Apparently gas station owners are happy to keep the Sunday Trading law as it is, whilst other merchants are chomping at the bit to have it rescinded, or so one is led to believe by recent chatter on the airwaves and “marl road”. If it were simply a matter of dollars and cents, I would be on the side of the grocers and supermarket owners, considering the disparity in mark-up between the grocers and the gas stations.
But, as must be clear to all, it is not simply a matter of dollars and cents; there are all sorts of values and opinions that impinge on this long-fermenting subject. There are religious, economic and social values that quickly come to the surface of this vessel. (Since readers will have already noted this writer’s profession from the end of this essay, let me hasten to beg you to withhold judgment until I have laid out my case.) My primary concern is not with the religious or economic issues; I am rather more concerned with the impact a relaxed or rescinded Sunday Trading law will have on the family.
One would have to be a recently landed intergalactic alien to not realize that the local family is in deep trouble. Clearly the utopian dream of my parents’ generation to make life better for us has not played out the way they hoped, nor has my generation managed to make life truly better for our children and (now) grandchildren. I’m of the post-war generation—“Baby Boomers”—the fifty- and sixty-“somethings” who lived through the greatest changes these Cayman Islands ever saw. Many of us know first-hand the meaning of the word “poor”: we know something of going barefoot of necessity, wearing hand-me-downs and patched clothes, having a caboose rather than even a lowly kerosene stove (oh the joy of our parent’s first one), playing in the streets without fear of being run over by a car, apples once a year (at Christmas) and making our own toys (though we ever dreamed of the pretty ones in the National Bellas Hess or Sears Roebuck catalogues). But we are also the ones that saw the first “asphalt road” connect our districts, and exchanged kerosene lamps for single electric bulbs in our teenage years. We are the ones whose fathers ended the generations-long tradition (necessity might be a better word) of going to sea for a livelihood. We saw the island “that time forgot” become a major financial centre, and are the witnesses of the ubiquitous mosquito being replaced by the ubiquitous cruise-ship tourists (one will not venture to make too close a comparison as to their impact on the quality of life for fear of reprisal).
Now, for all of those “worst of times and best of times” we had the Sunday Trading law in place, and despite the desire of the local grocer to make a profit, one went with fear and trembling—and only in real emergencies—to beg them to open up on a Sunday at the request of one’s mother. (On further reflection, it appears that those men of blessed memory were not quite so smitten with greed as their modern counterparts, since they also closed their shops every afternoon for what seemed to my boyish mind an immoral length of time.) That is just the way it was, which, of course, is never a justifiable reason for maintaining the status quo. But socially, economically and religiously we prospered. I dare anyone to combine those same three today and arrive at the same conclusion. Today we have more people, more money, and more churches than one can count, yet can one honestly say that we are prospering?
“So, what is your point, Parson?” you will ask in frustration?
My apologies; long-windedness lends itself easily to men with clerical collars. My point is this (or should I say these?): I am not a Sabbatarian, neither a Seventh-day nor a First-day one. (I’ll probably never hear the end of this.) I find no biblical grounds for believing or practicing a literal (note carefully the word literal) Sabbath adherence on the basis of New Testament teaching. Let me hasten to add, however, that clearly there is a valid spiritual application as well as the evident health benefits of a period of rest. Further, one will find solid biblical grounds for pointing out that the Sabbath principle touches on issues of faith or trust in God as one’s provider (rather than one’s job or employer). These latter observations granted, however, does not mean that the only reason that we should reserve the “right” to rest on one day of the week is a religious one. There are clear arguments for closing shops on Sundays (while upholding our orthodox Christian heritage) because of its value on the life of the family, which is already under tremendous strain.
Allow me to quote from the Daily Mail (UK) in a recent article on “The Spoilt Generation” (see Cayman News Service article in full), in which Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University stated that long working hours “had taken a terrible toll on families.”
“As a result parents cannot invest the time in their kids that they should. We have been more concerned with becoming an affluent, successful country at the expense of investing in our family and our children.” Like mother, like child. Our mother country did away with the strict Sunday trading law in 1986, amending it again in 1994, but I seriously doubt that any honest soul will credit those acts with improving the social life of the U.K. At least Professor Cooper won’t.
In conclusion then, I would strongly suggest that before we jump on to the band wagon of our liberal competitors, we carefully consider how this single act will make the quality of life better for “the average Caymanian” (to use a much-worn phrase). And, if it will only add some little profit to a few merchants, whilst simultaneously further degrading the quality of family life, why in God’s name should we do it?