networks foster transnational crime and violence on both sides. This must be dealt with. The Caribbean welcomes and needs better immigration policies and effective systems to curb illegal immigration. Caribbean countries, like Jamaica, have benefited greatly from guest-worker programs in the US which have helped the US economy and also helped many poor families back in the region.

Churches in the Caribbean are affected by this issue:

  • Some pastors are struggling with the challenge of providing pastoral counsel and guidance to congregations and communities that exist in the midst of gang-controlled turfs.
  • Churches in Jamaica, for example, are joining together in approaches to law enforcement officials to see how best to tackle what has currently become a major social problem.
  • Children, families, and local communities that are dependent on transnational relationships between the US and the Caribbean are anxious about the future of that relationship. Many are coming to the church for counseling and help.

The US must guard against retreating into exceptionalism and self-isolationism. We live in a global environment. The Caribbean would like to see pastors and churches in the US guarding against hostility towards immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, and ‘strangers’ in their midst. They should welcome the stranger and the asylum seeker, the lost, and the lonely. This is what Christ would have done. This is what he calls his church to do.

5. Global Peace and Security

The Caribbean is all too aware of the extent of conflicts and war in the world. As people in the sub-region of the Americas, they are constantly reminded of the words of the popular Jamaican musical icon, Bob Marley: ‘So much trouble in the world’.

The Caribbean has lived through years of violence and war and civil strife. In the history of the region, people are all too aware of the use of US military power in attempts to bring about regime change. Caribbean peoples feel it is time for peace. They know it is time for healing and reconciliation among people.

In its preaching and teaching ministry, the church in the US and in the Caribbean must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is about peace, truth, and reconciliation. The church in the US and the church in the Caribbean must work together in partnership towards peace-building in local communities and helping to strengthen global peace and security.

This is the time for global church partnerships in peace-building initiatives. Jesus told his disciples: ‘Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the children of God’ (Matt 5:9).

Conclusion

Politics matters. Political leadership is important. Paul’s advice to Timothy is the advice that every pastor needs at this time. The advice is for the church to intercede with deep prayers of supplication and intercession for everyone, especially for those in high office. He urges this action for the common good and well-being of everyone in society. This is not advice for withdrawal and ignoring the issues, but rather for deep spiritual and practical engagement on the part of the church.

These five issues—the future of our climate, the protection of biblical teaching on marriage and family, free and fair trade, migration and the impact of globalization, and global peace and security—are the key areas to watch in our region as a new US administration takes shape. The impact these will have on Caribbean peoples’ ability and capacity to ‘lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’ is vital to our survival and well-being.

Editor’s Postscript

Leaders from several regions of the world were invited to provide theological reflection and pastoral guidance concerning the potential impact of the US presidential elections on Christian ministry in their region. Here are some of their comments.

From Africa

Gideon Para-Mallam, Nigeria—International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) Regional Secretary for English, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking Africa (EPSA). Based on interactions with church and mission leaders from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, Côte d’ Voire, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia.

Those who really need guidance are the emerging leaders; in truth the future is uncertain at the moment . . . Emerging leaders should have a clear vision of what the church needs to do in order to re-focus their commitment to global mission in today’s uncertain political climate . . . Global Christian leaders need to help the church think biblically on the future direction of the gospel devoid of political manipulation from politicians, who appear more adept in using the church to advance their political goals instead of the other way around. Complex global realities suggest that we intentionally promote God’s redemptive missional agenda by engaging in what John Stott described as double listening: to God’s word and the world.

From Latin America

Daniel Bianchi, Argentina—Lausanne Regional Director for Latin America. Following survey of leaders from 17 countries in Latin America and Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Will the church continue to speak against all [that is] against the gospel of justice, compassion, and reconciliation? Will the church continue to seek the advancement and the interests of the kingdom above any other consideration of power or culture?

From South Asia

Dr Jacob Cherian, India—Vice President and Dean of Faculty at Southern Asia Bible College.

Any idea of racial supremacy . . . must be condemned, openly and fiercely, especially by white evangelicals in America and Europe. This will surely help those who preach the gospel in countries like Pakistan, India, and Indonesia, where sometimes anti-Christian actions are spurred on by anti-American or anti-white feelings . . . If Euro-American evangelicals do not clearly and loudly affirm their full support for religious and racial minorities (like Muslims, Hindus, African-Americans, Buddhists), they will be hurting Christians in South Asia, since we are the micro-minorities here.

Endnotes

1. Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘Climate Change in Oceania’ by Mick Pope in the March 2014 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.

2. Editor’s Note: See article entitled ‘Climate Change after Paris’ by Ed Brown in the May 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.

3. Read full statement at https://www.lausanne.org/content/statement/creation-care-call-to-action.

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Las G Newman, PhD, is the Lausanne Global Associate Director for Regions. He lives in Kingston, Jamaica, and is the past president of the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology (CGST) located in Kingston. He hosted the Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in Jamaica in 2012 and contributed to the book Creation Care and the Gospel: Reconsidering the Mission of the Church (2016).

Minke E Newman, PhD, is an environmental biologist at the University of the West Indies (Mona campus), Jamaica. Her major work involves research on the impact of deforestation of the Cockpit Country, Jamaica’s major watershed. She was a volunteer organizer at the Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in Jamaica in 2012 and one of the Caribbean participants at the 2016 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering in Indonesia.

19 Jan 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis

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