The decision to involve the Church in the Electoral Process may have been carefully conjured up by the political directorate. Seen from a purely spiritual or religious perspective, the CHURCH has often been called upon to invite “…DIVINE INTERVENTION upon the NATION AND PEOPLE when adversity struck or in better times when there was a need for blessings from the Heavens.
Thus, in some settings where Divine Intervention was needed, the Church had often been asked to offer prayers that blessings may be descended upon the wealthy, poverty-stricken, Christians and Non-Christians; …the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent” within the nation.
The Church has always been involved and has played a spiritual part in the national life. Such involvement may have been seen at important State events. For instance, “…preceding Sittings of Parliament; …at State Banquets and Funerals; …Celebratory Divine Services for Independence; …Commemorating War dead; …Official ground breaking Ceremonies and Opening of State Buildings- Offices, Clinics and/or Complexes.” There are, but two exceptions- no Church involvement for either Acquisition or Divestment of STATE Assets. Thus, for such purposes and in such circumstances and/or settings, the citizens, as a collective body, have always welcomed and acknowledged such role-playing by the Church.
The functions of referees on the field of play, among others are “…to interpret and enforce rules; …ensure fair-play; …impose disciplinary sanctions and encourage sportsman-like behaviour among players. Such demands professional principle and appropriate behaviour, if players may repose confidence in his judgment and actions. Thus, he ought not to be perceived to be “…COMMITTING FOULS” or to be seen as partial or attempting to score goals or award penalties when there was no foul or eject players when there was no dangerous tackle. The role of the Church may not be likened to that of a referee, since its role is simply to “…SELECT A SUITABLE PERSON” for appointment to the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC). Hence, after the selection process, the appointee would have no obligations to, and would not be under the supervision and/or control of the CHURCH.
However, it was the Parliamentary debates over amendments to the “…REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT” that appeared to have captured the attention and imagination of curious citizens. The amendments now provide for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’S) and the CHURCH in “…SELECTING PERSONS,” for appointment to the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC). While many people had described the union between “…CHURCH and STATE” as unholy, other critics viewed the move with suspicion and have accused both Church and State as flirting with “…RELIGIOUS HERESY.”
While citizens may experience no pain or ache over the initiative; “…while the Constitution provides no hindrances or restrictions on CHURCHES; …while the legislative initiative appears perfectly LEGAL, many critics, nonetheless, have expressed the view that the “…legalized church inclusion,” in the “…electoral processes,” (led by an apparent “…highly influential clergy)” such constitutes a “…Deviation from GOD’S Calling.” For this reason, moralists and some religious leaders have argued that such “…DEVIATION” from its “…religious calling and/or practice” in providing for “…SECULAR OVERSIGHT,” appears to be against “…religious principles” and that of the shared view of advocates for the “…Separation of Church and State.”
As contentious as the initiative may appear, and as difficult some Members of the “…UPPER HOUSE” appeared to have limited comprehension of the contributions made by the Honourable SENATOR SYLVIA O’MARDE; …as defiant and resistant to the assistance being rendered by SENATE PRESIDENT HAZELYN FRANCIS; …and as repugnant and unruly as some Members of the LOWER HOUSE appeared to have been when tolerably, soberly and decorously, House Speaker D GISELLLE ISAAC-ARINDELL had endeavored to discourage crude, rude and disruptive behavior among an identifiable number of Members of the sanctity of the Chambers and appropriate behaviour associated with their Membership, …except for what may be described as sheer hypocrisy; …except due regard is accorded to the right to freedom of expression; …except there was recognition of the right to dissent or disagree; …except one is so naïve, in view of previously established precedence, “…POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS HERESY” or not, none may justifiably argue over the legislative initiative where the“…STATE had previously engaged the “…CHURCH and CLERGY” in its “…secular life.”
The Clergy’s involvement in the STATE’S SECULAR AFFAIRS was well known. Firstly was the “…PROPHETIC LEADER,” BISHOP EWING DORSETT of the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP). The other religious personality who was “…temporarily appointed” to ABEC, was the venerable and astute BISHOP CHARLESWORTH BROWNE of the Christian Ministries Center (CMC). His tenure, seemingly, was unfortunately, short-lived for reasons said to be un-associated with “…PARTISAN POLITICS; …corrupt practices; …disloyalty, complacency; …inefficiency and/or incompetency or dereliction of duty;”
Such had been the case of the Clergy’s involvement with the STATE AFFAIRS. Hence, such was the “…INFORMALLY” precedence when the two former members, associated with prominent religious denominations, with prominence in their respective Churches. Both were duly accorded “…Instruments of appointment” to serve on the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC), now in the palm of the “SIGNATORY HAND” of Governor General DAME LOUISE-TACK for dissolution.
