“Listen to the voice of the people, for many times the voice of the people is the voice of God!” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
“The King is dead, long live the King”
This traditional proclamation, made following the accession of a new monarch, is apt for our recent General Elections for it signifies the continuity of government. The stability of governance has been a hallmark of our mature democracy and we expect Prime Minister Thompson and his new government, holding to the moral high ground, to now get on with the people’s business.
However to bring closure to the elections there are a few matters germane to our democracy that need to be addressed. One is the matter of the church and politics.
On 3 January 2007, I preached on the epiphanies in our political history.
This sermon followed the previous weeks address which spoke to the excellent points made in the Anglican newspaper by retired Bishop Wilfred Wood on the church and politics. His is a must read for progressive Christians. My sermon highlighted the epiphanies in our political landscape which brought about social and political change in Barbados. In it I noted that a “new wind” seemed to be blowing across Barbados. That wind, I suggested, was being driven by three factors:
- the worsening social reality which included increasing poverty, the high cost of living, deteriorating services including poor medical care, community disintegration, perceived rampant corruption, and a general disconnect between the leaders and citizens of this nation;
- a stance in favour of democracy which, echoing the comments made by the Rev. Lucille Baird in her must read article, was diametrically opposed “to any government being given a fourth term of office”;
- and the need for a new beginning in the politics of Barbados which does not rely on politicians or political parties but on each and every citizen acting to ensure the continued freedom and prosperity for this country by electing a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
For this I was admonished but I stood my ground.
Winston Churchill one wrote, “the truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it. Ignorance may deride it. But in the end, there it is.” While the affirmations for my sermon were reassuring, the nature of some of those dissenting was nonetheless disturbing.
I was not worried about the complaints to the Rector of Christ Church.
I had confidence in his understanding of his parish. I was not particularly troubled by the calls to the Bishop. That was their right but more importantly I trust in his judgment. Nor was I overly concerned by the calls to the Christ Church campaign headquarters of their political party which in turn had the audacity to call me in an attempt to direct my preaching. While misguided, that too was their right.
What caused outrage was the involvement of the media in this matter.
Under the heading “Pulpit is not the place” an editorial on 13 January 2008 argued that “secular societies such as Barbados permit any number of religions to practice their faith. They also hold fast to the custom of not allowing undue intrusion of religion into politics… (emphasis mine)”
If ever there was appropriateness to the caution against judging others as told in Matthew 7:1-6, it is in this situation. The Bible tells us “Judge not, that ye be not judged….Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Before any media house in Barbados seeks to stand in judgement of a minister of religion or the church or any other stakeholders in this society on matters of political partisanship they need to collectively do some serious soul searching.
In this General Election the media in general failed in its responsibility to the public to be informative and impartial.
While the spin-off action of the public’s use of the internet to air concerns was a positive outcome, never again should our democracy be manipulated or put at risk through any part of the media appearing to tow a party line. Nor is the appeal to the real or perceived power of any political party an excuse. This situation was as dangerous to our democracy as was the allegations of vote buying. I hope that measures are put in place to ensure that neither happens again.
Even more disturbing than this seeming media bias however, is the perception by any Estate, whether it is the government, legislature or media, that they have the right or authority to determine what is the role and responsibility of any religious group in this society. Permission to preach the Gospel remains the sole purview of Christ and His Church.
I accept that churches have to take some responsibility for this misguided notion taking root. In neither emphasising nor demonstrating their role in the social, economic and political life of Barbados, some have come to presume that the church’s role is essentially liturgical. Church has failed to reinforce the fact that worship is but half the purpose of the church; the other half is mission, in its broadest sense.
George Washington wrote, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. Do not ever let anyone claim to be a true patriot if they ever attempt to separate religion from politics.” This sentiment is captured in our National Anthem which gloriously states, “The Lord has been our people’s guide for the past three hundred years, with Him still on our people’s side we have no doubts or fears.”
Church must never remove itself from the political life of the society it serves.
I would further suggest that the socio-political dimension of the Bible is at least half of the biblical witness. The Exodus from Egypt is not just a story of Moses bringing religious liberation but also freedom from an oppressive economic system and from political domination. Similarly, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ contains a political dimension. As revealed in His quote from Isaiah, the Good News of our Lord is to offer hope to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. St Paul in Romans 13:1-7 also reminds us that the institution of civil government was ordained by God, and the leaders of our land are God’s ministers for good. This is an underemphasised message in church.
While contemporary Christianity has largely been hushed on matters of government this does not reflect its historical reality.
Throughout history, Christians have been involved in matters of government: think of St Joan of Arc, William Wilberforce and the Abolitionists, Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar Romero, Sehon Goodridge and other liberation theologians, and more recently Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. These outstanding sons and daughters of Christ recognised that their Christian mission while focused on eternal salvation could not be divorced from the earthly imperative to confront oppression and injustice.
This point was made recently by Bishop Wilfred Wood who suggests that, “As Christians, we hold that the primary duty of Government is to make it as easy as possible for men and women to live as God intends, so we must therefore seek to reassure ourselves that the persons we choose to be our representatives in the making of the laws and decisions which we must all respect, are of the same mind. Indeed it is our Christian duty to do so… (emphasis mine)”
As I stated previously, if our churches are to remain relevant to our society, if they are to remain as a part of guardians of our heritage, then our churches must speak out against the ills facing our society.
The church must speak out against materialism, individualism, violence. It must speak out against corruption, gossip, fornication and adultery. It must speak out against excessive partying, drugs and alcohol abuse. The church must also speak out against any political culture that may tarnish our history or rob us of our expectations great. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The church is neither the master nor the servant of the state; it is its conscience”, and accordingly, the church must regain its political voice and provide God’s message to our government, to our leaders, and to our people.
What could be the role of churches regarding the new government of Barbados? After giving them the necessary time to settle in, we must encourage them to realise their stated commitments to us.
- Their commitment to put people first by addressing our pressing needs, including action in a number of critical areas such as lowering the cost of living, improving access to property ownership and proving health care for all. This will be an important step to national improvement and should be attained.
- Their commitment to give maximum priority to the maintenance of a health macro-economic environment should be ensured.
- Their commitment to establishing priorities in land use planning is of critical importance in a small island faced with competing demands on its limited land resources needs to happen.
- Their commitment to good governance is expected to assure that corruption is minimized, the views of the people are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable members of society are heard in decision-making. This should take place.
- Their commitment to stepping up law enforcement in order to restore law and order in Barbados needs to be realized.
The new Government of Barbados sought our support for a “better Barbados”; to allow them to continue to build a just, industrious, prosperous, proud and united Nation. It is our Christian responsibility having given them our endorsement, that we encourage them through participation, advice, prayers and, where necessary, our constructive criticism in order to see that these aspirations are realized not just for us but for our children and our children’s children.
May God continue to bless us, our new government and ultimately this Nation. May freedom always reign in this fair Land.
Guy Hewitt is a minister of religion and social development specialist. He can be contacted on <email@example.com>
This article was published word-for-word as received, with certain highlighting, paragraph splits and font changes being done by Barbados Free Press.
© Guy Hewitt, 2008