"Distinct but Inseparable": Church and State in the Writings of Michael Manley

By Perkins, Anna Kasafi | Caribbean Quarterly, September 2010 | Go to article overview

"Distinct but Inseparable": Church and State in the Writings of Michael Manley


Perkins, Anna Kasafi, Caribbean Quarterly


The question of how the Church and the State should relate to each other continues to be an important and enduring one and is answered in a variety of ways. Devon Dick, a Baptist Pastor, identifies five current views on the question in the Jamaican context. Among these views is a fairly sectarian perspective, which holds that the Church and State should be separate because they have two different agendas, and like oil and water, they cannot mix. This sectarian approach concludes therefore that the Church should not get involved in the affairs of the State nor be beneficiaries of the State apparatus. In contrast, Rev. Dick's preferred view is that the Church should be in solidarity with the nation and, therefore, must be involved with the State by working to transform the nation without "being conformed to the world." Dick speaks from the "Church side" of the equation, and reading his analysis led me to wonder how someone from on the "State side" might answer the same question. It is with this in mind that I intend to explore briefly the arguments on the Church- State question of a Statesman who was particularly influential in the development of the Jamaican nation, our former Prime Minister Michael Manley.

I base my analysis on two of Manley' s writings - first, The Politics of Change, which was published in 1 973 . It is essentially a manifesto of his political views, intentions and motives. Of particular interest for this presentation is his discussion of the institutions of democracy, which he saw making an important contribution to the social reconstruction that he envisioned for the Jamaican nation. He named the Church prominently as one of these nine institutions of democracy with a crucial role to play both in accelerating and mobilising for change through working in concert with the government. (Other institutions, which Manley saw as playing a crucial role in his strategy for change, included the political parties, trade unions, teachers, women, youth, and minorities).

My second source is a speech entitled "From the Shackles of Domination and Oppression " that he gave at the Fifth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975. On that occasion he spoke to an international audience of pastors and theologians pointedly and at length about Church and State being commanded by "the common morality", to which both are subject, to support each other as "the body" and "the soul" in the process of human liberation. He called for a close collaboration between them while respecting the distinctive spheres to which each belong, and it is in this light that he describes them as "distinct but inseparable elements of the total human experience" ? and hence the title of this essay.

Throughout his arguments Manley continually referred to Church leaders as "clergymen" or "men of God" in a way that would make many of us uncomfortable today but which reflected the masculine nature of Church leadership in most Christian denominations at the time he was writing. He was not unconcerned by the absence of women from leadership within the Church, and at Nairobi spoke out directly against the continued exclusion of women from God's ministry in so many churches of the Christian world, which won him a standing ovation from the women in the audience.

I will now briefly outline his argument and comment on some aspects of it in light of current scholarship. To begin, however, it is important to recognise that Manley' s ideas did not originate in a vacuum but were shaped against a background in which the Church, whether broadly understood as Christians in general, local congregations or Church leaders, had been continually and actively involved in the development of Jamaican life. As Manley himself often noted, Christian values are particularly strong in Jamaica and most people are raised in what he calls "a strong God-fearing tradition." He highlighted the work of the Native Baptist Church with its long tradition of social activism beginning with efforts for land reform immediately after Emancipation, and individual religious leaders like Baptist Deacon Samuel Sharpe who led revolts for freedom during the time of enslavement usually at the cost of their own lives. …

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