In spite of the prevailing circumstances at ABEC, with substantive Chairman SIR GERALD WATT KCN, QC and his Deputy NATHANIEL ‘Paddy’ JAMES, apparently, whimsically and/or with acrimonious overtone, placed on suspension, the goodly BISHOP BROWNE appeared to have responded to the call to national service with much enthusiasm and deep commitment to serve. Despite a tenure seemingly lasting no longer than a hot cup of tea, he had acquitted and distinguished himself exceedingly well.
BISHOP BROWNE was acutely mindful of public perceptions of ABEC and seemingly had approached his functions with a deep sense of purpose. He wanted such perceptions to be changed and appeared forthright in his public discourse over the embattled Commission. He also knew that certain behaviour was essential to maintaining ABEC INTEGRITY and boosting waning public confidence. Consequently, he had advocated a “…CODE OF CONDUCT” for the membership.” Such was his vision.
Not that there was irresponsible or inappropriate behaviour by the ABEC Commissioners, but seemingly, environmental pressures and lack of resources were brought to bear on all a sundry. Thus, otherwise decent, honest, responsible, efficient, devoted and committed staff and ABEC Commissioners were exposed to public wrath. From a position of exemplary behaviour, decorum, professionalism and discipline, there was no doubt the goodly Bishop had demonstrated such qualities.
Given such legalized initiative for the Church to play a “…SECULAR ROLE” in the national life, FRANKLYN FRANCIS” KING FRANK I, might be influenced to pursue the issue of restriction imposed by the STATE upon his “…RELIGIOUS FREEDOM” in using certain SACRAMENTS in his “…RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND RITUALS.” The KING has always advocated the right to be engaged in religious congregational practices with “…SACRAMENTS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH INCENSE, YET EMITS SMOKE.”
However, if he contemplates future visitations by public officials in a “…commune of peaceful and reverential setting,” KING FRANK I, may be prudently mindful that other than the stifling “SAHARAN DESER DUST,” frequently from AFRICA and hovering over the Caribbean or the “…MONTSERRAT’S VOLCANO ASH” wending its way to the shores of Antigua and Barbuda, a “…SMOKY PROBLEM” may very well militate against their collective advocacy in conducting religious practice with such SMOKY SACRAMENTS.
In spite of the religious role of the Church, it appeared to have failed the “…CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY and by extension, the Executive and the Legislature with spiritual guidance in the biblical interpretation of “…SPOUSE” and its marital classification. Nonetheless, the Honourable Prime Minister appeared to have reposed some degree of confidence in the Clergy, and thus, seemingly took the calculated position that the Church could and should play a role, whether “…CRUCIALLY or CRITICALLY,” in the national life.
In the wider community and specific to holders of public office, there is a supposedly “…SACRED BOND,” although not necessarily a bond of friendship, but primarily obligatory, between the “…ELECTORS and the ELECTEES.” Such is a bond established on the premise of “…DELIVERY.” It is a bond that inspires confidence and strengthened by …un-wavering support and trust; … giving hope and sustained by …FAITH.” As it affects aspirations to Parliamentary membership, true or false, frequently, the aspiring office holder usually advance colourful “…offertory promises” as means of inducement. The ELECTORS are then placed in a state of HOPE by the potential ELECTEES.
On the one hand “…ELECTORS” so induced are moved by “…FAITH,” with belief strengthened by HOPE. Accordingly, guided by these, a bond is established and sealed. Biblical teachings speak to FAITH as “…The SUBSTANCE of things HOPE FOR and the EVIDENCE of things NOT SEEN.”. Thus, not infrequently is faith lost; …hope faded; and dreams and aspirations shattered. Such are the results of broken bonds. It is an almost daily occurrence in the lives of people everywhere. Most share no tolerance and patience like JOB; they are dejected, frustrated, depressed, angry and rebellious. Such is not a phenomenal experience; such may or may not be deemed “…POLITICAL HERESY.”
After successfully canvassing and inducing “…FAITH,” whether through misperception by ELECTORS or calculated deception by the “…ELECTED,” they subscribe to an Oath of Office, thereby pledging to perform duties with the “…HELP OF THE LIVING GOD.” As it affects Antigua and Barbuda, supporting the assertion of the individual and collective pledges to “…DO GOOD TO FELLOWMEN-” friend, enemy or foe, follows a direct extraction of the OATH OF OFFICE from the Constitution Order 1981.
