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From the pulpit to the platform
The Christian Church is coming out from behind the pulpit and paying attention to the politics of the day. Head of the Roman Catholic Church Archbishop Joseph Harris was widely criticised following his comments about the Section 34 scandal. But the gutsy RC lead held his ground, responding that “politics is the search for the common good. The church has a right and a duty to search for the common good and to help in that search for the common good.”
Rev Daniel Teelucksingh, overseer of the St Charles Presbyterian Church, Chaguanas, also came under fire recently for comparing the behaviour of some MPs to “absentee landlords.” Speaking with the Sunday Guardian, Rev Teelucksingh said he believes the church should be involved “in socio-political issues in society.”
He acknowledged that more and more calls are being made for the church to become involved in societal issues, however he said there is a fear by priests and ministers to comment on issues because they are then labeled as political. He said the church is not being allowed its independence.
“In a society like ours, the church is not being given a chance to be free and independent. Pastors are careful because once you make a statement you are labeled as being in support of one or the other. Make any serious political comment from a pulpit and you are labeled, so in a sense we are not free to do so. One the one hand you have the call for the church to become involved and when you do the same society is asking what are you doing. We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,” Teelucksingh said.
He maintains that the church should be the conscience of the nation. “It is dangerous to make a sharp division between dogma, religious doctrine, the practice of spiritualty, formal worship and the world in which the good Lord has place us—withdrawing from that world to do nirvana.“ He said the church needs to be free to speak without being labeled and also it should not be taken that a view expressed form the pulpit is the view of the entire synod.
Religious media and politics
Noel “Professor” Richards is an announcer with ISAAC 98.1, a local religious radio station. Since its inception the only aspect of 98.1’s programming that contains any mention or reference to the politics is its newscast.
However, Richards recently dedicated two of his programmes to discussions on politics and the role of the church in politics. Professor Richards, as he is populary called, admits that this was stepping out of the box. He said it is the station’s policy to keep away from politics of the day. Personally, he believes some churches are political.
“The truth is various denominations do take political sides and this is because the church is not totally united. If one denomination speaks out on an issue, there would be someone from another church speaking against it. “Getting involved in political issues will only serve to highlight the disunity that exists among the church in Trinidad and Tobago,” Richards said.
Is this Pentecostal pastor-industrial relations officer-radio announcer advocating that when the church speaks on an issue it should be with one voice and all with the same viewpoint? “Yes, that is what I am saying. It is only because there is no united church that you will have different opinions. It does not look good for the church to be in disunity publicly.” That aside, Noel believes there is a place for the church and Christians in politics.
“It was a bold step for me to do those two programmes and they were met with some criticism, but some things must be highlighted. That was really stepping out of the box and now that I am out, I don’t see myself going back in. Politics is in our hearing, it is in our face. As Christians, as believers, we need to understand the issues and have a forum for analysis. Christians have to become educated about the politics.”
He made it clear though that the policy of the station has not changed. “People have been asking for more, but we still have to be sure that the road we are going down is the right road, but that will be for management to decide,” he said. Richards shared the spotlight those two evenings with the Deputy Director of Industrial Relations of NUGFW, and overseer of the New Creation Ministry Church, Bishop Carl St Rose.
The Bible and government
Bishop St Rose said: “From the beginning God gave his creation, man, charge to manage things on the earth. That is politics.” He said Christians are becoming more and more interested in the politics of the day. “What was evident from the calls we got on the programme is that the country is crying out for change in the type of politics being handed down to the people. They want a change to clean politics in accordance to ethical, moral and spiritual values.
“They are crying out for a kind of politics that will show a level of selflessness, which is why Jack Warner was able to get the kind of support he did in Chaguanas. As much as there are issues hanging over Mr Warner’s head, people were willing to look past all of the allegations to what they were seeing, which was someone who gave them representation.” Politics, St Rose said, is the art of managing policies, “not in your best interest but in the interest of the people.”
He pointed out that there are examples of men and women of God involved in politics in the Bible, citing Daniel as “Chief of Government of his day” and Joseph as a head minister.
“He was in control of all policies. Esther in her determination to help her people went before the king, she said, “If I perish, I perish”, but she knew God was with her. As the children of God we need to understand that God put us here to direct in moral standing and true integrity. If we don’t understand that we are missing the mark. We the Christians have been put here to rule,” he said. St Rose said Christians shun politics because they believe it is dirty and they will become contaminated.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were politicians, they never became dirty, they held on to their Godly beliefs. We have to become involved to effect change and give direction. We must be willing to get involved in the right thing—there is right politics and wrong politics. If you go into it for yourself, it is the wrong thing, and not what God wants,” he said.
Christians, government and Warner
St Rose said Christians sit by and just hope something will happen, “we cannot count five Christian (Pentecostal) schools we have because we have allowed everyone else to be in control of policies.” St Rose saluted Barbara Burke, the Baptist Minister who became a Senator to lobby for her religion.
“She was able to influence the government. She got a school, she got subventions for her church, and she got marriage officers for the Baptist church. We Pentecostals have nothing but yet we sit back, pay taxes and hope something happens.” He said he is in full support of the fast by Arima MP Rodger Samuel, who is a pastor and currently holds the portfolio of Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
“This is a man who went into politics believing he could make a change and now he is fasting seeking directions on what he must do to effect that change.” Even the current political events St Rose attributes to the involvement of God in the local politics. According to St Rose, it can never be about personal gain.
“we should go into it, not in a selfish way, not for what I can get, not for what I can eat, but for service to Trinidad and Tobago. No matter the religion, the bottom line should be service unto all man and mankind. If we go into politics with that attitude, we cannot fail,” he said.
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