As Caribbean countries battle some of their worst economic and social challenges in years, there are increasing calls for divine intervention.

From Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas which between them recorded more than 1,700 murders in 2013; Barbados and Puerto Rico that are grappling with their worst period of economic decline in a quarter of a century; and Haiti, St. Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines the victims of devastating acts of nature the story is the same: loud appeals for prayers and an expanded role for the church.

“Let me be bold enough to suggest that the issues around violence are not peripheral to the Church’s mission, but at the core,” asserted Peter Bunting, Jamaica’s national security minister, who has faced an avalanche of criticism as his country recorded an increase in its already sky high homicide rate.

Murders in Jamaica rose from just under 1,100 in 2012 to 1,200 last year and Bunting sounded a rallying cry for churches across the land to unite behind national efforts to curb crime and violence. Last year, he told an audience at Northern Caribbean University in Manchester that “the best efforts of the security forces by itself will not solve the crime problem in Jamaica, but it is going to take divine intervention, touching the hearts of a wide cross section of the society.” His words immediately triggered strong criticisms from several sections of the public who accused him of surrendering to crime and demoralizing people. For instance, a former national security minister, Derrick Smith called on Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, to relieve Bunting of his post.

But in an address a few days ago to Jamaicans attending the second anniversary service of the Transformed Life Church at the Police Officers Club on Old Hope Road, the Minister urged church leaders to be “street pastors” who must extend a helping hand to marginalized members of society.

“Issues of peace, sanctity of life, reconciliation, love, and respect are central themes of Christianity – all great religions—and these are precisely the values that we need to infuse in our society to reduce anger, hostility and violence,” Bunting told his audience on Sunday.

As he saw it, faith-based institutions must be among the key stakeholders in his government ministry’s “Unite for Change effort” whose key goal is to rekindle hope among law-abiding Jamaicans.

From Puerto Rico and Barbados, both of which were once considered models of economic management and development in the Caribbean but are now reeling under the weight of mountains of debt, widening government deficits and rising joblessness, the appeals for prayers and divine intervention are becoming increasingly loud.

In addition to government employee layoffs, Barbados has seen its once stellar credit rating downgraded to junk bond status and was forced the other day to withdraw more than $250 million in bonds from the financial markets after they didn’t attract sufficient investors.

Tony Best

Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News