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Daily Gleaner - An address to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church by Jimmy Tucker, Regional Co-Coordinator for Human Rights Caribbean Conference of Churches November 1977

“...The Stone which the Builders rejected”

1. Brothers and Sisters, I am grateful once again, for the opportunity of having fellowship with you, and especially to have fellowship on this day of Harvest celebrations.
It is indeed more than coincidental that I am to address you on the important topic
– The Role of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Nation Building.
In this regard I have selected a well-known verse from the Psalms and its recapitulation (in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 verse 11) by St Peter to the people, the Priests, the Captain of the Temple and the Sadducees.


2. Brothers and Sisters, the verse tells us that "...the stone which the Builders Rejected Has Become the Head of the Corner". Acts 4:11, Psalms 18.22.

4. Brothers and sisters, I believe this is a most significant and timely event for the Caribbean and Jamaican Churches for in many respects this Church has a prophetic role to play in the socialization process that is ongoing and the ideological and institutional reformation of Christianity in Jamaica. Our country is now involved in a complete process of debate and conflict on human relations. It is a process that is affecting the institutions that have served well the objectives of the past and the interests of a few Jamaicans, It is a process in which our National Motto “Out of many one People” has difficulty of application. A difficulty of application that has nothing to do with its lofty sentiments but rather with our general unwillingness to commit ourselves to the prerequisite social and other adjustments that would make for its application to the real living conditions of the majority of Jamaicans.

3. Now I speak with you out of a sense of satisfaction because recently, I learnt that this Church has become a candidate for membership of the Caribbean Conference of Churches.That membership of the CCC will be formally notified at the second Assembly scheduled for the 16th-23rd of November, in Guyana, and that the Brethren Dewar, Anderson and Tekle will be delegates to the Assembly. Furthermore, I understand that this church seeks to become a member of the Jamaica Council of Churches and I am sure that if our Beloved Abba Mandefro has not already reported on the recent discussions with the Executive Committee of the JCC he will do so very soon.

5. The membership of this church into these two important ecumenical communities is one that will therefore dramatize the traditional tensions and conflicts between established churches and others, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, that are known for having a strong anti-imperialist position and a measure of identification with the Garvey and Rastafari movements.

6. Nevertheless, this should be nothing short of a welcomed challenge. For the first time, your officers will be sitting with officers of other churches on a consistent basis. From this encounter could come constructive solutions to the problems of cultural, social and religious alienation, alienation that you have experienced over the years. I hope in saying this however, that you will not think of me as a dreamer because it is from an empirical and practical basis.
I affirm that if we are going to emerge from this process of conflict with any measure of social cohesion, then it is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; with its Rastafari connection, more than any other, that will become the agent of understanding, and for the bringing together people of varying social levels in our Nation. Take a look at our prisons two out of three inmates are Rastafarians either in sympathy or by Faith. There are hundreds of young men and women, displaying the outward appearance of Rasta, but who are doing serious things? To all of us this is the reason why there is cause for asking whether there is a church that is more fitting and capable than the Ethiopian Orthodox to minister to this element.
So before I abstract for you some features of this church in respect of its role in nation building, let me say three important things


I. THE RASTAFARI CONNECTION:


In your association with established churches, there is no need for an apology for your Rastafari connection.The Rastafari question is a movement of people who are Jamaicans; and if you discount them, this church would be at the outset, abdicating a vital Christian responsibility. I say this because some of us need to understand that a church is not kept alive by the purity of its doctrines and creeds, but rather by its unswerving commitment to the needs of its people.

