On Friday, Steve Samuels, chairman of the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast, was interviewed on RJR by Dionne Jackson Miller along with guests Mustafa Mohammed of the Islamic Council and Lipton Matthews. These gentlemen wanted Samuels to make the prayer breakfast an interfaith event instead of being Christian in character. It was also stated if it remains a Christian event then this will hinder national development.
For 35 years, Christian leaders have organised this event, so why is it not enough that leaders from other religions are invited? In any case, not all churches and denominations are represented on the organising committee and these Christians are not clamouring to be part of the management of the event. The Christian denomination has played a significant role in the development of Jamaica in spite of its weaknesses. The Jamaican Church has had an important role in education, economic development, family life, politics and values formation, and nothing is wrong if she wants to bring to bear her understanding of God and interpretation of scriptures to the leadership of the country.
The interfaith group can have its own prayer breakfast and other religious ceremonies and invite leaders to it.
RJR hosts a Sportsman and Sportswoman award. Are we going to call upon then to make it a media event with all other radio stations? The Gleaner gives out awards. Are we going to ask that other newspapers join? Recently, the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan hosted an event at the National Arena with national implications. No one suggested that it had to be an interfaith event.
However, if the organisers want to change the character of the event from being Christian to being interfaith, then let it come from within and not pressure from without. In addition, these other religious faiths who want to cooperate with Christians in Jamaica could let their voices be heard on behalf of Christians in Iraq and other places where people are being killed just because they are Christians.
Where there is a case for interfaith cooperation in Jamaica is LOVE FM. In February 1993, LOVE FM was formed as a religious radio station and not a Christian station, but other religions are not on LOVE FM. LOVE FM should heed the word of the preacher at the prayer breakfast, Everton Jackson, pastor of Calvary Baptist, who warned against "religious arrogance and intolerance".
Perhaps the leaders of the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast need to look at the issue of who sponsors the event. For the last 30 years, the Victoria Mutual Building Society (VMBS) has been the sponsor. In 1878, E.W. Downer, rector of the Kingston Parish Church, inspired members of his congregation to pool their savings in order to own land - an action which gave birth to VMBS. It is possible that in spite of the Judeo-Christian Heritage of VMBS, it might demand that the prayer breakfast should be an inter-faith event, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. It would be wise for the churches to start funding this event.
What is needed is not to change the character of the prayer breakfast but to tweak some aspects, including logistics. The guest preacher should sit at table with the governor general, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and don his or her priestly role and pray with them for unity, peace and prosperity.
In addition, the organisers should omit the remarks and greetings and make more time for prayer at the tables. At my table, Sister Silvera of the Missionary Church took time to know everyone and prayed for each person and before she could finish, the closing prayer had started.
Reverend Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.