Monday, January 19, 2009

Leading morality

The Caribbean Seventh-day Adventist community is astir with the pending swearing in of Dr. Patrick Allen as the next Governor General of Jamaica. Dr. Allen, until his selection for the office, was president of the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. He is also chairman of the boards of directors of Andrews Hospital and Northern Caribbean University - both Adventist institutions.

Jamaicans on the island and around the world are buzzing about whether the minister will slobber on beauty queens like Glasspole, attend state functions on Saturday, or break the rules of the Adventist diet. The trite chatter is not unexpected considering that the role of the Governor General is largely ceremonial. Also, while the numbers of Adventists in Jamaica is large and growing, so that everybody knows an Adventist, the best known precepts of the church make them subjects of curiosity.

Dr. Herbert Thompson, president of Northern Caribbean University, was exuberant in his response to Allen's appointment. Dr. Thompson said he believed Allen would give Jamaica 'a new moral vision.' I'm not sure what that means, but it was the second time in a week I had heard the concepts of country and morals raised together. During his last press conference, outgoing United States President George W. Bush was asked by a member of the press corps if he thought the country's moral standing had been damaged during his tenure.

As we see clearly by Bush's record low approval ratings, the actions of a government or leader do not always meet with agreement from the people he leads. How then, is the moral standing of a country determined? Is moral standing for countries even possible where people are of such disparate opinions and beliefs? In Dr. Allen's case, how could he possibly affect the morality of Jamaica/ns when his job description consists mostly of wearing an archaic costume and opening parliament?

There seems to be little argument that Dr. Allen has lead an exemplary life. He has been an advocate for pressing social issues, held administrative positions of great responsibility and earned the Commander of the Order of Distinction in 2006. By education, training and actions, he is more qualified to lead than many in Jamaican politics. However, even if his position was one of significant leadership it should not be one that determines morality. It is attempts to determine moral direction and establish moral authority that threaten the reversal of Roe v. Wade, to re-write the consitution to decide who should be able to get married, and to oppress an entire country of people because they don't say Jesus and God.

Dr. Allen's best chance at affecting the moral vision of Jamaicans is by living righteously in their view.

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