Ripe for conversation

Dear Editor,

  Given our location, shared culture, history, and blood ties, St. Maarten like other Caribbean territories was deeply disturbed by the sad and traumatic incident that took place in Jamaica – what the news termed as “a cult religious leader involved in ritualistic murder of parishioners.” History has shown us that these sad realities are all part of our lived experience; therefore, it is my firm belief that as a growing community the time is right and ripe to have serious ongoing conversations and dialogues about faith-based organizations, their doctrines and leadership models.

  If truth be told, faith-based organizations are creeping up in every “nook and cranny” on St. Maarten. Questions must be raised about motivation; for example – is it a case where “many hands make light work” or are they just income-generating streams and schemes for individuals and their families? While we would all concur that the times in which we live call for spiritual and mental resilience, it is, however, incumbent on members of all organizations to ensure that the organizations to which we belong have consistent critical conversations and dialogues about the following questions (not limited to):

  - Organizational leadership – are they grounded in concrete genuine work, vocation, and ongoing academic and spiritual formation?

  - Ministry endeavors and ventures – are they solely for personal gain (extravagant lifestyles)? Are you engendering a culture of stewardship, dignity and respect for all resources of God (human and material)? We must embrace and appreciate the God-given gifts of integrous financial experts, and value and practice the virtues of accountability and transparency.

  - Leadership models, are they inclusive and guided by servant/leadership principles? Are they despotic or unilateral? Are members of your faith communities free to be critical in constructive ways about leadership qualities and behaviors? Are there systems of oversight to manage areas of accountability, integrity, and professionality? Our leaders, regardless of their religious or ecclesiastical authority, are only human. No leader knows it all and there is no such thing as human perfection. Members of faith communities must be fully cognizant that leaders did not descend from heaven or utopia and are subject to sicknesses, temptations, weaknesses, and corruption.

  - Are members free to imbibe different kinds of materials of their choosing that would lead to robust faith and spirituality? No single human being or religious organization has the whole truth in their literature or body of work. On that note avoid self-limitations when it comes to knowledge and enlightenment. Reading more, expands your thinking and fosters critical thinking and reflection skills.

  - Is attention given or are members learning to recognize manipulative gestures, spiritual abuse, and forms of psychological, spiritual, and physical controls of your personhood and/or your resources (if they do exist)? Leaders cannot and should not think for you. Their role is to raise your level of thinking, your faith and spiritual awareness.

  - Is your organization open for dialogue with government with regard to religious regulations (guided by human rights laws as it relates to religion)?

  The times in which we live dictate that religious conversations and dialogues are important for the health of our country. It is my hope that faith-based organizations will implement preventative and proactive measures to prevent sad and horrific incidents from occurring in St. Maarten. Healthy spirituality and wholesome values should always be our ambition in our role and contribution towards development.

Dennis Baptiste