Friday, June 16, 2017

A Church Robbery

Like most Trinbagonians I was shocked and appalled this week when I heard that Father Clyde Harvey was tied up and robbed at his church in Belmont.  Of course stories about priests being ‘rubbed in church’ are not new. But those rubbings usually just involve stolen childhoods and priests getting away unharmed. This was different. It made the whole nation pause and wonder aloud: "If God could allow a man who doesn’t drink, have premarital sex or spend all his money playing the fruit machines in rum shops, to get robbed; what horrors is he going to let happen to me?"

When the news of the robbery broke, the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release condemning the attack. "Notwithstanding what difficulties one may be facing in life there are limits which beneath the human form should not sink," said the Prime Minister. Human forms that commit crimes against the English language are still ok though. Opposition leader Kamla Persad –Bissessar also condemned the robbery saying, "It just shows the state of lawlessness in this country."  Evidently, we have reached a new state where bandits shockingly don’t care about the people they rob. Not like in the old days, where a criminal still had the ‘brought-up-cy’ to tell you, "Good morning Uncle," before adding, "Give me all your money or I ‘ll  %$@# shoot you!" But still had the decency to make sure it was just a flesh wound, adding, "Reach home safe Uncle, don’t bleed too much."

Perhaps the strangest response to Father Harvey’s unfortunate incident came from the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church. SDA Communications Director Pastor Steve Riley said  that this wasn’t simply a robbery but a “direct assault on God himself”. But if that’s true it’s a huge indictment on God that he can’t apprehend some kids with a gun. One would assume God would at least be better at stopping crime than the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. This writer is not saying that he would be able to beat up gun wielding bandits, but if he had the power to control the heavens and the earth he certainly wouldn't allow someone to just rob him without at least sending some locusts after them. Though it is said that God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps in allowing Father Harvey to be the victim of bandits God was trying to send us a message; that possibly we need actual measures and policies to stop crime, and not simply holding national days of prayer.  Or maybe just to play 5, Parson Man, in Play Whe. Which is what this writer did.

The most fascinating aspect though, about the outpouring of sympathy from the public or politicians towards Father Harvey, is how little regard the public or politicians have for the ideas Father Harvey believes in.  For example, though Catholicism admonishes homosexuality as a sin, Father Harvey has urged tolerance towards the LGBT community. Last year he stated that "We cannot hide our heads in the sand when it comes to the LGBT community. It is part of the society in which we live". Father Harvey has also spoken out against the death penalty. He has also said, "I believe that the Government of this country must be secular. They must inspire and represent those who believe in different beliefs and those who choose not to believe". In other words, Father Harvey is the kind of man Trinbagonians don’t like to see get robbed; but is the kind of man they would like to see shut the hell up.

A quick look at countries with low levels of violent crime, like those in Scandinavia, Western Europe and North America reveals some startling common threads. These countries have progressive, compassionate attitudes towards homosexuality and women’s rights. High literacy rates. Strong secular public institutions and have abolished the death penalty. Even in the United States, crime rates are falling along with a decrease in prisoner executions.  I have no data on this but I’m sure they also don’t have governments who funnel money to gangs via CEPEP and URP projects.

Father Harvey for his part has forgiven his assailants with the view that they may be victims themselves. That’s the kind of behavior we may expect from a priest; but it's also one from someone who is able to see the crimes most of us refuse to look at. 

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