Adventist Pastor in Jamaica Reprimanded for Endorsing Prime Minister for Re-election
February 2, 2016: Dr. Michael Harvey, senior pastor of the campus church and vice president for spiritual activities at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), was the devotional speaker for a political party convention yesterday and urged support for the country’s prime minister. Today, Pastor Everett Brown, president of the denomination in Jamaica, told the media that Harvey violated the policy of the Adventist Church to stay out of partisan politics. The story was reported in both of the nation’s major newspapers, the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Observer.
Portia Simpson Miller, the prime minister, announced the date of the next election at a mass meeting of the People’s National Party (PNP) on Monday (February 1) in Half-Way Tree, Saint Andrew Parish. As is typical in a parliamentary system, this also launched her re-election effort. Harvey was invited to lead the invocation for the meeting and share a devotional.
“Our country and the party need a great leader to lead us through tough times,” Harvey is quoted by the Observer as saying about Simpson Miller in his remarks. He described her “as one who is in touch with God,” the newspaper said. “Someone who is socially aware, one who has a genuine love and can empathize with the people.”
“It is time to rise up and be counted,” Harvey urged the party members. “Rally to the cause. Because if it is a mountain we can climb it, if it’s a race we can win it.” He told the crowd “that they had a duty to ensure the PNP [was] returned to power,” according to the Gleaner.
“The stance taken by [Harvey] is a misrepresentation of our global church policy,” Brown said in a statement to the media. “As a worker of the church he should not be involved in partisan political activities to the extent that his comments may influence the actions of any of our members or give the public any impression that the church is aligned with any of our political parties.” He also noted that denominational employees “including those at NCU and every Adventist-owned institution do not support any political party.”
Asked about a provision in the country’s constitution that guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion or political opinion, Brown said that Harvey went overboard. “He is free to associate. He is free to go there. We have members on either side of the fence and on no side of the fence … but when you are a pastor in the church, you should not use your position … to carry a partisan political position. If you want to do that, you should relinquish your leadership position in the church.”
Brown told journalists that he had talked with Harvey about the situation. “When he speaks in public, he should refrain from taking positions that could compromise the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Two weeks ago Brown had issued a reminder of the denomination’s policy against supporting any political party or candidate. “It is the right of our members as citizens to exercise their franchise and vote for the candidates of their choice,” Brown said. “But the church will not publicly or privately endorse any political party or support partisan political activities.”
NCU also issued a statement today: “While individual members of the university community are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, the institution remains neutral on all candidates for office and all university property remains a neutral space when it comes to elections.”
Harvey told the Gleaner that “my philosophy is that [Adventists] cannot stand idly by and allow things to happen. We must get involved to make the change and be the change we want to see.”
The Adventist faith is the largest Protestant denomination in Jamaica. Adventist clergy are often invited to speak or have prayer at official events. A number of Adventists serve in the national parliament. The head of state, Sir Patrick Allen who represents Queen Elizabeth II in the island nation, is an Adventist clergyman. He resigned his job as president of the Jamaica Union Conference when he was appointed by the Queen.