Jamaica Gleaner / This pastor plays the piano. That’s good, but who cares? Hardly anyone, it seems. What people are really talking about is that this pastor is now a lawyer.
Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Omar Oliphant, who is in charge of the Salem Pastoral District of Churches in St Ann, graduated from the Norman Manley Law School last year and was called to the bar in December 2017 – a first for the Adventist Church, the largest denomination in the island.
Since then, some people have expressed concern, saying the two disciplines Oliphant is involved in are conflicting. Some ask, how can a pastor who is doing the work of the Lord become a lawyer when lawyers are popularly regarded as liars, and lawyers sometimes protect people charged with heinous crimes?
But is this just a storm in a teacup, or are the concerns warranted? Family and Religion caught up with Pastor Oliphant at his home in St Ann, and he was only too happy to speak on the matter.
“There are two prisms on either side that one must use to view this: on the legal side, church members must know that there are many branches of law,” Oliphant pointed out. “Many individuals, as soon as they hear law, they still think of it in the restrictive sense of a criminal lawyer. But today, there exists numerous branches and scopes of law – environmental, media, intellectual property, probate, among others.”
“The other prism is on the church side, and the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the single largest denomination in the island – between 270,000 to 300,000 members. That gives a very different background, both by numbers and the institutions the church operates.
“For example, we own the Northern Caribbean University (NCU); we own NCU Media Group, which has the radio and television stations; we also have Andrews Memorial Hospital; we have publishing houses; we have to engage in contractual arrangements with individuals, and being the largest single denomination, we actually do have a lot of property, and we engage in a lot of property matters. So, the very make-up, organisational structure and multidimensional facets of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are key factors one which one must take into account when one considers any merger of this field to ministry.
“So when one looks at the wide array of options within law, and number two, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church being the single largest denomination in the island, and having so many interests in law, then we can have an open, honest and transparent objective conversation on why is it a Seventh-day Adventist pastor would then study law; because against that background, it is something that the church could benefit from if it so desires.”
Oliphant says there are many individuals working within the church who have degrees in other disciplines which aid the church in its mission.
INTERESTED IN ADVOCACY
Asked if there was any possibility of him defending a criminal in a court of law some day, Oliphant said his interest is not in criminal law
“My interest is advocacy; my interest is ensuring that the legal interest of individuals can be upheld, so wherever I am, my voice, my vote, my well-being, my life will be in the interest of justice and on the side of justice and mercy.
“If you’re coming to the conversation with the viewpoint that individuals who study law are automatically liars, and if you’re coming with the viewpoint that, number two, law has no place in the church, then I can understand why your criticism would be so aligned.
“What I am saying is, in view of where our church is, in view of the legal interest and responsibility that we have, it may be very helpful to the church to have somebody within it that can help it at the decision-making table.”
‘It wasn’t easy, but God opens doors’ Oliphant has received the blessing of his church. In fact, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has an office known as Office of the Legal Counsel and also has a branch known as Adventist Risk Management, both of which go in support of the church being receptive to law within its ministry.
“So I am one thousand per cent clear in my mind, that whereas this is breaking new ground, entering a brand-new frontier, this is not something being done on the wrong side of history. I think time will show that this was something orchestrated by God and will be of tremendous benefit to the church.”
Oliphant will continue to serve his church as pastor, he says. Currently, he is also the youth and communications director for the North Jamaica Conference, which includes St Ann and Trelawny.
He has been integrally involved with the Adventist Church from early – attending West Indies College High School in Mandeville, and later, the Northern Caribbean University, from where he graduated in 2006.
To arrive at this point hasn’t been easy for Oliphant. But he has been brilliant. He has worked hard and has been rewarded. He started the three-year programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 2013 and finished in two years, with honours, even though he had to travel from St Ann for classes, at a time when there was no highway. He had to get up at three in the morning in order to beat rush-hour traffic to reach class on time.
It was a stressful journey, he admitted, living and working in St Ann, with a family, and having to deal with school matters.
“It was very difficult – mentally, psychologically, financially, emotionally. There were days, literally, when I had to pull off the road to get sleep to get back and move on to ensure that my health was in check. And going to school on a pastor’s salary wasn’t easy, but God opens doors. I am amazed at what God was able to do, and how He was able to put the pieces together. I am attributing this to nobody but God.”
And with all that’s happening around him, Oliphant still finds time to offer service to the community. He is a volunteer chaplain for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, a justice of the peace, and chairman of the board at Brown’s Town High School in St Ann.