Why the Winds have not swept clean

As lamented by George Beckford in his book Persistent Poverty – Underdevelopment in the Third World (1972) “since World War 11, numerous countries have achieved constitutional status. Winds of change were said to have swept through the Third World. On closer examination one sees that though the winds may have swept, they have not swept clean.” (p.4)

The analogy of winds blowing through the Caribbean to represent the pursuit of change and development initiatives itself has persisted. Only on Sunday July 2, 2005 at the opening ceremony of the 26th. Regular meeting of the Heads of CARICOM, the incoming Chairman made the observations that there is a fresh breeze arising; there is a climate of renewal and economic energy, and we must confidently manage the winds that fill our sails. This recent optimism in the Caribbean emanate from the successful establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice CCJ), and from the strides being made towards the establishment of a single economic space (the CARICOM Single Market & Economy – CSME). The establishment of the CCJ was described at the ceremony as a critical step in the accomplishment of a facet of Caribbean development and the institutionalization of the CSME.

Indeed the winds are blowing. Change is taking place to the extent that the time has come to begin to revisit the thinking on Caribbean Underdevelopment and to examine to what extent the Caribbean is still characterized as a ‘plantation economy.’ But the process of Caribbean development is far from complete. Admittedly Beckford spoke of constitutional change but it was precisely because he was aware of the pervasiveness of underdevelopment that he noted the winds had not swept clean.

I want to call attention to one bastion of imperialism that has evaded the winds and which continues to determine the pace at which Caribbean underdevelopment would be fully dismantled. Religious denominations of foreign origin continue to oppress Caribbean peoples and urgent attention must be paid to that fact. It is the thesis of this article that because there is a direct connection between imperialism and Caribbean Underdevelopment, we must examine why the winds have not swept clean in the context of religion. The Encarta encyclopedia defines Imperialism as “practice by which powerful nations or people seek to extend and maintain control and influence over weaker nations or people.”

Religious Imperialism persists in the Caribbean in the following ways and for the following reasons:

The Scare of Imputing Motives:

It is difficult for people to concede much less face the thought that religion can serve as a vehicle for imperialism, or that there could be a relationship between the two. Religion and imperialism seem too contra-distinct for anyone to think that the two are ‘bedfellows.’ And to say that that there are certain imperialists in the church is to impute motives, which is something religion disdains. This state of denial is heightened when one hears the hardships endured by missionaries and pioneers in bringing the message to the Caribbean and to other lands.

Rooted in organizational structures:

Secondly, Religious imperialism persists in the Caribbean because the missionaries did exactly as was done by the winning nations of the two world wars: they pitched their ‘flags’ to show their claims to ownership. The ‘flag’ of religious imperialism is the spoils represented by the hierarchical structures they have constructed that interlock congregations in the Caribbean to a head office in the metropole. Church organization has gradually replaced the plantation as the agent of control. Except for the Baptists, the religious congregations in Saint Lucia are answerable to a Head Office in the metropole.

Religion in the Caribbean is itself synonymous with a set of organizational structures that position ‘leaders’ where they can dictate what happens on the ground from an office abroad. They do not present the ‘Gospel’ and allow it to empower the people as it should do. Instead, they registered those denominations as organizations (as corporations) in parliaments of the Caribbean, leaving the political leaders unaware of what they have done. Members of the congregations are ‘members’ by profession of faith alone, but they have no power or stake in those structures.

The documents showing that these denominations have been registered by acts of parliament and are incorporated can be found at the National Printing Corporation (formerly the Government Printery) in Saint Lucia and from counterpart organizations in the other territories.

Organizations are powerful forces; they have the capacity to wield control over what happens internally. And having been registered in the parliaments, the seat of power and control, they are in fact extensions of the machinery of the state, and enjoy the backing of the law. As a result it denies the majority of people a real stake in the decision-making process, and the members are powerless in making meaningful policy changes by the usual means.

That is exactly the reason George Beckford noted in the same discourse that it is “to this extent, development can hardly be expected to occur without a change in the institutional environment."

Doctrines and the Bible:

Thirdly, religious imperialism has persisted in the Caribbean because the systems and structures that maintain control from abroad are justified by the use of the Bible. Justifications that are so carefully crafted in suggesting that the church is an organization, and that the pastor is ‘the Lord’s anointed’, and that church organization is divinely ordained all fit together as a whole system of thought that are difficult to refute. Members are taught that because church organization is divinely ordained, the average member must not treat the organization of the church as an entity that can be disregarded at will. They are taught that to achieve ‘decency and order’, as enjoined by the Apostle Paul, there must be a social and clerical system that regulates the relationship between a local church and a higher organization (implied to be an entity in the metropole). The danger is in the fact that seldom do the members question how ‘order’ in the spiritual context implies a hierarchical structure under the command of a human system. Indeed, imperialism is inherent in such a notion of decency.

In that environment self reliance and autonomy are condemned. The religious imperialists condemn the concept of ‘congregationalism’ as opposed to the gospel going into the entire world.

Do you think Caribbean people are happy about the manner in which large sums of money are extracted from them and repatriated in the name of religion? They are not. They have no choice given the manner in which structures have been put in place to securely collect, and transfer those funds. But this is all part of a web of doctrine that is crafted on a version of ‘faith’ that leaves people unwilling to think for themselves. And they are presented as having support from prophets and prophetesses whose writings are said to be ‘the spirit of prophecy.’

Excluded from the policy process:

Finally, religious imperialism has persisted in the Caribbean because religion in the Caribbean has replicated the colonial policy process. The people are not allowed to make meaningful contributions to the policy making process. They are told that provision is made for them to participate but the reality disputes this. The policies are imposed and are equated with scripture and questions are not answered in any meaningful way. The culture of the metropole is imposed as the acceptable way. Religion is made very impersonal to allow for centralization of power and authority. As a result, people develop a sense of loss; a sense that they cannot make a difference and they give up. In this climate of surrender, religious imperialism is having its heyday. The result is that people are suffering from the colonial condition in a religious setting. What a dilemma. You become part of the crowd but you are lost in it.

By: Claudius ‘peto’ Francis