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Division President to Jamaica: Adventists Oppose Legislating Morals

Recently Jamaica has been engulfed in a controversy over the resumption of horse racing—and concomitantly, gambling—on Sundays. Last month the Jamaica Council of Churches asked the Government to halt the practice. This weekend, Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists caused a social stir by opposing the mainstream Christian community’s call. Jamaica’s major paper, The Gleaner, reported that “Pastor Israel Leito declared yesterday that his church does not believe in legislating its morals on people.” According to the report, Leito said that Christians should not “impose our morals and standards by legislating these on the community.” 

Leito, speaking at the 50th anniversary of the relocation of the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Montego Bay, St James, yesterday said Seventh-day adventists have shown, through their church, that they are people “loving our neigbours” and abiding by the laws of the land. . . .

Leito said: “We believe in telling people about the love of Jesus Christ and once this is done all vices are abandoned. This is why we don’t agitate against these things, we preach the love of Jesus to the hearts.”

A quick look at the actual racing schedule for the track in question (see image) shows that most of the races happen on Saturday. In fact, the 2012 calendar appears to list only four races on Sunday, but one on every single Saturday. In addition, currently the Caymanas track calendar includes Good Friday and Easter Monday on its list of public holidays. If any church should feel threatened by this, it should be Adventists. But clearly Adventist leaders are taking a principled stand on the separation of church and state.

And it’s not becauase they lack the power to change things. While Seventh-day Adventists around the world are used to these Sunday-Saturday recreational imbalances due to our minority religion status, in Jamaica, the opposite is true. Various surveys list the Adventist Church as one of the largest and most influential denominations in the country. The Government itself is increasingly dominated by Adventists. Currently both the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, Ph.D. (Andrews University), and the head of the formal political opposition, Andrew Holness, a former Prime Minister, are Seventh-day Adventists. 

Judging by the comments on the article and an op-ed piece in The Gleaner, the separation of church and state is central to many current controversies on the island nation. For instance, many human rights groups call the country the most homophobic place on earth. It will be interesting to see if Seventh-day Adventists in Jamaica, and church leaders in America, follow the logic of our oppositition to “imposing our morals and standards” by “legislating” to issues beyond the race track.

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