A pastor says that the church is a primary partner in the fight against crime but has been “facing significant pushback”.
The assertion by Pastor Cecil Richards comes amidst questions of “what is the church doing?” as St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded a record 52 homicides this year, 10 more than the record set last year.
“… the church is facing this negative narrative, this resistance that is growing to the church in our country. Popular entertainment figures are encouraging you to resist the church and run from the church. I won’t call names,” Richards told the National Crime Prevention March and Exhibition on Friday.
“Popular media shows and talk show hosts are introducing and fanning the flame of negative narrative against the church. People get on Facebook night and day and damn the church and as you’re continuing to do this, … all you are doing, … you are dismembering the very organisation that is positioned to do the most good for this country when it comes to fighting crime,” Richards told he event at Heritage Square in Kingstown.
“I pray that wherever this message is heard this morning that we understand, number one, that the church is important to us, that the church is a helpful, that the church has a number of things that it is currently doing that is very helpful in fighting crime, that you also understand that the narrative negative is hurting what the church can do,” he said.
“If you care about crime, if you talk about crime, if you care about the prevention of this thing, then you would do what you can to empower those that are positioned to do the most for you.”
The event was organised by the Crime Prevention Unit of the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force in collaboration with the National Commission on Crime Prevention.
It began with a march around Kingstown, followed by a rally at Heritage Square.
Richards thanked the organisers for including the church in the activity, saying that many people might not understand the impact of such an exercise or might be looking immediately for monumental impact.
“I look at this exercise as meaningful because incrementally you are setting a culture or you’re being a part of the setting of a culture that is anti-crime, trying to prevent crime.”
Richards said the questions must be asked, “Is the church being invited to be a part of the optics of dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s? Is the church here for window dressing? Or do you believe … that the church is positioned to make a meaningful impact.”
The pastor said that contrary to “the misled opinions, and contrary to the uninformed narrative that is out there”, the church is with all those who are seeking to fight crime.
“The church as a primary partner,” Richards said. “In fact, I will add to that, that the church … is one of the best assets, my fellow Vincentians, that this country or any other country has.”
Richards said he was not putting down Pan Against Crime, sports against crime, youth activities or the multiplicity of activities that come under the purview of the police or the NCCP.
“But I’m saying that considering all of these, the Church is still one of your best assets. And you need to know that. And I think that’s why we’re here this morning.”
Richards said the church has traditionally been and seeks to continue to be a social force within the country.
“Social forces are sources of authority, not an authority that is stamped down upon you but an authority that is implicit, and authority that you recognise, an authority that you accept.”
He said the church has traditionally been a part of this because people “implicitly believe in God.
“It used to be that people implicitly believed in God and the Bible. And these were bastions of our authority, our implicit authority in this country. The Church stands therefore, as a representative, as this sort of social authority, and social force.”
He said people sometimes won’t listen to a man, a leader or an organisation.
“At the very least, there was a time when people would listen to God, and listen to the Bible, and listen to what the church had to say. And you will admit to me that when that happened, we were in a better place.”
He noted that the theme of the event was “Building Resilient Communities Through Crime Prevention.”
“There is no community, unless people know how to bond and relate one to the other, unless we can understand that you’re my brother, and you’re my sister and we should take each other by the hand,” Richards said, echoing a chorus.
He said the church has traditionally been the bastion and the centre, and the axiom of community.
“You could have school, you have PTA, you can have boys club, you can have sporting organizations, you can have teams and all of that. But the church has been a place traditionally where people have come together, where whether you are Black or White, red or yellow, Black or White, particularly red or yellow, you can find unity in the church,” he said, mentioning the colours of the two main political parties in the country.
Richards said the church is a place where people from all income levels are able to communicate as one.
“People from a variety of income backgrounds, people from a variety of living circumstances are able — now get this — to commune as one
“When people can’t find peace or when people can’t find brotherhood and when people can’t find togetherness elsewhere, the Church has always been a place where people can find community.”
He said studies have shown that around the world, where the church is strong and received by people and able to build community, “you have noticed the inverse relationship with crime numbers.
“Churches, when they build community, affect community. Remember that churches when they build community through social bonding, they affect community,” Richards said.
He said the church is “the number one part of the top tier as a source of value transmission.
“And we have to admit, my fellow Vincentians, … that a major factor in the propagation of crime has been a denuding, a watering down of values.
“… my fellow Vincentians, we have lost our traditional values. And we have transplanted them with some other values that have usurped the good of our culture. So now we have transplanted values of anger. … We have transplanted and have cultivated a value of outrage. On social media outrage is given free rein. We have applauded, we have cherished a part of unforgiveness through popular media and songs and all of that.”