Such Oath requires reverence and/or solemnity and is written “I ‘JOHN FRENCH’ do swear that I will HONOUR, uphold and PRESERVE the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda and the LAW; …that I will CONSCIENTIOUSLY, IMPARTIALLY to the best of my ABILITY discharge my duties as …’Minister of HELPS’ and DO RIGHT to …ALL MANNER OF PEOPLE, without fear or FAVOUR, affection or ILL-WILL.” It closes with what should be an earnest and solemn appeal “…SO HELP ME, GOD.” Such Oath, therefore, anticipates that those aspiring to public office SHALL allow their “…CONSCIENCE” to be their guide and “…GOD’S HELP” amidst the changing scenes of life and the turmoil among men, his community and society.
The CHURCH has always been looked upon for “…RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP” and “…religious preaching, teaching and “…SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE.” However, citizens appeared to have been dissatisfied with its concept of “…PROSPERITY PREACHING.” They are ever mindful that its SECULAR ACTIVITIES appeared to have been given priority over its “…RELIGIOUS OBLIGATIONS” to GOD and MAN. Instead of “…EVER SEEKING IN SPREADING THE GOSPEL,” many have been accused of “…EVER SEEKING FAVOURS and/or INCENTIVES.” While carefully avoiding accusations of being irreverent or blasphemous, recent revelations in the House of Representatives by the Honourable ROBIN YEARWOOD, respecting the “…SECULAR BEHAVIOUR” of a minority of Churches, may have even startled “…Disciples of the Devil.”
Notwithstanding its religious role, a wide cross-section of the society has often been heavily critical of the CHURCH and its leadership. Most people appeared to have been peeved over its apparent engagement and/or indulgence in “…PARTISAN POLITICS.” Such assertions appeared to have been made as a result of “…identifiable religious leaders holding positions on Statutory Boards within the nation...” Others were accused of “…PROSTITUTING ON THE GOVERNMENT and PEOPLE.”
In addressing the House of Representatives, assertions were made that “…SOME CHURCHES” had been disguising the role in the name of spreading religiosity throughout the communities. Refuting such claims and cautioning the Executive through the Legislature, was Member of Parliament, the Honourable ROBIN YEARWOOD. Without identifying any Church, he had publicly expressed abhorrence, objections and displeasure over the apparent “…PARASITIC, DECEPTIVE AND/OR EXPLOITATIVE” attitude of some religious leaders. Such concerns were expressed during a sitting of the House of Representatives when it met to discuss among other things “…CONCESSIONS” for Churches.
Making his contribution to the debate on the “…CONTENTIOUS AMENDMENTS” the Honourable Member revealed instances in which some of the RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS reportedly received “…SPECIAL CONCESSIONS” from government, seemingly under false pretence and at the expense of the tax-paying citizens. He contended that many appeared not to have utilized concessions so obtained for the “…SPIRITUAL GOOD,” let alone sharing the wealth among the denominational congregations, communities and/or the wider society.
It was evident that Barbuda Parliamentary Member, Honourable TREVOR WALKER, appeared to have had “…SERIOUS RESERVATIONS” with the “…SECULAR ROLE” the CHURCH was being called upon to play under apparent guise of “…INCLUSION OF CIVIL SOCIETY” in governance. Like many others opposing the involvement of the CHURCH in the “…POLITICAL/ELECTORAL LIFE” of the nation, the Honourable Member for Barbuda, saw the extended hand of “…POLITICAL FELLOWSHIP” appears contrary to the “…SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY” and may run counter to the recognized principle of “…SEPARATION OF CHURCH and STATE; …the civilization it has brought to humanity and the nation through its “…RELIGIOUS TEACHING AND PREACHING.” With conviction that the CHURCH should remain to preach the gospel, he made an individual plea for re-visitation of such inclusion, but was “…FLATLY REJECTED BY A DECISIONAL MAJORITY VOTES.”
The Honourable Prime Minister had been duly recognized through his regular attendance and/or visitations around the nation’s denominational community. He had been accorded religious recognition of religious follower, devout Christian and Pathfinder. Thus, his decision in inducting the Churches into State governance, be it for spiritual anointing, healing and/or upliftment, appeared consistent with the Constitutional proclamation that recognizes and embraces the Christianity and it propagation throughout the society.
Consequently, he sought not only the expansion of civil society to ABEC’S membership from five to seven, but also the apparent unpopular “…INCLUSION” of the “…collective Church community” in the national Electoral processes. Clearly there may have been “…miscommunication or lack thereof; …misunderstanding among Legislators; … misperceptions by the citizenry. Hence, the discussions that followed were rife with speculations. These were apparently due, primarily to lack of public sensitization that inevitably triggered grave public concerns, aroused suspicion as to the rationale and/or motive behind the unannounced contemplatory initiative, before its introduction in the Legislature.
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