Anger at core of crime
Crimes of passion, the effects of tough economic times, suicide and demon-possessed young people are some of the issues confronting Barbados.
But how is the Anglican Church, indeed the religious community, handling them? Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies and Bishop of Barbados Dr John Holder was in New York recently to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
He talked with NATION?North American correspondent Tony Best about the challenges after preaching at a mass in Brooklyn at St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church where Bajan priest Rural Dean Eddie Alleyne is the rector.
Crime and violence are a serious problem in the Caribbean, including Barbados. How are Anglicans dealing with it?
Holder: The young people I see around the altar with me may be talking and giggling, something they shouldn’t do.
But they are in church and invariably they are not the ones who turn up in the courts. I can say this for the Methodists, the Pentecostals and some of the others.
We have a core of young people who are not involved in crime and violence. There are others outside of the church, those with strong parenting, who are not involved. Violence is still a minority act.
Isn’t there a dramatic shift in the way people deal with situations that’s causing much of the crime?
Holder: Yes. In the good old days when violence meant a fight with hands or throwing a big rock at somebody, the two would scuffle, argue and quarrel. We have gone beyond that. Today, they use a gun. When you shoot, there is no coming back.
A lot of the violence involves the gun. Also, the influence of the violence on television makes the taking of a life a normal act. When you watch television and see the guns being used in violence, being glorified and treated as if it was normal life, it impinges on the young minds and they behave in the same way. Invariably they are young men.
How about suicide and young people?
Holder: I think it springs very much from depression and sometimes it has to do with the home environment. Sometimes it can be school as well. I think very often people who are very close to such persons didn’t pick up the signals.
Suicide is seen as the way to end something that may have been going on for a very long time in a person’s life. If you don’t get the signals early and try to deal with them, suicide can be the result.
What about parents and youth violence?
Holder: That’s the problem. In the traditional Barbadian village, for example, there were different layers of discipline – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and shopkeepers. That has disappeared.
There is a growing detachment between young parents, their own families and the wider community.
I don’t think the problem is in the youthful nature of the parents. We have always had people having children at 16, 17 or 18 years old. What served in the past to correct that was the link to the elders. That isn’t as strong now as before.
What we are having now is a case of young people having children and the grandparents are sometimes in their 40s. Grandparents in the 40s want to go to fetes, Rihanna, Buju, whoever, and therefore the solid experience that should be there to help the young parents to grow up as mother or father isn’t there.
There is a disconnect in the family structure in Barbados. There is no substitute for the lack of that wholeness in the family.
Where do the church and school come in?
Holder: We have the persistent belief that the church and the school can put it all right. But the children can be in church for one, two or three hours on a Sunday and they are in school for five hours every day. They spend the rest at home. Sometimes what you try to put right in the church and the school is undone when they get back home.
You must think of the drug culture, the X-rated movies they are seeing, the bad behaviour or the bad examples set by the parents. It’s all there.
Years ago the church reached out to young people through the Church Lads’ Brigade and the Anglican Young People’s Association. What is being done today?
Holder: We still have youth organizations. We have a very strong youth department in our diocese. The Methodists have theirs and so do the Seventh-Day Adventists, as well as the Roman Catholic Church.
But the problem is that most of the young people who get into trouble don’t go to church. The ones who are involved in deviant behaviour don’t go to church.
What we are trying to do now is to reach out to the young people through sport. One parish has a cricket or football competition. Every year we have a five-a-side football competition in the Anglican Church.
One parish puts up a team consisting of boys on the block. That’s an excellent way to reach young men and engage them in wholesome activity. All may not go back to church after the tournament, but some do.
Is there a need to jazz up the Sunday services?
Holder: When I was at Holy Cross [Church in St John], one Sunday a month I used to jazz it. We used the organ, young people sang the songs and so on. I preached by walking up and down the aisle, but without a Bible. That worked.
I don’t think we want to do that every Sunday. We must cater to the rest of the constituency, the ones over 40, 50, 60, whatever. We can have in our services, during the course of any one month, something that caters primarily to young people. Actually, a lot of parishes now do that.
The Minister of Education recently described many Bajan youth as being demon-possessed. How did you react to that?
Holder: Being a theologian, I knew the minister was speaking figuratively and metaphorically. In the religious tradition, demons represent the purpose of evil, which means being inclined to do wrong as opposed to doing right. This is part of human nature.
I saw it as a graphic way of speaking about the challenges young people are creating for the teachers, parents and for the community.