For the first time since the dreadlock controversy in Antigua and Barbuda, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has responded in a strongly worded letter to the media.
The church and a school that its governments; The New Bethel Academy, found themselves in hot water after it prevented a female child from admission because of her dreadlocked hairstyle
The child’s mother Jordan Mason told reporters when she enrolled her daughter, she had no information that such a policy existed.
But the President of the South Leeward Conference of Seventh Day Adventists Pastor Carson Greene said the issue had been resolved amicably and both the parents and school are reasonably satisfied with the outcome.
“The New Bethel Academy, like all our schools, sees every child as one who is loved by God and as such, desires the best for that person. We do so with the understanding that parents are aware that the institution is a Seventh-day Adventist Christian school and is governed by Christian values as articulated in its student handbook,” Green said.
This incident has led to various pronouncements from various sectors of society inclusive of the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Rastafarian Community.
The government threatened to change legislation to prevent denominational schools from preventing students with dreadlocks from enrolling at schools.
But Green said these pronouncements are laced with charges of discrimination and even the threat of legislation, to force private institutions to comply with the wishes of public policy.
“I posit that the charge of discrimination is most unfortunate and ill-conceived. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has long been an advocate of religious liberty. I dare say that there has not been a stronger advocate and there is unarguably no other religious denomination within the Christian faith that advocates more profoundly for religious freedom than the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are at the forefront of the International Religious Liberty Association,” Green wrote
Furthermore, he said as a faith-based community, they believe in giving honor and recognition to the government.
“We are a law-abiding people. We however strongly disagree that Government should seek to dictate our standards. We therefore strongly condemn the various statements and views such as an attempt for secular authority to control or unduly influence the Christian Community on its values and principles. The lines between church and state should forever remain clear and while we have the utmost respect for government, we remain a Christian institution,” he added.
Green said the church is aware that many have varying opinions regarding disallowing certain hairstyles in school but the hairstyle is not and never has been a matter of right or wrong, sin or salvation.
“It is a matter of discipline. It is for this very reason that there is an age of consent concerning sexual relations. Children do not have the right to do everything that adults do, and uniforms and standards in school are designed to assist with the process of developing discipline. It is for this reason why our handbook addresses matters of discipline in several areas and not just hairstyles,” Green added.
Green said it should not be strange to think that a private institution has standards involving hairstyles that are contrary to another religious group.
The reality according to Greens, is that the Seventh-day Adventist school is not the only institution that enforces such a rule.
“There are public institutions, such as the police department, that have strict guidelines and policies regarding deportment and hairstyles. Moreover, what is being requested of us to do is what we would never request of another religious organization to do for us. The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates the largest network of academic institutions in protestant Christianity. We have over 7,500 schools in nearly 150 countries worldwide. We take seriously the business of molding young minds for this life and the life hereafter,” Green said.
He said the school is a Christian institution and while it advocates for freedom of religion, it is important to understand that freedom is never without limits.
“It would be unthinkable for one religious body to attend another religious institution and demand that they change their standards to accommodate them. Yet, this is what is being promoted by the various pronouncements. Religious freedom must be reciprocated equally. We support the Rastafarians and any other group in their quest for religious freedom and equity but not at the risk of giving up our own,” Green said.
He ended the long-worded document by saying respecting one’s religious rights does not mean accepting them.
“As Seventh-day Adventists, we maintain that our policies are justifiable and biblically sound. We continue to believe that there is a place in our society for discipline and warn that if the nation continues on the path of changing or lowering its standards to accommodate the popular, we will soon have grave effects on our society. I strongly recommend that we have conversations and tolerance rather than accusations and indifference towards those who hold views that are different from ours.,” he added.