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Do You Have to Be Christian to Be Jamaican?

Crucifix at Discovery Bay, Jamaica; photo by Nick|Allen, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Crucifix at Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Photo by Nick|Allen, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Damion Crawford, a member of parliament in Jamaica who is also the minister of state in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, has drawn criticism for statements he made at an independence gala hosted by the Jamaican Canadian Association lamenting the island nation's lack of religiousness.

According to reports from Pride, an Afro-Canadian/Caribbean magazine, Crawford stated that his “greatest concern is that Jamaica is losing its fear of God.” Crawford went on to say that “the country has moved too far from God, and has ceased pleasing God.”

His remarks didn't go over well with some on Twitter, which prompted Crawford to defiantly reaffirm his position via a series of tweets:

Author Kei Miller found it odd that Crawford would make such strong claims about Jamaica being Christian given the way it was forced upon the island's inhabitants in colonial times. Miller also criticized Crawford for having a narrow view of what it means to be Jamaican:

What’s problematic is not your ideas of what Jamaica is, but your insistence on what Jamaica is NOT. I have no problem with you telling the world that Jamaica is a Christian country, because it certainly is. More specifically, Jamaica is a Pentecostal country. And in some parts it is an Anglican country. In other parts still, it is a Baptist country, and an SDA country, and in other parts a Revival country. Jamaica is also a Rastafari country and a Muslim country and an Obeah country. Jamaica is a black country, but also a white country and a Chinese country and a mixed race country. It is a straight country, and in some corners and gullies it is a gay country. Jamaica is spiritual and it is also secular; it is a believing country and in some parts, it is an unbelieving country. And Jamaica manages to be all these things simultaneously. Some parts don’t agree with other parts, but that is alright. That’s how culture happens. No part should ever monopolize the whole.

Crawford responded to Miller on his Facebook page, drawing a comparison between the United States and Jamaica. He adapted the Webster's Dictionary definition for “un-American” for the term “un-Jamaican” — “not agreeing with the Jamaican values, principles nor traditions”, to which Kei Miller responded in this blog post, which he published yesterday. Crawford also argued that the essential qualities of a country are to be found in its majority culture:

I find it ludicrous to argue that a country is everything that exist[s] in that country. Jamaica is a Christian country full stop. We have Rastafarians, Jews, Muslims etc, but the accepted norm is Christianity.

Crawford's position drew great criticism on Twitter: 

Blogger Emma Lewis believed that it was inappropriate for a government minister to determine who is authentically Jamaican on the basis of their religion or lack thereof:

Some people believe in God. Others don’t. Some believe in lots of gods; others in no god at all. Many others do not know what they believe in; some are still trying to figure it out; and others simply do not care. And all of that is fine.

I do believe in freedom of religion, and I respect others’ beliefs, always. What I object to is for an entire nation (Jamaica) to be told (on Twitter) by a Government Minister that if they do not ‘fear’ God (is he that frightening?) they are actually not legitimate citizens of that nation. And in the most arrogant, careless and even offensive tone, too.

As Kei Miller summarised in his initial post:

In geographic terms, we are a small island, but our culture is a wide, wide space that can accommodate much more than you seem to think. It is my job as a writer to think through and write through that complexity. All of it! It is your job as an MP to represent your nation. All of us!

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