II. AGAINST EXPLOITATION:


7. In our efforts to establish cooperative projects for members of the church, among others, there will be a need to resist the slightest measure of exploitation.I know of the tremendous sacrifice many of you have made in bringing certain projects to viability. I know of the impressive exercise of participation in the decision-making processes of the church’s business, and of those times when volunteer labour walked many miles ahead of capital. The project on these grounds is an example of sacrifice; and I have been told that a small bakery is being proposed which is to be located in the Kingston 11 area. I urge you, therefore, to champion the principle of co-operative enterprise and have absolutely nothing to do with exploitation. Exploitation is an aspect of social and economic organization that is ethically not in keeping with the Christian conscience. Let me now outline briefly some important features of this church, which I believe will make for its special contribution to nation building and the reform of Christianity in Jamaica. I shall approach this in the context of the historical and current meaning of the church.

III. THE TRADITIONAL, ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE STATE:


8. The church will need to develop a special educational ministry that will seek to reverse the traditional attitude of some brethren towards the State and the police — better known as Babylon. Related to this, is the need to give urgent attention to the idea that we are now the keepers of our own destiny. There is, therefore, a need for members of this church to consider their role in relation to the security of their own local communities, either as a direct part of or in co-operation with the State and Its agencies of security.

Anti-imperialist

Beyond it’s meaning as an ancient and legendary African Church, its role at shaping the character of early Christianity, and for our current purposes, its status as a founding member of the World Council of Churches, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church by virtue of its connection with the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, is the church that has consistently maintained an anti-imperialist stance.
Prior to the emergence of a political consciousness against imperialism, the church, in its related inspiration to Emperor Haile Selassie and the teachings of Marcus Garvey has contributed significantly to the process of positive identification with Africa.
Significantly in this regard, when Garvey became our first National Hero it was logical that the work of Rastafarians in promoting the teachings of Garvey, received recognition. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has the outstanding claim of being a church that came by invitation of The Jamaican people unlike many of our established churches. The people who called for it were conscious of their alienation from the colonial mainstream in our country and by their artistic and cultural contributions, they have given the face of religion something that is stamped with the authentic character and aspirations of our people.

THE THEOLOGICAL SCANDAL

9. Out of this alienation with its related back to Africa call, those who longed for liberation echoed the theological scandal of Western civilization.It is the same scandal of two thousand years ago — that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God. In our time its manifestation came in the person of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. The Rastafarians of Jamaica proclaimed him as God's Messiah and today the question is not whether or not there is objectivity in the claim, the living truth is that thousands of people in Jamaica, the Caribbean and North America lead very disciplined and moral lives in accordance with such a belief. For these conformists, to the scandal theology is a living people orientated matter; and for them, the poor and wretched of the earth, the highest expression of their spiritual longing has been realized in the person of an African King from the lineage of King Solomon. Therefore, while it might not be the teaching of the church that Rastafari is the son or the Messiah of God, such a theological phenomenon can hardly be dismissed as unimportant to the life of the total Christian community in Jamaica.
On the issue of work the church again by virtue of us connection with the Rastafarian movement is able to contribute significantly to an understanding of what is a proper attitude to work. It is a simple and profound truth that no social justice can be achieved in Jamaica without a priority commitment to the creation of wealth. The Rastafarian community is known for its industry, and, if work is the number one social issue, outside of violence, then this church has an important contribution to make in nation building.

Finally, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has an important role to playin the reformation of Christianity in Jamaica.
No where in Christendom in recent years have we been told of a people, who, in the midst of great social deprivation, held on to an almost ecstatic expression of love more than the Rastafarians of this land Before this greatest of all religious values was taken over by certain political forces in our country, love was and is still being practiced impartially by those who are committed to the faith.
Politically, the church has a strong non-partisan tradition, and it could become the instrument for the cultural and social unification of thousands of people. It is a church that is conscious of its historic mission, which is to help erode the divisions of class and cultural prejudices in our country. It is the church of the poor and whether it struggles against institutional insensitivities on the social, political or ecumenical plane, the unity of Jamaica demands that we recognize the role it is to play. It is a role to which the message points us ... for behold Brothers and Sisters the Stone which the Builders rejected has become the Head of the Corner. I thank you for the opportunity to share in these celebrations, and my prayer is that God will bless you and provide the courage for carrying out your historic mission.


Bob and Abba

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