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Thursday, June 08, 2006 

Portia stands firm on church issue
Observer Reporter
Thursday, June 08, 2006

MONTEGO BAY, St James - Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday reiterated her intention to centralise the church's role in her administration, insisting that this was the starting point for resolving Jamaica's social and economic problems.

"I'm not going to retreat from my strong commitment to and public advocacy for the role of the church and other faith-based institutions in this society," the prime minister told the gathering of mainly church leaders at the Annual General Meeting of the Jamaica Council of Churches. "Any Jamaican Prime Minister who ignores or downplays the role of a moral institution like the church does so at the nation's peril," she added.

The prime minister was speaking against the background of a furious public debate over her stated intention at a church service on April 1, to draft pastors into the country's administration via state board appointments. While not addressing the matter of the appointments specifically, Simpson Miller made it clear that she had not changed her stance on the issue, as she accepted a gift of a leather-bound bible from the gathering and promised that it would guide every decision she had to make at Jamaica House.

"I do not care how much criticism is levelled at me. I do not care how much I am ridiculed, I will continue to speak up for the importance of religious values in national development. we cannot develop this country by simply concentrating on economics and politics. you cannot build a sound economy on a rotten moral foundation," she said to loud applause from the churchmen and women, who for their part, assured her that they would be standing ready with their advice.
In a bid to strengthen her push for the church to get involved in the country's affairs, the prime minister highlighted a number of ills in the society which could use some moral and spiritual intervention, such as the increase in the reported cases of carnal abuse - 168 since the start of the year: the fact that 61 per cent of Jamaican children were being registered without their fathers' names; and a below 40 percentage of teenagers living with their fathers.

"The state can and must address the country's social and economic problems but the state cannot do everything... I believe we were a stronger nation when the Jamaican church's influence was stronger," she said.

The prime minister also charged the church to find more creative ways of getting its message across to members of the society, warning that the failure to do so would have adverse effects on the country.

"My suggestion to this annual general meeting is that the church finds an effective and compelling way of demonstrating how the issues, which the media sees as important, are intimately connected to issues of morality and ethics. Let's take the issue of corruption, which the media are intensely interested in... if people reject the get-rich-quick mentality; if they accept the words of Jesus that a person's life 'does not consist of the abundance of things which he possesses,' then they would be in a much better position to reject inducements to corruption," she said.

Citing the 28 per cent church attendance level as just one of many reasons why the church needed be creative about getting its message to the society, the prime minister suggested that they follow the lead of their secular counterparts and hold more public fora and sponsor special broadcasts in prime time in order to get the church's views across.
"The church is by its very nature an institution which is committed to advocacy on behalf of the poor and voiceless... The moral perspectives must be put on the public agenda. It can't be something for Sunday or Sabbath morning... If you don't get the message out there I am going to use my political platform to get your message out there," she vowed.

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